WASHINGTON — Donald Trump proclaimed "America First" on his way to his head-spinning victory in Tuesday's presidential election, and the success of that message will rock many foreign capitals where leaders have feared that Trump would alter the basics of U.S. foreign policy.
Making predictions about Trump's foreign policy is difficult, given his lack of experience. But the most likely bet is that as president he will seek to do what he promised during the campaign in breaking from current U.S. approaches to Russia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
A Trump foreign policy, based on his statements, will bring an intense "realist" focus on U.S. national interests and a rejection of costly U.S. engagements abroad. It will likely bring these changes:
- A move to improve relations with a combative, assertive Russia. Trump stressed repeatedly during the campaign, at some political cost, that he would work with President Vladimir Putin. "I think I'd be able to get along with him," he said in September at a televised forum hosted by NBC's Matt Lauer. "If he says great things about me, I'm gonna say great things about him. ... I mean, the man has very strong control over a country."
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- A joint military effort with Russia and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to defeat the Islamic State. Trump proposed this shared campaign during that same debate. "If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good," he said. He offered positive comments about Assad, saying, "He's just much tougher and much smarter than her [Clinton]," adding that if the opposition should win in Syria, "you may very well end up with worse than Assad."
- A new push for European allies to pay more for their own defense. It's unlikely that Trump will dismantle NATO, as critics charged during the campaign. He said in a debate that Clinton was telling "just another lie" when she accused him of undermining commitments to defend NATO allies and Asian partners such as Japan and South Korea. But he never retreated from an April 27 speech in which he said "the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves," even if that means letting them acquire nuclear weapons.
- An attempt to alter the terms of trade in Asia by renegotiating trade pacts and forcing China to revalue its currency. It's hard to predict how this combative approach to globalization will play out. Often, Trump's extreme rhetoric and threats against business partners are tactics in what he has famously described as "the art of the deal." A China that's already experiencing a bubble economy might well be vulnerable to U.S. economic pressure. But the most likely outcome of Trump's protectionist rhetoric will be a global economic downturn, many analysts have argued.
Undoing globalization isn't possible. But undermining America's leadership in that system would be all too easy.