Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Incompetence Doctrine

The Incompetence Doctrine

War on the Rocks

Through Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, foreign policy analysts have been hard at work seeking to divine the guiding precepts of his administration. But when it comes to foreign policy, the one thing that has become piercingly obvious so far is that this president has no idea where he is going.

Trump may have come into office with a set of strongly held, if poorly considered, ideas bound together by the isolationist chic label of “America First.” Yet the story of his presidency so far has been one of a leader who is veering incoherently, and often incompetently, between the irresponsible promises he made on the campaign trail and the hard realities he cannot escape now that he is in office. The near-term result is what frequently appears to be a fundamentally unserious approach to some of the most serious geopolitical issues the United States confronts.  The longer-term upshot is likely to be significant damage to America’s position in the world.

Take the latest example: Trump’s pointless brinksmanship over NAFTA last week. Candidate Trump had, of course, threatened to tear up the agreement, apparently without considering the economic havoc this step would wreak not just on Mexico and Canada but on the United States. Once he took office, however, there were reassuring signals that the administration was adjusting to this reality and instead taking a more moderate tack aimed simply at updating a 25-year old agreement.

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