The Daily Illini

‘America First’ forgoes American interest: foreign policy

By Andrew Prozorovsky, Columnist

Despite popular opinion within the White House, “foreign policy” does not refer to U.S. relations with Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. It instead relates to U.S. conduct on an international level extending beyond domestic law.

To many voters, foreign policy is abstract and has little relevance to themselves — or so they think.

But to the dismay of those uninformed about international relations, American foreign policy has a huge impact on domestic life. Bundled together with foreign policy is immigration policy, trade policy, treaties internally adhered to and lots more.

Foreign policy correlates with a state’s demographics, economic condition, security and overall quality of life. Therefore it is imperative that the foreign policy of an administration is not allowed to fade into obscurity and rather is persistently scrutinized and critiqued.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy has been characterized by poor, impetuous policy decisions and asinine trade policy.

Many of these lamentable developments came to fruition as a result of campaign promises. The most notorious example of this is the restriction on migrants from Muslim-majority countries, first termed “Muslim ban” on the campaign, later rebranded as a “travel ban” to gain favor in the courts.

After struggling in the lower courts, the ban had to be rewritten multiple times to weather the Supreme Court. While the ban may have been rephrased, rebranded and repackaged, the underlying intent of the ban has always remained consistent: to discriminate against Muslims, a group violence and terrorism has been ignobly ascribed to.

The inanities have not ceased at the ban.

As a result of this administration, the U.S. is the only country to reject the Paris Climate Agreement. Although the accord was aspirational in nature, the withdrawal of the U.S. disheartened the international community. It was a step toward isolationism and a renunciation of the U.S.’s commitment to set a progressive example for the rest of the world.

The president is also guilty of making the hasty decision to withdraw troops from Syria in an attempt to satisfy one of his campaign promises. But he has since rescinded the promise of an immediate withdrawal — a revocation that teased millions of affected Americans.

Perhaps the worst offense with regard to placing the satisfaction of Trump’s base above national interest was in withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal and threatening allies who still adhered to it.

The agreement received a lot of pushback while being negotiated by the Obama administration, and although the landmark deal was a sufficient means to curb Iran’s nuclear capabilities, then candidate Trump seized the opportunity to promise to dismantle it. Once inaugurated, Trump was unilaterally able to withdraw from it.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency, the State Department, U.S. generals, intelligence agencies and U.S. allies all proclaimed Iran was in full compliance with the deal, the Trump administration pointed to decade-old Israeli intelligence claiming Iran was in pursuit of nuclear weapons (the very impetus for the deal itself) to justify the end of America’s promise to respect the deal.

The past two years have normalized uninformed foreign policy that is not thoroughly premeditated. However, trade policy has been on the administration’s agenda since the campaign. The time to introspectively appraise their trade plans has not helped to make them any less doltish.

The first action the administration took was to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement the Obama administration had negotiated with Oceanic and Asian countries for years.

During the election, both sides accepted a stance against free trade agreements, a stance virtually no economists have ever endorsed. Experts say free trade is ultimately beneficial for all parties involved, but the public is unconvinced so the administration was able to do this quietly.

The Trump administration also altered NAFTA and rebranded it as the USMCA which has yet to be ratified by Congress. The deal itself has not seemed to have drawn much criticism, but the president’s repeated false claim that it will pay for the border wall has.

The biggest injury to the debt and the U.S. economy as a whole will originate from the president’s ongoing trade war with China as well as combative tariffs on goods from Mexico, Canada and most notably the European Union. Tariffs, another policy choice economists universally rebuke, oftentimes do not punish the governments they are intended to hurt. They hurt the quality of life of the consumers as prices inevitably rise, even with domestic competition.

When China decided to tax American imports 25% more, soybean sales plummeted in China, devastating the American farmers who provide them. This should have been a red flag to the administration that the trade war was doomed to be one in which both sides lose. Instead the administration turned around and provided farmers compensation and continued the trade war full steam ahead.

President Trump bases his entire trade policy off of a subpar understanding of how it works. He misinterprets the significance of trade deficits and surpluses, does not understand comparative advantage and misidentifies those who actually often shoulder the burden of a trade war —  consumers and manufacturers who use imported resources such as steel.

His misunderstanding is not an innocent one. It shows when he is unable to prevent large manufacturers from outsourcing like GM or Harley Davidson, or when the U.S. Treasury has to dispense the equivalent of government bailouts to affected farmers and raise U.S. debt further.

Without evaluating the harm done to U.S. relations with Latin-American countries through shoddy immigration policies, it is clear the foreign policy approach of this administration is pervaded by incompetent policy choices, often grounded in misinformation or emotion. It frequently ranks short-term political gain above the long-term national interest of having an advantageous position on the world stage.

Although international relations can feel distant or obscure from one’s daily life, Americans cannot be negligent to the arrogance of this administration’s actions and the long-term instability it will unequivocally cause.

Andrew is a freshman in LAS.

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