Trump’s Foreign Policy: Hated by Pundits But Popular with Voters

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President Trump keeps coming under attack for his foreign policy, predictably by Democrats but also by legacy Republican leaders.

“I’m very concerned,” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said about Trump’s plans to bring troops home from the Middle East.

“It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries,” said Marco Rubio.

Trump’s late-2018 announcement that he planned to withdraw 2000 US troops from the meatgrinder of Syria’s brutal civil war prompted bipartisan dismay. Next the new Doha peace framework to end US involvement in Afghanistan had   establishment politicos and pundits reviving their hoary, false canard that America’s “abandonment” of Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 led to 9/11. Now he’s getting attacked for trying to reach a nuclear disarmament deal with North Korea (possible bonus: a formal end to the Korean War).

Deescalation? Why, that could cause peace! What could be a more dangerous threat to American interests?

Meanwhile, Trump is still in Syria. He’s expanded Obama’s drone assassinations. He wants to spend even more on defense. The pro-war wise men of the media have zero problem with hawkishness, no matter how stupid or immoral.

Conventional wisdom holds that this criticism will cost Trump. I disagree. While the president’s America First foreign policy has no constituency within the leadership caste of either party, it has one he cares about more: the voters.

Interestingly, a high percentage of Americans (65%) disapprove of Trump’s handling of international affairs generically. No doubt they’ve been influenced by “Trump is a child on foreign stuff” coverage.

Yet when it comes to specifics, Americans mostly approve of his moves to deescalate tensions overseas and reduce foreign entanglements.

77% of Americans approved of the first summit between Trump and Kim. 54% thought it went well. That’s significantly more than the portion of Americans who approved of his presidency in general, indicating that on this issue he enjoyed support from many Democrats.

Support for withdrawing troops from Syria is close to 50-50, not stellar yet significantly better than his overall mid-40s approval rating.

Afghanistan is a no-brainer for the president. Most Americans want immediate withdrawal and a whopping 70% say that we never should have invaded in the first place.

Trump’s disentanglement policies are popular. The reason that his overall numbers on international matters run low has more to do with the tone and image he projects than the policies he has promulgated. People like what he’s doing but not how he looks and sounds as he does it.

Trump got elected in large part by ignoring GOP dogma and selling his ideas directly to the American people. Voters were tired of an immigration crisis created and prolonged by both parties and they were angry about deindustrialization and vicious “free trade.” Trump’s proposed solutions—the Wall and a trade war—might not be intelligent or effective. But he addressed both issues when others, especially Hillary Clinton, would not. Voters prefer a president who does something stupid to fix a problem to one who pretends it doesn’t exist.

With foreign policy, Trump is trying to pull off a similar trick as he did with domestic issues in 2016: addressing the “endless war” problem that spun out of control under Bush. If not for Trump neither major party would have touched a Pentagon with so many bases abroad it can’t give you an exact number. The question for 2020 is whether voters — who traditionally decide how to vote based on the state of the economy — will give Trump credit for nibbling at the edges of America’s militaristic bloat.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

17 thoughts on “Trump’s Foreign Policy: Hated by Pundits But Popular with Voters

  1. The question for 2020 is whether voters — who traditionally decide how to vote based on the state of the economy — will give Trump credit for nibbling at the edges of America’s militaristic bloat.

    The problem, Ted, is that Mr Trump seems unable to see to it that these intentions – if indeed, they are intentions ; Mr Trump is hardly consistent on these matters – are carried out in practice. But it is fascinating to see that whenever he expands the US military footprint and augments the bellicosity of that country’s foreign policy, he is applauded or at least not attacked, while when he makes noises about mitigating these policies, he is attacked from both sides of the aisle and accused – believe it or not – of being V V Putin’s puppet. Hardly surprisingly given the economic realities, the US has two war parties, which completely dominate the country’s politics….

    Henri

  2. “Policy”? I’m none too sure Trump has anything as coherent as a “policy.”

    That said, his actions seem more in line with someone else’s policy. Putin wants us out of Syria, and we’re getting out of Syria. Putin wants us out of Afghanistan, and we’re getting out of Afghanistan. Putin wants us out of NATO, and we’re getting out of NATO. Putin wants out of the nuke treaty, and we’re getting out of the nuke treaty. Putin wants to destabilize western markets and we’re destabilizing western markets. Putin wants us to turn against our allies and we’re turning against our allies. Putin wants to weaken our economy, disrupt our government, undermine our confidence in that government, divide us against each other, and … oh, it’s probably just coincidence.

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    • I usually lurk in the background and tend to agree with your comments most of the time, but this one seems like a deranged ranting of CNN’s Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon. Sure Putin wants us out of Syria, but the reality is the war is over. The SDF lost. The Saudi backed jihadis lost. Assad won. It is far past time to admit it and move on.

      I don’t see Putin wanting us out of Afghanistan. It is the graveyard of empires, after all. I think Putin would rather see us bleed out treasure and blood in a futile effort.

      Sure, Putin wants to weaken NATO. NATO poses the biggest threat to Russia after all. We only have Russia surrounded. As much as I dislike Trump, I don’t see him wanting to weaken NATO. More like shake down the countries of Europe for their lunch money.

      I completely do not see Putin wanting to scrap the intermediate nuclear missile ban. That treaty going away is only bad for the Russians. Our war hawks like John Bolton would love to revive the Cold War and put nukes in Poland and the Baltics, aimed at Russia. Unless you think Putin is going to try to put Russian nukes in Cuba or Venezuela, this is completely one sided. In the USA’s favor. Or at least in the American war hawk’s favor.

      • > this one seems like a deranged ranting

        as I said above, Putin wants to divide us against each other …

        Too Late!

        🙂 😀 🙂

      • I think you give Putin too much power. Russia is still a shell of the USSR. It’s not your fault for believing they are a superpower. If you watch cable news at all over the last two years, you would think Russia is on the same level as the USA in terms of influence and reach. It’s just goofy to think their pathetic, amateur hour attempt at influencing the 2018 election through social media had any mass effect at all.

      • @Meursault

        Ahhh, yes, the denier’s two favorite red herrings….

        > I think you give Putin too much power.

        I think your telepathy helmet needs new batteries, ‘cuz what you think I think is not what I think. I think Putin commands the second-largest military on the planet, along with some of the best hackers. I think he has political sway over many countries other than Russia. I think he desperately wants for Russia to get its Super Power Badge back, and I think he sees the US as an obstacle to that goal.

        > It’s just goofy to think their pathetic, amateur hour attempt

        More on that below, but first, I think it’s goofy to believe in a ginormous hoax perpetrated by a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy comprising the RNC, DNC, CIA, FBI, NSA, HS, DOD, DOJ, MI-5, Interpol, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, Maria Butina, Donald Trump Jr, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Paul Manfort, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone, Rosicrucians, Romulans, Republicans, Repitiliens and every cybersecurity firm in the US …

        … all working together because they’re very sad Hillary lost.

        On the goofiness scale, that ranks eleven out of ten.

      • > pathetic, amateur hour attempt at influencing the 2018 election through social media had any mass effect at all.

        Off by several orders of magnitude.

        Just to start with, the important question is whether the highest executive in the land conspired with an unfriendly foreign country to undermine our democracy. Everything else is small potatoes.

        Moreover, there wasn’t just the social media thing, but some very professional spearphishing leading to highly sophisticated hacks & cracks. Russia has some of the best hackers in the world, and that’s a fact. (call me an industry insider if you will)

        But hey, let’s go with your red herring anyway.

        The (republican led) Senate Intelligence Committee has recently released a report showing that the disinformation campaign was both larger and more effective than previously reported. (Obviously, the Republicans bribed the company doing the work the same way the DNC bribed ClowdStrike.)

        One of the reasons it’s such a great red herring is that it’s hard to prove one way or the other. (Argumentum ad ignorantiam)

        So consider what we do know. A man walked into a pizza parlor with an assault rifle because social media had convinced him that it was a front for a kiddie prostitution ring. That’s a pretty strong effect, much stronger than influencing some small percentage of undecided voters.

        Remember Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown? People were convinced to commit suicide, not by social media but by groupthink and peer pressure. Cults work the same way as those who would deprogram their members. They surround them with people who all think the same way and talk about it incessantly. They cut them off from their family, friends and any other outside influences.

        Sounds a lot like certain internet denizens, doesn’t it? They cut themselves off voluntarily and listen only to people who agree with them, and on top of that Facebook has added a cybernetic feedback conditioning loop. When someone “likes” your post, you get a little rush of dopamine, which reinforces your beliefs. You make a more inflammatory post, get even more likes and more reinforcement. Because we want to believe we are consistent in our words & deeds, our beliefs start to change to match our posts until eventually we pick up an assault rifle.

        It’s actually quite well documented, including some articles by former Facebook VIPs. In a race that’s basically 50-50, how much does it actually take to make a difference? You don’t need to change very many people’s minds at all…

        … but as I said above, it’s actually small potatoes compared to the real question.

      • Look at the consternation from all sectors of the media, military, financial, think tanks, talking heads, etc when Trump said he was going to pull out the small amount of troops from Syria that are there. They went insane. And that war is certified OVER. Is there a big conspiracy at play that keeps all of these opinions in lock step. Hardly.

        Now, think back to the primaries and general election when Trump floated the idea that we could get along with Russia. Having Russia as enemy number 1 is pretty much as conventional of all DC wisdoms get. It helps keep the military budget bloated. “Gotta keep pace with those damn Russkies!” It is good for the media to have an enemy out there to dial up the ratings. After all, the Middle East terrorist angle seems to be losing some steam. Our think tanks have been plotting with USAID and other NGOs to topple the Russian friendly governments all around Russia (Belarus was next). Having Russia as the boogeyman fed alot of overstuffed mouths and pockets in DC and New York. Now Trump comes along and says “Why can’t we be friends?” Maybe it was because he was compromised by Russian interests or maybe because he is naive and didn’t get the Washington in-group memo that this line of talk is verboten. If you remember, it was polling pretty well with Middle America. Before the media went on Cold War Media Blitz part 2.

        If Trump actually colluded with Russia, then obviously you are right, I am wrong. But if this whole big display is to continue business as usual. The same longview plan that has been in the works for over 25 years, then how does it not make sense for all of these connected parties to go this very route to make detente with Russia completely unpalatable? There is very very little proof of actual collusion right now. Unless Cohen is spilling some beans as I type this.

      • > There is very very little proof of actual collusion right now.

        Proof[1] DJTJR tried to peddle Presidential Influence to a Russian Agent in exchange for Dirt On Hillary.

        Proof[2] e-mail exchanges between Sater and Cohen, regarding The Moscow Project: “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” … “I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this,”

        The rest of your post appears to be unrelated to mine. (AKA Evasion, conflation, and red herrings)

      • The whole Trump Tower Moscow story has seemed so incongruous to me. So the guy is about to possibly become leader of the greatest, most powerful country the world has ever seen. With all the privileges and power that come with that title. But what he really, really wants is to license his name to a (yet another) random building, but this time in Russia?!? It seems so small potatos compared to being the president. It seems even too petty and stupid even for one of the most petty and stupid people in public life. As US president, he basically controls ALL of the buildings. He could slap his name on tons of them if it was all about ego. And he would make exponentially more money (after his term is up) by being president than he would licensing his name to a Moscow building. I’m not saying you are wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.

      • > all about ego.

        We can agree on that, at least.

        But I think that is at the heart of it – Trump is simply doing business as usual. It never occurred to him that anyone would make a BFD of that meeting. It never occurred to him that it was illegal. It never occurred to him that “illegal” applied to billionaires in the first place.

        Nevertheless, it is solid proof of collusion (unless you want to assert that all the players are lying & if so why? Is DJTJR so sad Hillary lost that he’s willing to risk a stay at Club Fed?)

    • I’ve been out of the country for a month. You were saying something about the same dunk collusion indictment coming down on Trump? Anything happen with that?

      • I’m none too sure what it is to which you are referring, but the comment to which are you *replying* is “I’m none too sure Trump has anything as coherent as a “policy.

        If there is some other topic you wish to discuss, I stand ready – but I must insist that you be a little more specific.

      • Looks as if the Mueller/Rosenstein investigation has come to the obvious conclusion ; i e, while Mr Trump et consortes are obviously sleazebags, there exists no evidence of «collusion» between the Russian government and Mr Trump’s campaign, nor were the results of the US presidential elections of 2016 due to the machinations of those dastardly Russians. People in the United States are going to have to accept that McCarthyism 2.0 will no more provide an answer to their many problems than the original version did for those problems that existed seven decades ago – the Russians are not responsible for the depths to which political life in the USA has sunk, just as the Chinese are not responsible for the de-industrialisation of the country. But blaming others for the dilemmas caused by one’s own actions is always easier and more palatable than examining one’s own responsibility and trying to do something about them, so the Russophobic and Sinophobic campaigns are hardly likely to abate….

        Henri

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