The United States’ recent response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s violation of the international chemical weapons ban changed what many perceive to be the foreign policy of President Donald Trump and his administration. Trump’s rhetoric of “America first” embraced the populist message of non-interventionism in foreign affairs. However, Assad’s actions swayed Trump’s mind.
The sight of civilian casualties justifies this military intervention. The United States, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has an obligation to enforce international law. What is troubling is the rapid change in foreign policy that the administration is undergoing. This seems to be Trump’s famous “The Art of the Deal” approach applied to foreign policy: always keep your opponents guessing.
This approach came to the front stage in the aftermath of the Syrian intervention. Top figures in the administration, including Nikki Haley, James Mattis, Sean Spicer, Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump himself each made drastically different statements regarding the intervention. This made it seem as though not even Trump’s own administration knew what was going on. The United States is the premier superpower in the world culturally, economically and politically. The word of the United States alone weighs more than the full voice of many other nations combined. For the United States, decisiveness is power. In the voice of the United States, allies find peace of mind and enemies find fear. It is not fear of a bite, but fear of and respect to what that bite may actually look like. A divided front on foreign policy damages this ability to exert influence on the world stage without engaging the force of the United States’ jaw.
The United States needs to find a unified front. However, what is more interesting are the clashing forces within the administration that are currently shaping both domestic and foreign policy. For the first couple months of the administration, there was the inner conflict between Reince Priebus—representing the establishment right—and Steve Bannon—representing the populist right. However, after the failed attempt to pass a replacement to the Affordable Care Act, Trump seems to be distancing himself from these two individuals.
In turn, reports indicate that Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and economic advisor Gary Cohn have taken greater roles inside the administration. This change marks a drastic repudiation of both the establishment and populist right that elected Trump to the office. Up to this point, Trump’s administration has taken an approach that is in line with initial expectations, an approach that much of Trump’s support base is satisfied with. However, this represents a sway from the populist policy that many expected, especially with the addition of Bannon as chief strategist. The administration has adopted a strong neo-conservative foreign policy and a very centrist domestic policy.
Trump is not a conservative. Conservatives cannot blindly stand by Trump just because he is Trump. Conservatives have an obligation to hold him accountable to the principles he was elected for. This is not a call to turn on the president, but it is a call to speak up when his administration veers in a direction that is inconsistent with conservative values. Nobody should tolerate “The Art of the Deal” politics that keep even U.S. citizens guessing. A golden rule of politics is to support those who support you. As long as Trump supports his base, his base should support him. However, if he turns on Bannon, the Freedom Caucus, Preibus, Paul Ryan and all the people they represent, his supporters must make the message clear: Trump must stand by his constituents. Doing so would ensure a promising future for the Trump administration.
Eric is a Public Affairs student who is active in the Baruch College Republicans. He recently founded a nonprofit, Doxa, to increase “debate, discourse and citizenship.”