WASHINGTON, DC – After a series of foreign-policy U-turns, there is now talk of a “new” Donald Trump who is far more inclined to use military power than the Trump we saw during the 2016 US presidential campaign. That earlier Trump seemed to regard any use of US military force in Syria as pointless and dangerous, and called for the United States to ensconce itself behind new walls.
Now, suddenly, the Trump administration has launched a missile attack on one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air bases, hinted at taking military action against North Korea, and dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State redoubt in Eastern Afghanistan. All of this was accompanied by tweets from the president himself, declaring that the US will pursue its own solutions to key issues if other countries do not offer to help.
The international community – including China – seemed to understand why the US would strike the Syrian air base from which a hideous chemical-weapons attack was launched. But the Trump administration is still following an “America first” agenda. Having awoken to global realities, the administration is now adjusting its policies, sometimes so abruptly that one might reasonably worry that diplomacy is taking a backseat to bombs and tweets.
That concern is reinforced by the dramatic cuts to the US State Department budget, and to US funding for the United Nations, that Trump has proposed. At the same time, many key positions in the US diplomatic apparatus remain unfilled. Even America’s friends recognize that this is a dangerous trajectory. Bombs can only destroy. To build lasting peace requires compromise and coalition building – in a word, diplomacy.