Menendez Publishes New Report Cataloging Trump’s Foreign Policy Legacy of Chaos, Neglect, and Diplomatic Failures
SFRC Democratic Staff charts path forward, calls for restored commitment to allies, democracy, human rights in wake of devastated U.S. foreign policy
WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff today published a comprehensive report commissioned by Ranking Member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) documenting the damage caused by President Trump’s failed foreign policy and his unprecedented assault on America’s exceptionalism on the global stage.
Titled The Cost of Trump Foreign Policy: Damage and Consequences for U.S. and Global Security, the report draws from interviews with dozens of former U.S. government officials, foreign government officials, and experts from more than 20 countries in an effort to capture the impact of President Trump’s weakening of U.S. security and his contribution to a worldwide decline in democracy.
“Four years in, if you are still searching for the ‘Trump Doctrine’ on foreign policy, you will find a warm embrace of autocratic leaders, a cold shoulder for our closest allies, and a personal agenda that comes at the expense of the values and interests of the American people,” said Ranking Member Menendez. “The President has championed his policy as an ‘America First’ approach. But in practice, what we have is a ‘Trump First’ approach. This damning report catalogues some of the most damaging aspects of what that means for Americans.
At a virtual briefing to publish the report’s findings and in a subsequent conversation with POLITICO foreign policy and national security reporter Nahal Toosi, Ranking Member Menendez spoke about the national security importance of restoring American leadership, rebuilding our national security architecture, and halting the decline of global freedoms and democracy. Menendez concluded by outlining his report’s recommendations aimed at charting a path forward for how the United States engages with the world.
“This report is the beginning of a conversation about the future of U.S. foreign policy and how to undo the damage wrought by this President. I hope it can serve as a roadmap for Congress and a future administration about what needs rebuilding and where the damage lies, and as a reminder of the consequence of an incoherent, chaotic foreign policy. For those of us who care deeply about this country, and the role we play in the world, there is a lot of work ahead,” added Menendez, calling on Congress to reassert its oversight role over the Executive branch and investing in its responsibilities to legislate and oversee U.S. foreign policy.
The Cost of Trump Foreign Policy: Damage and Consequences for U.S. and Global Security is the latest installment in a series of oversight reports commissioned by Ranking Member Menendez in an effort for Congress to build a body of work documenting the Trump Administration’s unprecedented undermining of U.S. foreign policy, attacks on America’s democratic institutions, and disdain for our nation’s diplomatic professionals and public servants.
The full report may be found HERE.
The Senator’s remarks as delivered may be found HERE.
The Cost of Trump’s Foreign Policy
Chapter 1: The Trump Doctrine: Chaos, Neglect, and Diplomatic Failures
· Catalogues the damage of Trump’s approach, particularly how it has been characterized by chaos, neglect, and diplomatic failures, rather than a cohesive strategy.
· Foreign Policy by Chaos (p. 14): Argues his chaotic decision-making has debilitated U.S. diplomacy. Notes the confusion by foreign counterparts about who in the U.S. government represents the President’s views. Highlights Trump’s abrupt announcement that U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria, which took U.S. officials by surprise and angered allies.
o One former senior U.S. official said: “The Trump administration does not have a foreign policy strategy. There is only the veneer of process.”
o Another former U.S. official said: “Tillerson said there was an interagency process. It was he and Mattis having breakfast.”
o Recounts a number of Trump’s tweets on foreign policy, which took U.S. officials by surprise, did not reflect official U.S. policy, or were ultimately not carried out.
· Undermining Democratic Values (p. 18): Argues that Trump has presented a vision of America to the world that sees moral equivalence between groups promoting white supremacy and those seeking racial equality, which only helps Russia and China make a stronger case for their systems.
· Neglect of Pressing Global Challenges (p. 19): Recounts Trump’s neglect of COVID and climate change. Argues that the United States has become a bystander, as dangerous threats to the American people have emerged overseas and struck the United States.
· Diplomatic Failures (p. 21): Highlights North Korea, where Trump’s bluster approach did not yield to results, and which Trump has claimed is solved. Notes the Administration squandered an opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough and a coordinated international humanitarian response on Venezuela, instead relying on sanctions with no broader strategy.
· Ego-Driven Diplomacy (p. 25): Examines how Trump has tied foreign policy decisions to whether a foreign leader is willing to play to his ego. U.S. officials who have met with Trump comment that he appears “needy, insecure, and hyper-personal.”
· Trump First (p. 27): Examines Trump’s politicization of foreign policy by asking foreign powers for electoral assistance and the effects of maintaining vast foreign entanglements around the world that cloud his presidency. Highlights the scrutiny that his relationships with Turkey and Saudi Arabia have raised in particular.
· International Views of U.S. (p. 29): Notes the steep declines in how the U.S. is viewed and respected around the world. Trump received the lowest confidence ratings among five world leaders, below both Putin and Xi in a 2020 survey.
Chapter 2: The Cost of Going It Alone: America Withdrawn and Isolated
· Focuses on how Trump has alienated and abused allies, leaving the U.S. isolated and alliances frayed. Argues the United States is less trusted by other global actors, and that the President’s version of diplomacy—part bullying, part shaming, part stick—contains little incentive for cooperation.
· Abandoning International Commitments (p. 31): Argues Trump’s withdrawals have kept the United States away from the negotiating table and absent from discussions that will shape American lives and interests in the coming decades.
o Iran Nuclear Deal (p. 32): Argues that the United States upended a delicate balancing act to which other nations and U.S. allies had linked critical security interests. By leaving with no serious multilateral diplomatic strategy, the administration wasted an opportunity to build a coalition, and undermined broader efforts to constrain Iran.
o Paris Climate (p. 35): Examines Administration’s abandonment of international efforts to combat climate change and how allies pleaded for us to stay in.
· Our Closest Allies: Alienated and Abused: Examines Trump’s tariff threats and use of tariffs uses insults and bullying tactics, regardless of the long-term consequences.
o Canada: Canadian officials were outraged by Trump’s action calling Canada national security threat by imposing aluminum tariffs. Recounts Trump trade advisor saying there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau.
§ Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: “Trump is causing existential damage to the U.S.-Canada relationship.”
o Mexico: Trump has caused damage to U.S.-Mexico relationship through tariff threats, inflammatory rhetoric, and other moves.
§ A former U.S. ambassador posited that the real question for Mexico in dealing with the U.S. is: “What does good behavior get you?”
o Germany: Examines the strained relationship with Germany under Trump, particularly the “destabilizing” troop withdrawal from Syria.
· Navigating and Hedging (p. 42): Argues allies are hedging against the U.S. Many are making these short-term and long-term decisions to protect themselves and pursue their own interests independent of an erratic, unreliable, United States under Trump.
· Circumventing U.S. Unilateral Actions (p. 43): Looks at how allies are working to insulate themselves and reduce their vulnerability to U.S. economic influence, including the example of INSTEX. Also notes that China has continued engagement with Iran’s economy, despite the threat from re-imposed U.S. sanctions.
· Re-enforcing Fears about U.S. Unpredictability (p. 45): Trump’s actions have caused many allies to question the long term reliability of the U.S. as a partner. Discusses how countries watching the U.S. swing from one position to the next are taking note. As a U.S. official noted, “there’s no telling what’s on the back end.”
· Navigating U.S. Disarray (p. 46): Trump’s erratic policies have led countries to adopt creative workarounds to manage maintain good relations with a volatile president, such as going through family members. Foreign officials said that they were trying in vain to find a whisperer or policy advisor who was a clear conduit to the President.
o Former senior U.S. official: “Jared is conducting amateur foreign policy and he moonlights extensively, without any expertise, and the results have severely damaged our national interests.”
Chapter 3: Empowering Adversaries and Autocrats
· Argues that Trump has accelerated the decline in global freedom by attacking U.S. democratic institutions, giving a roadmap and cover to autocrats’ efforts to roll back civil liberties; embracing autocratic rulers and belittling democratic leaders, which legitimizes the rule of some of the world’s most brutal dictators; and diminishing the role that supporting democracy and defending human rights plays in U.S. foreign policy.
· Fake News (p. 50): Trump’s rhetoric and threats toward the media have influenced how other leaders deal with their own domestic press.
o A former U.S. Assistant Secretary said: “I never heard the word ‘fake news’ in Africa before Trump. African heads of state now talk about fake news.”
o Trump’s attacks on the media, according to a former State Department official, also “legitimize the threat environment for journalists.”
· Rule of Law (p. 52): Looks at Trump’s attacks on rule of law and how nationalist conservative governments in Central Europe have seen Trump’s rhetoric and conduct as a vote of support for their own attempts to enhance their power at the expense of the judiciary.
· Embracing Autocrats (p. 54): Looks at Trump’s profound affinity for dictators and autocrats, including siding with Putin’s account and dismissed Russian interference in U.S. election, believing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s claim he didn’t know about the mistreatment of Otto Warmbier, and defending Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.
o He has attacked and demeaned leaders of countries that have historically been our most steadfast allies. He called Merkel a “catastrophic leader” and the “person who is ruining Germany” and May “foolish.”
· Saudi Arabia (p. 56): Looks at Trump’s close relationship with MBS, including excusing brutal human rights violations while pursing arms sales and close ties with the Kingdom.
o In Nov. 2018, Trump issued a statement in which he speculated that maybe the Crown Prince had knowledge of Khashoggi’s killing—or “maybe he didn’t!”
· Hungary/Orbán (p. 57): Examines how Trump embraced Orbán in the White House despite significant democratic backsliding. Recounts how President Trump called Senator Menendez to defend him after a group of Senators sent Trump a letter urging him to raise concerns.
· Hampering Efforts to Promote Democracy and Human Rights (p. 59): Notes Trump’s weakening of U.S. efforts to promote democracy and transparency. Argues U.S. diplomats cannot overcome the example President Trump sets through his own bully pulpit.
o A former Senior U.S. Official: “The President’s actions have . . . limited our ability to promote or influence democracy.”
o “They just didn’t take us seriously anymore,” said one former Foreign Service Officer, on her interactions with her foreign counterparts
o Trump also failed to stand up for internationally-backed anti-corruption efforts, including in Guatemala with CICIG.
· Ceding Ground to Adversaries (p. 62): Argues that when the U.S. withdraws from diplomatic agreements and is absent from multilateral fora, it creates opportunities for China and Russia to advance their interests at the expense of the United States.
o Looks at how U.S. withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council has accelerated China’s efforts to build supportive coalitions for its abuses in Xinjiang.
o Argues U.S. has disarmed a critical weapon in the “arsenal of democracy” by not standing up as vigorously for democracy.
· Argues that President Trump’s abandonment of democratic values at home and abroad will likely rank as one of the most consequential components of his foreign policy.
Chapter 4: Conclusion, Findings, and Recommendations
· Findings (p. 69): Our allies are weary and alienated; our diplomats struggle to uphold the values we have promoted to the world for decades; and Trump has helped to fuel autocratic trends abroad. President Trump’s foreign policy has made Americans less safe and secure.
· Recommendations (p. 71): Issues a set of recommendations aimed at addressing Trump’s damage and charting a path forward for how the U.S. engages with the world. They focus on the need to rebuild U.S. foreign policy institutions, uphold democratic values at home, heal U.S. relations with allies and partners, and adjust our foreign policy for a new era.
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