After the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, demonstrations against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement broke out across the United States. In response to the demonstrations, President Donald Trump sent federal police wearing camouflage and equipped with tactical gear to Portland, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and dozens of other cities—in some cases, over the explicit objections of local officials. The protests, and the militarized police response to them, highlighted the extent to which police forces at both the local and federal level have adopted military weaponry, tactics, and organizational practices.
Category: Policy Series
After all the controversy, accusations, angry tweets, impeachment hearings, and conspiracy theories, how is the Trump administration’s Russia policy to be assessed? Russia consumed an unprecedented amount of domestic energy during Trump’s presidency, casting a shadow over the White House during the four years Trump lived there. And yet there has been scant systematic analysis of US–Russian relations under Trump, or of the troubled relationship he bequeathed to the Biden administration. With hindsight, the practical results of Trump’s Russia policy were less damaging internationally than was initially anticipated, but they had a pernicious and corrosive impact domestically that has survived into the Biden era.
In late August 2021, Afghans huddled in military airplanes amidst a massive evacuation. Crowds at the airport gates were denied access, then targeted by suicide bombers. These dramatic images encapsulate how security studies scholars typically view migration: refugees as a collateral consequence of conflict; innocent women and children in need of humanitarian assistance; asylum applicants vetted to filter potential terrorists. Too often, academics simply mirror how policymakers and the media talk about migrants as threats. Deportation flights filled with Haitians in September 2021 provide another recent example of imagery overriding analysis.
We completed this article in September 2021, just as the Taliban defeated the American-supported government of Afghanistan, and the United States worked to transport all of its citizens out of the country along with the people of Afghanistan who worked for and with its troops, contractors, and officials. On the liberal internationalism front, this is a set-back for the United States. Not only was an ostensibly aspiring democratic U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan defeated, but the withdrawal from the country was arguably undertaken without full consultation with the United States’ allies who had sent troops and aid in this American-led effort. What, then, can we now say about the future of liberal internationalism (LI)?
On November 9, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called President-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his electoral victory. Perhaps fittingly, news of this exchange first appeared on Twitter. Subsequently, reports emerged in late November that then Indian foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was in the United States to meet with members of Trump’s transition team. Both the call and the visit were striking because they were a departure from the norm. Usually, if U.S. presidents-elect speak to their Indian counterparts, it is after, not before, phone calls to U.S. allies. Moreover, the Indian government has in the past tended to interact with presidential transition teams from Delhi or through its missions in the United States.
Forewarned by a number of other world leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron was well-prepared for the infamous Donald Trump handshake. On 25 May 2017 at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, the two world leaders met for the first time. With cameras clicking and video rolling, President Trump praised Macron’s “tremendous victory” in the 2017 French presidential elections that the “whole world is talking about” and expressed his eagerness to work with Macron on “terrorism” issues. Trump then extended his hand to the brand-new French president, which Macron gripped tight. An awkward, white-knuckled struggle ensued, with Trump wincing and trying to disengage multiple times before Macron released him. In the zero-sum game of testosterone laden death grip handshakes, the score: Macron 1, Trump 0.
The two electoral shocks of 2016 – the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union (‘Brexit’) and Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States – left observers aghast or elated. For those who found themselves in the former category, the outcome of the Brexit referendum represented a crisis that dwarfed any other challenge the European Union had faced in recent years, while Trump’s victory was seen as a “profound shock to the west, one that calls into question the future of its democratic model and the liberal international order.” For the latter group, Brexit was an enormous victory over an “arrogant, out-of-touch political class.” Similar feelings could be found across the Atlantic, as Fox News claimed that the result of the 2016 presidential election was a “national rejection of both the traditional media and the Hollywood elite.” The one shared sentiment among the majority of observers was surprise. Before polls closed on 23 June 2016, even Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and a key figure in the campaign to vote Leave, said he thought Remain would win the EU Referendum. Only a small minority had the prescience to know that the conditions for both outcomes had been building for some time. Jonathan Haslam was among the few who thought that Trump’s election was “likely” due to “burgeoning blue-collar resentment and dissentient opinion among longstanding Democrats.”
At the time of writing, it is only six months since Joe Biden became President of the United States. Yet there is already one notable contrast between Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, that deserves more attention. In a nutshell, Trump promised an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy but couldn’t deliver. Biden is trying to overhaul it, only under the cloak of traditional language. Any attempt to fathom the behaviour of both leaders must navigate this mismatch between words and deeds.
Evaluating the significance and effects of economic sanctions is a serious challenge for scholars. For one thing, appraising the outcomes of sanctions raises the question of perspective: from whose vantage point do we observe their use and effects? While U.S. policymakers often change their approach to sanctions, to targeted countries the continuities in attitude are often more salient than the transfer of power in D.C. from one presidential administration to another. At the same time, the impression among Western capitals and U.S. allies has been that the election of Donald Trump in November 2016 marked a serious strategic shift for United States foreign policy. Any fully global assessment of sanctions must integrate these simultaneous perceptions of continuity as well as change.
We cannot calculate President Trump’s “legacy” for United States foreign policy simply by describing his diplomacy while he was in power. Virtuous fathers can fritter away family wealth, and Mafiosi can leave ill-gotten gains to charity. It is still too early to know what long-term consequences might emerge, and it is difficult to sort out what trends would have prevailed even with a less disruptive leader. Happily, a one-term presidency is less likely to leave durable wreckage in terms of our international reputation than eight years would have done. My own admittedly non-impartial view is that Trump’s domestic legacy was more damaging and dangerous than his international one. With his wanton disregard for truth, his use of social media to spread vituperation and contempt, whether for opponents or supporters who fell out of favor, his winking at practitioners of political violence, he simply trashed the norms needed for a functioning democracy – and that is not to mention the continual challenges to the 2020 election results. Still, H-Diplo has asked about the consequences for foreign policy, and those remain the focus here.