Trump’s foreign policy was overwhelmingly a failure, subordinating the US to its enemies and alienating long-term allies. There were nevertheless two noteworthy successes, and a third has to be added to the list.
While the leadership of traditional allies Japan and Israel were quick to embrace Trump, only Israel was given reciprocal treatment, with the administration seeking to advance the interests of the nation as defined by the Israeli Prime Minister. As trade barriers and overbearing treatment reduced our diplomatic footprint throughout the world, the bond between Israel in the US remained strong. Meanwhile, decades of tenuous to poor relations with the largest country in South America, Brazil, were turned around due to the rapport formed between Trump and Bolsonaro.
Many complaints followed about Bolsonaro’s leadership style. He was, and is, a brash bully who seems to seek his own aggrandizement before that of his nation and who has shown not simply a willingness to ignore past atrocities but celebrate those who have committed them. His successes have come almost exclusively on the fiscal side of the ledger, where he has been seen to excel simply because he has rolled back some of the crippling policy enacted by prior socialists. He has thus framed himself as a fighter, and his supporters are encouraged to ignore the many failures and instead focus on the constant criticisms from his enemies… as they attack him and he pushes back, he receives greater appreciation for continuing to fight. His corruption, his ineptitude, and his willingness to embrace many of the countries that Brazil’s right and alt-right movements had long called enemies – China and Russia – are ignored. There are reasons beyond his utter failure at COVID-19 response for comparison to Trump.
Under the radar, there was another success for the Trump administration, and it came about for many of the same reasons as the Brazil connection. This has been made clear with a series of tweets from the Secretary of State of the Philippines.
This is the chief diplomat of the country, reacting to a protracted expansion by China into Philippine territory.
It was just a little over a year ago that the Philippines publicly decided to further shed ties with the United States, seeing to join into defense pacts with Russia instead. Trump responded with direct entreaties to their leader Duterte, and their actions were delayed. Subsequent aggression by China has pushed them back toward the United States, and some have suggested this has been possible because Biden has replaced Trump. Locsin makes clear that this is not the case.
A couple of other recent tweets are particularly relevant regarding foreign relations with the country moving forward:
Distaste for Trump and his “America First” policy has been widespread, with populations of allied countries throughout the world reporting significant jumps in their approval of the US government following the shift to Biden. Those jumps are in danger of being curtailed by decisions by the Biden administration to limit contract fulfillment on COVID-19 vaccines in order to facilitate domestic treatment. Then, too, while some tariffs have been lifted, many remain in place and are hindering free trade. These continuations of “America First” have begun to trigger backlash, but not in the Philippines. There, the expectation of “America First” seems baked into the general attitude of the population, and actions in that direction are not causing a particularly bad reaction.
More, Locsin is clearly operating under the delusion that the Trump administration could be trusted. Regarding Pompeo, Locsin regards him as being just as honest to his core as the leadership from China and Russia:
And regarding all three countries in general, whether China under Xi, Russia under Putin and the US both under Trump and Biden:
It looks as though Trump had a breakthrough in the Philippines because he and his administration were viewed as honest. That may have been true when Trump was heaping praise upon Duterte despite the man’s history as a mass murderer; Trump has a record of appreciating the reckless and destructive use of power. Beyond that, Trump’s fickle nature, dishonesty and utter lack of honor have been documented for decades, not least of which was through advice tendered within his own books.
The US relationship with the Philippines is fairly key, as they provide a point of entry toward major regional allies South Korea and Japan. It looks to have been salvaged, despite the election of a strongman with a dictatorial bent, by a leadership too wrapped in their own sense of self-importance to recognize that they were not viewed as equals. One might think that China’s recent actions would have broken that delusion, but it seems to not be the case. Instead, the United States has an opportunity to rebuild long-held ties, limited mainly by issues like human rights violations by Duterte.