100 days in, Trump's foreign policy plays the strategic ambiguity game
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With Saturday's arrival of the 100 day milestone of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE’s presidency, the media is understandably focused on scorecards and tangible accomplishments.

On foreign affairs, however, President Trump’s strategic ambiguity has given his administration something impossible to quantify on a scorecard and more valuable than any one agreement or action.  It has provided them with the diplomatic space to negotiate solutions to some of the world’s most vexing challenges.

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The concept of strategic ambiguity, deliberate ambiguity, or strategic uncertainty has been used in history to advance a national interest. Israel, for example, utilizes strategic ambiguity in relationship to its nuclear program. This prevents Israel from being in violation of international law, while providing a robust deterrent against its many adversaries.

 

Many nations, including the United States, deal with Taiwan with a heavy dose of strategic ambiguity. How exactly would the world respond in the event that mainland China took military steps to reclaim Taiwan? In certain ways, Taiwan is dealt with by the world as an independent nation. In other ways, it is dealt with as part of China. This strategic ambiguity about its standing has largely served Taiwan well and helped protect its borders from the big, bad neighbor across the Taiwan Strait for more than six decades.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, the future commander-in-chief sent mixed signals to the world about his intentions, while always showing a desire to make a deal.  Part of a master plan or not, President Trump has injected the type of strategic ambiguity into his foreign policy that could allow for tremendous progress in nearly every part of the globe.

While candidate Trump was quick to show an eagerness to find common ground with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he also advanced a major conventional military buildup. On one hand candidate Trump opposed major American military intervention in Syria, on the other he famously said he would “bomb the sh*t” out of ISIS.

As president, Trump’s policies have ticked more toward a conventional Republican presidency. Yet his overall strategic ambiguity and a lack of rigidity in foreign affairs presents an opportunity to solve problems which have confounded successive American presidential administrations. By calling out allies and showing an openness to adversaries, President Trump is keeping the world on its toes — just how he likes it.

On North Korea, Trump is trying a different approach than previous administrations. By scrapping the idea of negotiations for the sake of negotiations, he has stymied a favorite delaying tactic used by the North. As if ripped from the pages of The Art of the Deal, President Trump is putting in place the military and diplomatic pieces to ensure future U.S. negotiations with North Korea are conducted from a position of strength. After witnessing a demonstration of American military resolve with the “Mother of All Bombs” in Afghanistan, responding to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, and a tight head of state bond building with Japan, China has signaled a willingness to do more against North Korea than it had been willing to in recent decades.

With Israel and the Palestinians, candidate Trump hugged Israel very tightly during the campaign. He seemed to be gravitating toward the view that peace with Israel and the Palestinians is like a unicorn — it will never be seen. In the meantime, so the thinking goes, the United States should move its embassy to Jerusalem, deepen our ties with Israel and if the Palestinians ever get their act together, we can talk to them then.

As president, however, Trump has been more measured — an uncomfortable public call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt settlement construction and not a stone yet moved from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. Along with the president’s eagerness to negotiate the deal of the century, these actions show a desire to make real progress in the peace process.

In order for America to advance on these and other complicated issues like Chinese and Russian expansionism, we must have the diplomatic resources necessary to take advantage of the negotiating space which has been created.  If the United States is to promote its economic and national security interests in every part of the world, we must be present in every part of the world.  We can’t successfully advance America First from the comfortable confines of Washington, D.C.

After 100 days, the jury is still out on the success of President Trump’s foreign policy. The potential opportunities which have been created, however, have not been seen in generations.  There’s nothing ambiguous about that.

Andy Keiser is a former Deputy National Security Senior Advisor to the Trump for America transition team, and a former Senior Advisor to the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Keiser is currently a Principal at Navigators Global and a Senior Advisor to the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Follow him on Twitter @andykeiser.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.