Trump’s first 100 days are over — here’s what to expect in the next 100
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Much has been written and discussed about President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE’s first 100 days in office. 

The first 100 days is, in large part, an arbitrary standard for evaluating the accomplishments of any new president — particularly nowadays. In our time, and in this political moment, it has become increasingly difficult to get big things done in Washington, D.C., in 100 weeks — much less 100 days. 

But what the first 100 days of a presidency can provide is a first glimpse into how the new administration is likely to govern, and perhaps even the early outlines of the policies that the new president will pursue. What we can see from the first 100 days of the Trump presidency are a vast array of international challenges and crises.

So what will Trump’s next 100 days look like? What international security challenges will compel President Trump to act?

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Obviously, no one can predict the future. But one thing that is increasingly clear is that President Trump intends to be active in the national security and foreign policy arenas.

 

From the strike on Shayrat airbase in Syria to the employment of the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) in Afghanistan to the increased authority to the Department of Defense to carry out U.S. military operations in areas such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and perhaps Somalia and Libya, President Trump has demonstrated that he will act with military power to respond to both state and non-state actors that threaten U.S. vital interests as well as the interests of allies and partners in the region.

In short: Trump’s “America First” did not mean “America Only.” 

That may surprise many people. Perhaps even some of Trump’s supporters.

Any surprise that the American public may have about Trump’s nascent, yet active, approach to the world perhaps may stem from a misread of what Trump meant when he said “America First” on the campaign trial. But what is equally likely is that our vast array of national security and foreign policy interests, in our ever-increasingly complex world, are compelling the president to act.

The Obama administration’s approach to resolving our security challenges was to handle them largely through international institutions, operating almost exclusively through fractious, ad hoc coalitions, in an attempt to achieve negotiated outcomes with nefarious states.

What is the common denominator in all of these instances is that the United States was not able to fully achieve its stated objectives, and had to settle for something significantly less, because it often lacked sufficient leverage.

After 100 days in office, it appears that Trump has correctly diagnosed this key, missing element and is taking action in an attempt to gain the leverage necessary for negotiations favorable to U.S. interests.

Institutions like the United Nations are generally designed for consensus, which has rendered them largely ineffective in resolving conflicts. When the aiders and abettors of conflicts, such as Russia, also hold veto power in the same international body trying to hold them accountable, the United States, and its interests, will always lose.

Because actors like Russia and China, who do not play by the rules, can operate as both the defendant and judge, all the United States has is the jury — the court of public opinion. This does not yield much in the way of leverage. Revisionist powers such as Russia and China have “cracked the code” on how to operate with virtual impunity, because no international institution has been able to hold them fully accountable for their actions.

To be fair, none of this is easy. The Obama administration had the right policy objectives in many instances, such as on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and continuing our counterterrorism campaign. But the Obama administration failed to overcome what all nefarious actors assumed: that President Obama was highly unlikely to take unilateral military action — particularly against a state actor.  After Libya, this assumption about Obama only became reinforced in the minds of malign, state actors — as Obama’s regret over Libya became increasingly clear.

Trump seems to be recognizing these dynamics and appears to be in the early stages of approaching these international challenges — particularly from Russia — differently.

To create leverage in conflict areas, Trump appears to be pursuing something of an escalate-to-de-escalate approach — one that may be intended to force actors into a negotiation who might not otherwise be compelled to negotiate. 

We have not seen this approach bear any meaningful changes to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan or Libya thus far. But these over-riding dynamics — weak international institutions; rising, revisionist powers like Russia and China that have found ways to neutralize America’s disproportionate advantages in national power; and an American public weary from, and rightly wary of, becoming engaged in protracted conflicts — have constrained our ability to be more effective in tacking conflicts toward resolution.

On the horizon looms North Korea. Will President Trump take action in his next 100 days to address provocations from Kim Jong Un? We will find out in due course. But what we do know, today, is that the Trump administration is attempting to dial up the national security and foreign policy approaches of the last administration — largely through military power. 

Speaking as a combat veteran myself, let’s hope that over the hundreds of days left in President Trump’s term he does not have to take significant military action. But let’s also ensure that we are prepared for that reality.

It’s only taken 100 days for the world to, once again, compel a U.S. president to act.

 

Alex Gallo is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and served as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee for five years. He is a West Point graduate and combat veteran and a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School. His work has been published by The Washington Post, National Review, The Huffington Post, The Hill and Foreign Affairs.


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