Trump’s ‘America First’ policies are going to put America way behind

Trump’s ‘America First’ policies are going to put America way behind
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China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a $1 trillion project to build rail and sea routes, ports, roads, energy projects, business parks across 70 countries, and China is using it to influence foreign policy, control transport routes and develop a military presence in strategic regions. Sixteen U.S. senators have asked the administration to pressure the International Monetary Fund to stifle it. The IMF strategy is fruitless; it won’t stop BRI. But the senators are right to worry.

To counter BRI, Trump must reverse his “America First” isolationist foreign policy. As Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Ely Ratner warns, due to BRI and America First, the U.S. is losing its geopolitical battle with China and "many foreign policy achievements over the last 75 years will be lost and … will take generations (at least) to revive.” China’s President Xi Jinping – with projects like BRI and direct foreign aid – is filling the vacuum left by Trump’s policies.


America First has diminished America’s influence and seeded disrespect for the U.S. around the world. By abandoning the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal, we lost forums in which America could communicate, influence, and lead. We also lost credibility and the respect and trust of the members of NATO and the World Trade Organization from the insults Trump hurled at them. After we left TPP, China, which was not in TPP, quickly entered trade pacts with16 countries responsible for a third of global GDP. All of them excluded the US. Our departure strengthened China’s ability to bully countries in the region.


Trump’s also alienated our closest allies. He called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "dishonest and weak," and his trade adviser said there's a special place in hell for Trudeau. Trump announced his tariffs on Canadian and European goods without warning them. He trashed Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans and said she may have killed a trade deal with the U.S. UK anti-Trump demonstrations speak for themselves. Wolfgang Ischinger‏, Germany's former ambassador to the U.S., retweeted former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanSusan Rice calls for Flynn-Kislyak transcripts to be released Trump cites 'Obamagate' in urging GOP to get 'tough' on Democrats Graham announces vote on subpoenas for Comey, Obama-era intel officials MORE asserting that Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin was "nothing short of treasonous," and added that "Europeans are really scared."

America First has sowed disrespect among the world’s people and given China and other countries a welcoming planet. Just 30 percent of people interviewed in 134 countries approve of Trump’s leadership, nearly 20 percent less than President Obama’s and the lowest in more than a decade, when Gallup began asking the question overseas.

Trump alienated Latin America by proposing deep cuts in aid to the region, including a 36 percent cut for 2018, and reversing President Obama’s soft Cuba policy and accusing the Castro regime of “crimes.” Although Congress isn’t cooperating, the proposal would have reduced aid for every Latin American and Caribbean nation. Beijing is already Brazil’s, Chile’s and Peru’s biggest trading partner. In August, 2017, China’s government funded a record $17.2 billion to develop coal, oil and natural gas reserves in the region. Experts believe China could supplant the U.S. in economic and political influence in Latin America. The Putin regime is strengthening economic ties and providing aid to countries in Central America and the Caribbean.

Trump’s 2018 budget cut U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid spending about $8.8 billion. It would be the biggest reduction in resources for the U.S. diplomatic corps and development programs since the 1990s. Trump has denounced U.S. aid as a waste of money. The budget squeeze is attended by declining morale at the State Department.

As of February, more than one-third of the 150 State Department positions requiring Senate confirmation remained empty. The U.S. currently has no ambassadors many strategically important countries. Long-time allies are seeking other relationships. India is working towards fuller strategic relationships with Japan, Australia, Israel and other countries. Mexico is in trade talks with Argentina, Brazil and Europe.

One might ask why Trump adopts these policies and why Congress tolerates them. Trump’s foreign policy is not motivated by what’s best for America. Nor is it informed by qualified advisors. Instead, like nearly all his policies, he chooses his foreign policy to maintain his base, because that’s what keeps Congress in tow. His national approval rating is 45 percent versus 28 percent for the Republicans in Congress. Among Republican voters Trump beats Congressional Republicans by 88 percent to 58 percent. So they won’t oppose Trump because they need his base to win elections. One might say that Trump’s base is dictating America’s foreign policy.

But Congress and the administration need to ask, if nations gravitate away from the U.S. and towards trade, military and political alliances with other nations, how would we stand in the winds that would blow then? Someone needs to take charge before it’s too late.

Neil Baron advised the SEC and congressional staff on rating agency reform. He represented Standard & Poor’s from 1968 to 1989, was Vice Chairman and General Counsel of Fitch Ratings from 1989 to 1998. He also served on the board of Assured Guaranty for a decade.