Nixon, Reagan and Trump

Nixon, Reagan and Trump

By Hastings Wyman –

Despite President Trump’s radical departure from the diplomatic norms of the last half century or so, there is one sense in which Trump is following in a tradition, albeit a Republican foreign policy tradition.

Richard Nixon will long be remembered for his rapprochement with “Red” China. Working his Henry Kissinger, his National Security Advisor, Nixon substantially shifted the balance of power in the Cold War.

In 1987, some fifteen years after Nixon’s China break-through, President Reagan, a more conservative GOPer than Nixon, denounced the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” much to the horror of liberal foreign policy experts at the time. Then he spoke before the Berlin Wall, and to his speechwriters’ dismay, ad libbed the now famous line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” With that line, wrote the Washington Post 40 years later, “the Great Communicator himself set [ting] the collapse of Soviet communism into motion.”

Now comes Donald Trump. In recent months, Trump has dominated foreign policy with his ground-breaking efforts to remove the North Korean regime’s nuclear arsenal and its deliverability system of missiles capable of reaching the United States. Trump’s series of war-like threats to North Korea, his tightening of the economic screws on Kim Jong Un’s regime, and now his upcoming meeting with the North Korean dictator were all at Trump’s personal initiative.

It doesn’t take a lifetime of serving in the State Department to see how this would benefit our country. Removing nuclear missiles from a hostile foreign power, missiles that could reach American cities, would certainly enhance this nation’s security. Moreover, as part of this effort, Trump is trying to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, ending a war that began in the 1950s.

Moreover, Trump will have ushered in a new era in foreign policy, an era when the president leads the way and leaves it to the bureaucrats – be they diplomats or generals – to catch up with him. This could well become the new normal, as presidents of both parties want to be remembered for making a personal difference, not following a group-think recommendation of even the top drawer of the Washington bureaucracy.

This is not to say Democratic presidents haven’t achieved significant foreign policy results, but their goals more often than not have focused on maintaining the peace in a troubled world, not achieving a military or economic breakthrough for the nation.

President Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missiles Crisis comes to mind, as well as President Carter’s presiding at the birth of a peace treaty between longtime foes, Egypt and Israel.

But Kennedy’s widely heralded accomplishment came at a high cost to the United States. To get Khruschev to remove his missiles from Cuba, the US had to promise not to invade the hostile Communist dictatorship 90 miles from Florida. This after an invasion planned by the Eisenhower Administration and botched in its execution by Kennedy (he withdrew US air support). In addition, the US had to withdraw its missiles from Turkey, missiles which could have threatened Moscow. No US goal was reached, nor was the US any more secure after the “Crisis” than it was before Khruschev tested Kennedy’s mettle and got something for his efforts.

Carter’s bringing together the longtime Middle East enemies of Egypt and Israel was a praiseworthy accomplishment. However, it accomplished few real politick gains for the US. It did not contribute to a United States that was stronger or more secure than it was before the agreement. Moreover, the treaty wasn’t free: The US agreed to give $1.5 billion a year in aid to Egypt, an expenditure that continues to this day, nearly 40 years after the agreement, and an expenditure that frequently becomes controversial on the right or the left, in congress or in political campaigns.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently proclaimed in a press conference that “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize.” At a recent Trump rally in Michigan, the crowd chanted, “No-bel, No-bel, No-bel.” And a group of 18 Republican US House members have formally submitted his name for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Such a possibility has brought gales of laughter from the late-night talk show hosts, despite some grudging admiration from some liberals that if he succeeds, Trump deserves the credit for a major achievement. David von Drehle, a Washington Post columnist who is liberal, but no Stakhanovite laborer on behalf of the left, outlined the substantial obstacles to achieving a non-nuclear North Korea and a peaceful peninsula, then concluded his column, “And if Trump pulls it off – truly, lastingly – he will deserve the prize.”

Stay tuned.