WASHINGTON (AFP) — With elections fast approaching, US President Donald Trump has quickly racked up a string of foreign policy achievements to showcase, even as progress remains elusive on his major goals.
The US military said Wednesday it was pulling some 2,200 troops from Iraq and the White House plans a similar announcement for Afghanistan as Trump seeks to honor his pledge to wind down America’s “endless wars.”
Next week, the Republican incumbent will preside over a signing ceremony between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the first Arab state to recognize the close US ally in decades.
And the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo recently met at the White House to normalize economic relations.
Unlike former president Barack Obama’s signature international efforts such as the Iran nuclear deal, Trump’s recent moves enjoy wide US support and face little risk of reversal if Democrat Joe Biden defeats him on November 3.
But plenty of larger issues remain stuck.
There has been no visible progress for more than a year with North Korea, with which Trump had voiced hope of reaching a historic accord after a string of summits with leader Kim Jong Un.
Venezuela’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro is still in power despite a year and a half of US efforts to topple him, and a US effort to extend a UN arms embargo on Iran failed spectacularly.
Despite Trump’s tough rhetoric, China shows no signs of backing down and has cracked down on freedoms in Hong Kong, while some see Russian President Vladimir Putin as being emboldened by supportive remarks from Trump.
No new wars
Sarah Kreps, a professor at Cornell University, said that Trump can legitimately campaign on having kept the United States out of new wars, while cautioning that few Americans are likely to cast their ballots based on foreign policy issues.
“I cannot recall another president in the post-Cold War period, if not going back further, who used military force less,” she said.
“Whether it’s an achievement or success is probably in the eyes of the beholder. For people who think the US has become over-extended, it could be considered a success.”
She noted that Trump withstood heavy criticism from the foreign policy establishment over his previous decisions to pull troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
“So it looks like he’s trying to fulfill a campaign promise now that he’s given the military time to plan for the drawdown,” she said.
But Trump has also carried out drone strikes, notably a January attack at the Baghdad airport that killed Iran’s most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani.
Tensions have soared with Iran since Trump pulled out of Obama’s nuclear accord and imposed sweeping sanctions in an effort to reduce Tehran’s regional clout.
“It’s hard for Trump to make the case that he kept America out of war when we were just minutes away from war with Iran in 2019 and 2020,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
“There have been too many close calls, too much unhinged bellicose rhetoric, and too much misuse of the Pentagon’s resources to make that case credible,” he said.
‘Minor blips’ vs. pandemic
Katulis described the recent accords and troop drawdowns as “minor blips on a radar screen that is blinking with much bigger crises at home and overseas.”
“Trump’s main legacy on foreign policy — and the greatest security crisis on Trump’s watch — is the one still unfolding before us, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout,” he said.
“The lack of coordination with key partners on responding to the pandemic and economic fallout will make things tougher on America for years to come and has led to a decline in America’s standing in the world.”
Trump has been trailing Biden in the polls amid criticism over his handling of the pandemic, from which the United States has suffered the highest death toll of any nation, as well as his brazenly divisive posture as anti-racism protests sweep the United States.
But the Trump administration has been eager to highlight international successes — it is pushing for long-delayed Afghan peace talks to get underway and also for a resolution to a three-year rift between Qatar and fellow US allies in the Gulf.
Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security advisor, even last week characterized a deal between Turkey and Syrian Kurds — brokered after Trump abruptly pulled US troops — as a diplomatic success.
“You’re seeing a pattern here of the president being a true peacemaker,” he said.