President Donald Trump’s foreign policy is frequently described as “isolationist.” That’s because he shows a notable lack of enthusiasm for the ways in which the United States has traditionally interacted with other countries.
The description, however, is inaccurate and misleading, as events in Venezuela illustrate.
The socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro has brought the country to ruin. A competitive government has been set up by Juan Guaido, head of the democratically elected National Assembly that Maduro has tried to dissolve.
“Isolationism” is a pejorative that doesn’t really describe the foreign policy views of much of anyone. Few, and no one of consequence, argue that the United States should cut ourselves off from the rest of the world.
Read more commentary:
Venezuela was my home, and socialism destroyed it. Slowly, it will destroy America, too.
Afghanistan may be a mess if US troops leave; they should leave anyway. Trump is right.
Venezuela’s mafia state under Nicolas Maduro is almost over
There are those who think that America is much too quick to stick our nose into the business of other countries. And that we need to much more narrowly define actionable national interests that warrant such interventions.
This school of thought is more accurately called “noninterventionism.”
Noninterventionists would say, indeed do say, that what is occurring in Venezuela does not involve any actionable U.S. national interest. We should stay out of it.
This is partly a statement of principle. But also a pragmatic calculation. If socialism is to fail in Venezuela, better that it fails on its own accord, rather than being shoved off a cliff by the United States. The lesson for other countries would be clearer.
That reflects my view on the matter.
Trump is highly active on Venezuela
Trump, however, has been highly active regarding Venezuela.
Early on, his administration slapped sanctions on close advisers and supporters of Maduro.
The United States was one of the first countries to recognize the alternative Guaido government. Additional sanctions have been put on Venezuelan oil.
The Trump administration is trying to hold assets held abroad by the Venezuelan state in reserve for the Guaido government. And it is attempting to cabin oil revenue earned in the United States by Venezuelan state enterprises for the same purpose.
The administration has put together an aid package of food and medicine for delivery to Venezuela. This is more than just a humanitarian gesture. It is an attempt to get the military to abandon Maduro, rather than stop badly needed assistance for the Venezuelan people.
And administration officials have pointedly said that a U.S. military intervention isn’t off the table.
These are not the actions of an isolationist or a noninterventionist, to put it mildly.
Trump’s foreign policy hard to define
Trump’s foreign policy doesn’t fit into any of the familiar constructs.
Trump is not a neoconservative like George W. Bush or John McCain. He does not believe that America should be an assertive leader everyplace or sees actionable U.S. interests at stake in every conflict. In general, he believes that the United States should be doing less and that other countries should be doing more.
He is not a multilateralist like President Barack Obama was. He doesn’t believe that America should act principally through multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations or NATO — or have our actions constrained by such organizations.
Trump is also right on Syria
Syria is another illustration of how Trump’s foreign policy is just different. He inherited the threat of an Islamic State terrorist organization in control of vast territory in Iraq and Syria. He authorized aggressive military action to oust it.
That campaign has been successful, so far. Islamic State is no longer a large threat.
A neoconservative or a multilateralist would now want to help shape what comes next in Syria. Trump seems indifferent about it.
Trump has described his foreign policy as “principled realism.” But “opportunistic nationalism” might be a more accurate construct.
Under Trump, the United States isn’t in retreat from the world. But it will be a more independent, and less predictable, actor.
If other countries conclude that they need to rely less on America, that would be sound. And not necessarily a bad thing, for them or us.
Robert Robb is a columnist at The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @RJRobb.