All by himself: Trump's hatred of international agreements
Illustration credit: Georgia Mclaggan

Since the start of his time in office, President Trump has lived up to his isolationist election promises. He has withdrawn America from myriad international agreements and removed its military presence from areas stretching from Europe to Central Asia. In just over three years, he has dismantled the image of America being an indispensable contributing member of the global order. If Trump is re-elected this November, isolationism will continue to guide the United States’ foreign policy, leading countries across the world to find alternative partners and allies. 

Within the first month of taking over the Oval Office, President Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), arguing that by doing so, he would be putting “America first.” In lieu of this multilateral agreement, Trump instead proposed that the United States become involved in bilateral agreements. But this was only the beginning of his resolute refusal to accept globalism. 

clearly demonstrates the Trump administration’s propensity towards shirking away from multilateral commitments

Only months later, Trump announced plans to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement. While this feat will not be possible until November 2020, it clearly demonstrates the Trump administration’s propensity towards shirking away from multilateral commitments. Continuing to pare down American involvement abroad, President Trump announced in May 2018 that the United States would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He cited a lack of evidence that Iran was cooperating despite multiple confirmations of compliance from the International Atomic Energy Agency

As well as scaling back America’s involvement in international agreements, President Trump has criticized American involvement in overseas conflicts. In his 2019 State of the Union Address he declared that “great nations do not fight endless wars” and has subsequently wound down American military presence abroad. 

During a speech in October 2019, Trump declared that he would remove American troops from Northern Syria, abandoning the US’s Kurdish allies, claiming that the latter had contributed little to the pair’s relationship. “They [the Kurds] didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example,” Trump said. The Kurds did not have a state nor an army during WWII, but the group has been an ally of the US since the 1970s when they fought Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq with American support. 

the Kurds were forced into an alliance with the Assad government

When the American troops withdrew in late 2019, the Kurds lost their deterrent against a Turkish invasion. Consequently, the Kurds were forced into an alliance with the Assad government. This was an action criticized by the American government as it opposes the Assad regime, but this also ignores Trump’s role in creating such an alliance.

Furthermore, removing American troops from Northern Syria has resulted in what some see as a painful betrayal of its Kurdish allies. In an interview with Michael Morrell, the former acting director of the CIA, former CIA Case Officer Marc Polymeropoulos said “I can see the faces of our Kurdish partners, our Syrian partners, even our Afghan partners as they see what, you know, is nothing other than a total betrayal. And I think this will have a lot of ramifications into the future as well because there will be other conflicts where we’re gonna need our local partners.” 

The US is also in the process of completely removing troops from Afghanistan as part of a preliminary peace deal signed with the Taliban in late February 2020. As of 20 June 2020, there were 8,600 US troops in the country, down from a peak of 100,000 in 2010. The agreement aims at achieving a complete withdrawal fourteen months after its signing. While the Taliban agreed to scale down violence and cut ties with Al-Qaeda as part of the agreement, a UN report found that the two still shared close ties, and insurgent violence continues to run rampant in Afghanistan. 

In its haste to remove American troops from the country, the Trump administration runs the risk of leaving Afghanistan unstable. President Trump is simultaneously pursuing the withdrawal of 10,000 of the 35,000 troops in Germany, a decision that was made without consulting Germany itself, according to Angela Merkel’s transatlantic coordinator Peter Beyer. 

Trump has cited putting “America first” as his reason for isolating America

As the United States’ swift removal of troops from across the globe has left its allies disappointed, its withdrawal from international commitments has likewise undermined the faith that its allies have in it as a trustworthy partner and has damaged its national interests. While Trump has cited putting “America first” as his reason for isolating America from international affairs throughout his tenure, former Deputy Secretary of State William Joseph Burns writes “any effort to disentangle the United States from the world comes with complicated downsides.” 

A consequence of withdrawing troops from Germany, the Trump administration has stirred doubts among its European allies about its willingness to provide security on the continent. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron has suggested that Europe secure itself without help from the US in a move towards strategic autonomy. 

Similarly, the American withdrawal from the JCPOA violates the agreement and has punishing consequences for its European signatories, requiring them to cease investment in Iran. As a result of sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and Europe, the country has increasingly sought a trading and military ally in China. 

The two countries are currently closing in on an agreement that would extend Chinese economic and military influence in Iran, with the former proposing to build 5G network infrastructure, high-speed railways, subways, and airports on Iranian soil. Iran will likely go into debt as it pays for these projects, a common fate for countries that accept Chinese support. Additionally, as part of the deal’s framework, China will be able to build port facilities in Iran, including one on the Strait of Hormuz, a passage through which much of the world’s oil travels and one key to the American national interest. 

China’s heightened presence in Iran will weaken the US’s clout in the region, damaging its national interest. The Trump administration’s lack of commitment to its allies and its propensity towards unipolar action weakens its credibility and trustworthiness among its current and future partners. His policies are weakening the United States’ position on the global stage.  

Throughout Trump’s tenure as president, American foreign policy has been guided by isolationist principles and unipolar action. President Trump’s preference for acting alone has damaged relations with America’s partners and has damaged the image of the US’s being a trustworthy and reliable partner. If Trump is reelected in November, the United States will continue to act alone on the world stage, creating a pervasive sense among its current and future allies that it can no longer be depended on as a faithful ally.