Making sense of US foreign policy under President Donald Trump is a daunting task. Since his inauguration in January 2017, Trump has made an array of decisions that have been nothing short of provocative, enraging US allies and adversaries alike.
Trump’s critics believe he is barely cognizant of how diplomacy works and that his impulsive approach to foreign relations undermines US interests. Many prominent US academics and journalists have censured Trump as a “reality-show president,” lashing out at him for his imprudent decisions in unilaterally exiting international agreements and alienating US partners.
A recent Economist/YouGov poll inspecting Trump’s job approval in foreign policy shows 51% of Americans disapprove of what he is doing in terms of his overseas agenda and managing US relations with other countries. The approval rate for Trump’s foreign policy is 44%.
Relying on a special brand of nationalism, Trump has been scaling back the international commitments of the United States and challenging America’s traditional foreign policy in order to bolster the national economy. However, the president’s economic gains seem to have come at the expense of America’s global clout. A recent study by the Center for American Progress and GBAO Strategies found that for 62% of Americans, the US is losing respect in the world.
Repealing the Iran nuclear deal, departing from the Paris climate agreement, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, entering a trade war with China and clashing with Venezuela are just some of the controversies that Trump has caused.
Cindy Sheehan is a prominent anti-war activist who lost her son, US Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, during the Iraq War. An outspoken critic of US foreign policy and its military expeditions, Sheehan was the 2012 vice-presidential nominee of the Peace and Freedom Party. In 2006, she published her memoir entitled, “Peace Mom: A Mother’s Journey Through Heartache to Activism.”
In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Sheehan about Trump’s foreign policy, US relations with Iran, Venezuela and Russia, and the 2020 presidential elections.
The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Kourosh Ziabari: Many critics of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy say he has undermined America’s global leadership by abandoning democratization and human rights as priorities in US foreign policy. They say Trump has defined American global interests purely in economic terms, and that’s why he refused to censure Saudi Arabia over the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. What’s your take on that?
Cindy Sheehan: My criticism of Trump’s foreign policy is that, in many cases, it is just like Obama’s foreign policy and Bush’s foreign policy, and going back even further in the US empire’s quest for global hegemony. When has the US foreign policy been about “democratization” or “human rights”? These are just false justifications for spreading US imperialism to places that have oil or other exploitable resources. When Trump refused to censure Saudi Arabia, at least he was truthful about the reason: it’s all about profit.
Ziabari: Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership on several occasions and signaled his eagerness to forge friendly relations with Russia. US intelligence agencies believe Moscow tried to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump and this is what Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation was all about. Do you consider Trump’s overtures to Russia to be a bold and fundamental step in reframing US foreign policy, or is he looking for a strong ally because he is fragile?
Sheehan: I am not a mind reader and I don’t know what Trump’s reasoning is, but I think it has been well-proven that Russia did not have undue influence in the 2016 election, and good relations with Russia should be considered a step in the right direction for world peace.
However, the Democrats and their supporters will use any excuse to attack Trump, even going so far as to push bad relations with Russia to the detriment of world peace. Face it, Hillary Clinton as president would have been a step in the wrong direction for world peace. There is much to criticize Trump over, but seeking more positive relations with Russia and North Korea is not one of those reasons.
Ziabari: What do you make of the crisis in Venezuela and the attempts by the Trump administration to topple the Maduro government? Does the United States feel threatened by Venezuela, or is it genuinely intent on installing a democratic government in the Latin American country?
Sheehan: The US has been trying to overthrow the democratically-elected president of Venezuela since 1998, whether it be Hugo Chavez or Nicolas Maduro. The reasons for this are pretty clear: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world and the Bolivarian Revolution is a threat to complete domination of the world’s oil supplies by global capitalists, especially the US oil industry. How could the reasoning of the US be to “install a democratic government” in Venezuela when that country already has a democratic government? The elections in Venezuela have been certified by ex-US President Jimmy Carter as the most transparent in the world.
The threats and sanctions against Venezuela are not about democracy, but about the complete domination of oil profits by US capitalists.
Ziabari: Have Trump’s efforts to engage North Korea diplomatically failed? A vague plan of “denuclearization” was what the Trump-Kim summits in Singapore and Vietnam were supposed to achieve. Do you think North Korea is convinced enough to abandon its nuclear and missile programs following the much-hyped meetings between the leaders of the two countries?
Sheehan: If I were the leader of North Korea, I would not abandon a defensive nuclear program when the country that is urging them to do so has thousands of nuclear bombs. What I find more encouraging is the thawing of relations between the North and South Korean governments. I have been to Korea and I know the people don’t feel like they live in two separate countries and desire reunification with their families.
Ziabari: What’s your view on the Trump administration’s Iran policy? Will Trump get a better agreement than the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the United States unilaterally abrogated in May 2018? Has he killed the chances of a peaceful settlement with Iran?
Sheehan: Trump’s [now-former] neocon, John Bolton, would love nothing better than to destroy Iran for the sake of Israel, mostly. So far, Iran has showed its willingness to engage the US directly and total war has so far been averted.
Iran has long been the jewel in the crown of US foreign policy and the crippling sanctions that have been imposed on it are considered acts of war, and these questions have been presuming that all of these things just started to happen when Trump was president. Since the time of George W. Bush, nuclear inspectors have agreed that Iran was not enriching uranium to make bombs. The JCPOA was a flawed agreement and many people in Iran were upset with Hassan Rouhani that he made a deal like that with the notorious abrogator of treaties, the USA. Just ask the indigenous tribes here in America how well the US adheres to treaties.
Ziabari: After more than two years in office, do you think President Trump has been able to score any significant foreign policy wins? Would you give the credit for eliminating the Islamic State group from Syria to the Trump administration?
Sheehan: I think the people of Syria, Russia and Bashar al-Assad have more to do with eliminating the rebels from Syria than anything the US did, like training and supporting the terrorists.
Ziabari: Will foreign policy be a determining factor in the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections? Will Trump’s major foreign policy decisions, which his detractors describe as failed, serve as his Achilles’ heel in next year’s polls?
Sheehan: Unfortunately, foreign policy hasn’t been a major issue in US elections since the 1960s and it won’t be this time with all major candidates being very hawkish. Of course, the belligerent Democrats will pretend that Trump is “soft” on terror, when it’s been shown that he is dropping even more bombs on a daily basis than Obama did. The US is a rogue state no matter who leads it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.