Voters giving Trump, Biden blank check on foreign policy

The winner of the presidential race will get a blank check from the voters on one of the most important issues – America’s relations with the rest of the world.

Foreign policy has been invisible in the presidential campaign. Though not formally scheduled for any debate, President Trump wanted it included so he could attack Biden on China.

Neither candidate has laid out a full foreign policy. It’s all about issues to embarrass the opponent. The media coverage of major events abroad has been slim.

President Trump boosts “America First” often seen as meaning “America Alone.”  No more world leader.

He beats up on China, but craves a trade deal. He sees any unfavorable trade balance with any country as unfair. He urges allies to pay more for their defense, even if that saves the U.S. nothing . In fact, the U.S. military budget grows, mostly for its own sake.

He favors dictators in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and North Korea. He likes the U.K prime minister but knocks other allied leaders in Canada, Denmark (because she would not sell him Greenland), Germany and France.

His various moves yield no consistent foreign policy and it would likely remain the same. The result and possibly Trump’s intent is a withdrawal from world leadership, leaving the field open for either chaos or China.

Former Vice President Biden would attempt to restore the previous national foreign policy. His goal would be to bring back the American role as world leader, but that may not be possible.

He has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, though that accord is more an expression of good intentions than an actual commitment. Trump’s rejection of it expressed his opposition to combating climate change. At one stroke, Biden could bring the U.S. back into the community of nations.

When Trump and Hillary Clinton threw out the Trans Pacific Partnership, they thought they were dropping a bad trade deal. They missed the fact that it was really an alliance against China. It continues without the U.S, but Biden says nothing about refashioning it.

How would Biden deal with dictators? Does Saudi Arabia’s crown prince continue to get away with orchestrating murder? Is Russia’s Putin allowed to meddle in U.S. politics and to counter U.S. interests? Will China get a free pass on building its phony islands to house new military bases?

Does Netanyahu have U.S. support for anything he wants? Does Biden try to restart efforts at least delaying Iran’s nuclear weapons development?

Biden cannot merely try to return to the world the way it was before Trump. It’s not possible, even if that was all he wanted.

Above all, having elected Donald Trump, the U.S. will never be seen as the leader it was. This is not a question of popularity or personality, but of trust and reliability.

The U.S. was the assumed world leader with many other countries willing to follow its course. For fear of another Trump episode, they will no longer follow so readily.

The world has changed. China has unveiled its desire to share world leadership with the U.S. if not replace it. Right-wing governments have emerged in Europe. Africa is on the move. Middle East countries are becoming less unified in their attitudes toward Israel and each other.

The departure of the U.K. from the European Union will lead to an enlarged role for the Germans and French and reduced British influence.

If you have read this far, you may either be bored or bewildered if all this really matters. So what if a person’s view on a single issue like Covid-19, the Affordable Care Act, abortion or guns provides a blank check for whoever is president in dealing with foreign affairs?

One good reason is money. The federal budget, which has an enormous economic impact, is composed of three main parts. One part consists of Social Security, Medicare and similar programs. The second is defense and the third is everything else from the FBI to farming.

Under Trump, military spending has outstripped the third part of the budget. Of course, defense means protecting the homeland. But it begins abroad, not merely at our shores. That makes it part of our foreign policy.

So the U.S. spends a huge amount of money to support a foreign policy we don’t have. If you don’t like big government spending too much money without good reason, there’s where it starts.

America supposedly favors some shared values like democracy. U.S. foreign policy should support values that represent what the public wants. But how do we know that? This year’s GOP platform was simply a statement that all we want is whatever the president wants.

After this year’s election, it looks like the president gets that blank check.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.