Trump Abroad: Big Talk, Not Much Big Action


Here’s a headline in the LA Times this morning:

Is this really true? I’m not so sure. What Trump demonstrated was big talk far more than big action. He signed a $110 billion weapons deal with the Saudis that was only a hair different from what Obama had agreed to. He announced a bunch of new business that would have happened with or without him. He supported the Saudi war in Yemen, but Obama did too. He visited all the usual places in Israel, just like Obama. He asked NATO countries to spend more on defense, just like Obama did. He played games with our Article 5 commitment, but afterward his aides made clear that nothing had changed.

Rhetorically, of course, Trump was very different indeed. Obama may have given the Saudis nearly everything they wanted, but Trump explicitly said he didn’t care about their human rights abuses. John Kerry worked endlessly on a peace deal in Israel, but he did it quietly. Trump blared his commitment to PEACE at every opportunity. Obama pushed our NATO allies to spend more on defense, but Trump gave a loud public speech about it.

Rhetoric matters, for good and ill, but the truth is that Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t accompanied by much in the way of action.1 In terms of what the US actually plans to do, there really hasn’t been much change so far.

1The biggest substantive difference is the possibility of US withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement. However, Trump hasn’t announced his decision about that yet.