Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Teaching US Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump

I just finished my last class meeting of my MA seminar on US Foreign and Security Policy.  I had feared this class since January of 2017: how to teach this class now that Trump is President.  I decided that I would mix old and new--spend the first two hours discussing a particular institution or aspect as we always have (what are the powers/interests of State, of the Pentagon, etc) and then discuss how it applies under Trump.  Lots more reading about personality/leadership (thanks to Elizabeth Saunders) and more blog posts and short articles. 

As always, we had several sessions where groups of students would take on roles in and around the US government and address an issue.  The various groups picked: Iran deal, Yemen, China, and North Korea.  Speaks much about contemporary US foreign policy: no European stuff, no Africa or Latin America, no climate change.  Not surprised about the lack of international trade or finance--my blindspot is their blindspot?

Today's concluding seminar asked a couple of key questions:
  1. Is Trump really that different?  What policies are similar or different, compared to previous USFP?
  2. Will Trump have temporary or deep impact on USFP?
The list of similar foreign policies was not as short as I might have expected:
  • support Israel, 
  • investing in NATO deterrence mission [pretty sure Trump is entirely unaware]
  • stay in every forever war
  • etc.
The list of different foreign policies:
  • NK, war or no war
  • TPP
  • Climate change
  • etc.
  Obviously, how you answer one affects how you answer two.  And answer number two also focuses on how changed the US foreign policy process is--gutting of State, eroding norms of civ-mil--and on how the bad decisions now create path dependencies.   Obama was able to reverse some of the international diplomatic damage of the Iraq invasion/occupation BUT the Mideast remains destabilized and Iran ascendant. 

We just had a discussion rather than a debate--something I might do next year if we live that long.  Overall, it was an excellent although depressing way to end my first shot at teaching this class in the new Trumpian world.

1 comment:

Phillip Schrank said...

This is an interesting subject. I have often wondered why there is not more emphasis on teaching within our field. I came from a teaching background (MA English Ed) before moving into IR and International Studies.

This semester I teach a course on US Government and I dread the couple weeks I will have to spend fielding questions about Trump's foreign policy. Just last year, there were a lot of questions about just what his FP was, and we have little evidence that his policy is taking any kind of understandable shape, besides unpredictability.