U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has included so many self-inflicted wounds, it transcends the descriptions we would normally use. Words like “clumsy” or “ineffective” simply won’t do. Those are terms you could have used for previous presidents, like Bush or Obama. But Trump’s choices on Russia, Paris, TPP and now Iran, are so damaging to traditional American interests they must be measured by a new scale: are his actions treasonous or not?
I concede, that sounds hyperbolic—partisan hyperventilating. But, humour me as we consider the facts. Let’s begin with the Paris Treaty. The president has called climate change a Chinese hoax, and during his election campaign he was quick to mock the idea that humans are heating the planet. His base enthusiastically agrees, and so the political math made his decision to pull out of the treaty inevitable.
Choosing to ignore the findings of the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and every other government agency that has identified climate change as a critical threat can be seen as simple malpractice. But choosing to leave the Paris Treaty actively harmed American interests. There was literally no benefit to Washington—the treaty was not even binding. Making the U.S. the only country in the world outside of the agreement simply eliminated Washington’s voice from all discussions regarding how the planet will grapple with the issue. As a result of Trump’s decision, America’s influence, on an issue that every other major power considers to be paramount, dropped almost to zero.
Reducing American influence, in return for no objective benefit, is a common theme in Trump’s foreign policy. When the president chose to walk away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, the rest of the member countries simply carried on without him. The result was reduced tariffs and improved investment conditions for all the major Pacific Rim economies, except the United States.
Trump could have chosen to stay in the TPP and renegotiate the terms, thus keeping a seat at what is now one of the most important trade tables in the world, but instead he simply gave Beijing and Tokyo more influence at the expense of Washington.
Then there is Russia. Trump’s attitude towards Moscow cannot be explained by geo-politics. When he secured the Republican nomination his team made only one single change to the party’s political platform, which was to reduce American support for Ukraine’s struggle against the Russian invasion. Once in office, Trump has avoided almost any criticism of the western alliance’s greatest rival. He has disagreed with his own intelligence agencies when they accuse Moscow of cyber-attacks and election meddling. He has revealed classified information during meetings with Russian officials. And when Moscow released nerve agents in the streets of a NATO ally, Trump was reportedly furious to discover the State Department expelled more Russian spies than anyone else.
It is not an exaggeration to state almost all of Trump’s foreign policy decisions have been to Moscow’s benefit and Washington’s expense.
Which brings us to today, and to Iran. Like the Paris Treaty, it was not a surprise that the president decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. But that does not make it any less of a self-inflicted wound. Killing the deal only unshackles Tehran to relaunch its nuclear weapons program. His decision not only provides no benefits to the United States, it creates new threats that did not exist yesterday.
Tellingly, Trump’s announcement that he was pulling out of the deal was met with news that Tehran and the European signatories intended to continue honouring the agreement, with or without Washington. This is good news for everyone involved, but it is also a stark sign that America’s international importance has diminished so sharply that it is no longer indispensable. In fact, it is no longer even needed at the table.
These foreign policy decisions (and many others) have several things in common. They defied the advice of his own government officials, and most of America’s foreign policy establishment. They have objectively reduced America’s stature and influence in the world. And, in many cases, they have directly increased the power of its rivals in Beijing or Moscow.
In the legal world, one of the factors that is considered when determining the guilt of an accused is cui bono: who benefits. When this question is asked of Trump’s many inexplicable foreign policy decisions, the answer is rarely America. If Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping could have dictated Trump’s actions over the last 18 months, would they have chosen anything different? It is unlikely. And that brings me back to the assertion that we cannot measure his foreign policy against a scale of good or bad, effective or not. We have to ask: is it actually treasonous?