November 2019: What Can We Learn From Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy?

November 19, 2019

Speaker: Edward P. Joseph

   About the Speaker:   

Edward P. Joseph has 15 years’ experience in conflict areas from the Balkans to the Middle East to Haiti, and is a foreign policy professional, commentator and lecturer who brings an on-the-ground perspective to his work.

Serving with the UN, the US Army, NATO, Catholic Relief Services and the International Crisis Group, he was an active participant in the international effort to bring peace during and after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Among his senior international positions, Mr. Joseph served as the US-nominated Deputy Ambassador of one of the largest democracy and human rights missions in the world – the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. In April, 2012, Mr. Joseph personally negotiated an eleventh-hour agreement between Serbia and Kosovo that averted a crisis and another violent confrontation between the two neighbors. The breakthrough accomplishment earned the praise of leaders on both sides, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier.

Mr. Joseph also served on missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Haiti. Trained as a helicopter pilot in the Army Reserve, Mr. Joseph is a veteran, deployed with NATO in Bosnia.  He speaks Croatian / Serbian, and French, Italian and Spanish.

A broadcast and print commentator, Mr. Joseph has been published in virtually all major outlets, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs.  His article, ‘The Balkans, Interrupted’ was selected as one of ‘The Year’s Best.’

Mr. Joseph earned his J.D. at the University of Virginia School of Law, and his B.A. and M.A., respectively, from Johns Hopkins University, and its School of Advanced International Studies (where he teaches.)

   Program Recording:   

VPM Radio has recorded this program and an archived streaming link to the audio recording as well as our own video version is available here.

   Event Review:    

What can we learn from Donald Trump’s foreign affairs policy?

by Olivia Goodman, RWAC Intern

In the midst of President Trump’s impeachment hearings, Edward P. Josephs’ talk was more relevant than ever. As a foreign policy analyst, Joseph was able to give a fresh perspective on the relationship Trump has built with Ukraine that was insightful and at times humorous. Joseph begins by asking the audience “What if we could have a completely objective conversation about Donald Trump?” filling the ballroom with a laugh. Of course, everyone at this event in the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond Virginia knows that discussions about Donald Trump’s presidency are never objective.

Guest speaker Joseph suggests that in order to break down Trump’s foreign affairs policy we need to understand the dynamics of his presidency. In other words, our country has never been more divided. Joseph goes on to say there is “polarization about the polarization” of the United States. According to Mr. Joseph, there are people who highly praise Trump’s foreign policy and there are people who give very sharp and serious criticism. In other words, Trump’s policies aren’t compromises or mild opinions; you either completely agree or completely disagree, creating a strong division in our nation. 

“Imagine that there’s a new president, who is elected one year from now,” he asks the audience. But Joseph doesn’t just ask this for our amusement. Instead, Joseph continues in this hypothetical situation by describing a scenario in which the new president calls on you and wants you to chair a small bipartisan team to tell him/her what to do about foreign policy. “What was Donald Trump up to and how does that inform how the new president would see the world.” It was a puzzling question for the audience. Nevertheless, Joseph suggests that in order to educate the new president accurately, we must first identify the key characteristics of Donald Trump’s foreign policy: audaciousness, being transactional, eagerness for attention and timid at times, just to name a few. But two of the characteristics Joseph chose to describe Donald Trump’s foreign policy that stood out were ‘very contradicting’ and ‘unpredictable’, which are two words that do not tend to make for a conflict-free foreign policy. It seems as if the President doesn’t know how to maintain relationships with our current allies, as Joseph explained. Donald Trump is “dismissive and critical of allies, he praises dictators…”

So what’s the bottom line and how would someone explain Donald Trump to this hypothetical president-elect? According to Edward P. Joseph, there are several short term costs that Trump’s foreign policy has imposed on the United States and even long term costs that we don’t even know about yet. Our relationship with our allies has been strained which makes it more difficult to trade internationally. There is a silver lining, however, that due to Trump’s unpredictability, the international system has actually become more resilient. Despite Trump’s attacks, NATO has been operationally stronger and “despite the blow to our image, people still admire the US”. 

Joseph concludes his talk with the message that the future president might need to: “Learn from President Trump’s exploitation of American power and learn from his mistakes, and use the power that we clearly have./.. And don’t make gratuitous offenses to our allies that weaken our power.” As Joseph’s talk came to an end, members of the audience left with a question planted in their head of how President Donald Trump’s current foreign policies affect tomorrow. 

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