For Trump, a Focus on U.S. Interests and a Disdain for Moralizing

In FOREIGN RELATIONS, Governing and the Cabinet On

Mr. Trump has dispensed with what he considers pointless moralizing and preachy naïveté. He has taken foreign policy to its most realpolitik moment in generations, playing down issues of human rights or democracy that animated his predecessors, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. His “America First” approach focuses not on how other nations treat their people but on what they can do for the United States.

The past week has showcased the emerging philosophy. Even before Tuesday’s brutal chemical weapons attack in Syria, the Trump administration had said that pushing out Mr. Assad, Syria’s president, was not a priority, reversing Mr. Obama’s position. On Monday, Mr. Trump welcomed Egypt’s authoritarian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to the White House with no public mention of the thousands of political opponents imprisoned there. On Thursday, Mr. Trump will host China’s Communist president, Xi Jinping, in Florida at his Mar-a-Lago estate, where trade and security will overshadow domestic repression.

“He seems to have a view that he’s the president of the United States and it’s the job of the president of the United States to protect the interests of the American people — and the interests of the American people come ahead of the interests of citizens of other countries,” said Paul J. Saunders, the executive director of the Center for the National Interest in Washington. “We’ll see how that turns into operational policy, or if it does, but that certainly is the point of view that he articulates.”

“It struck me that it was very Chinese in orientation,” said Ian Bremmer, the founder and president of the Eurasia Group, a consultancy in Washington. “You take out all of the issues of American exceptionalism and values, you take out all the restraints and responsibilities of American alliances and architecture that are based on those values, and it creates a very different sense of foreign policy.”

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