Donald Trump has recently granted a number of high-profile interviews. When asked about his foreign policy views, his go-to response is to say that he doesn’t wish to reveal his foreign policy preferences because he doesn’t want to reveal America’s grand strategy to our enemies. I don’t believe this for a second. In fact, I think it’s patently obvious that he has no comprehension of international relations and thus no clue what his foreign policy would even be. His group of advisors is a laughing stock, and the few comments he has made about foreign policy have drawn universal derision from anyone with even the slightest training in international affairs. Honestly, it’s pretty obvious why he keeps saying he wants to keep his foreign policy secret. It’s because he doesn’t have one.
That being said, I’ll pretend that Trump does, in fact, have a very classy, super tremendous, YUGE foreign policy strategy. He’s still a fool because keeping U.S. grand strategy secret is an utterly moronic thing to do. Trump is conflating tactics with strategy. He is certainly correct that we shouldn’t be revealing where exactly we are deploying our special forces in Syria or where our Ohio class SSBNs are located. We should, however, explain general American policy preferences. Predicting what other leaders and countries are thinking is incredibly hard, even when they are relatively clear with their preferences and values. By obfuscating America’s general foreign policy goals, Trump will only create chaos.
Let’s look at history and test Trump’s ideas (said no Trump supporter ever). First, we’ll examine the Korean War. There are voluminous amounts of historical data indicating that the primary reason North Korea invaded the South is because U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson outlined a number of regions in Asia that the U.S. would defend. He did not include Korea. Thus, by being “unpredictable” and not clearly signaling American policy preferences, the Truman administration fooled North Korea into launching an unnecessary war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Let’s also consider WWI. The historical evidence is very clear that every country involved bore some responsibility for the war’s outbreak. Because no side presented unambiguous intentions or policy preferences until literally days before the war began, their rivals and allies acted under fallacious assumptions. For example, Austria lied to Germany about its intentions regarding Serbia, and the Kaiser convinced himself until a day before the war that Britain would fight on the side of Germany. By being unpredictable, these European powers did not deter; they instead stumbled into a calamitous and incredibly costly war that otherwise could have been avoided. The early Cold War is also riddled with examples of near misses due to reckless “unpredictable” behavior. For example, both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Airlift were precipitated by crazy Soviet provocations. Both situations came perilously close to triggering WWIII. Later in the Cold War, however, there existed institutionalized and highly predictable norms and protocols that helped make both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. feel more secure, thus moderating the security dilemma.
The IR literature base is replete with theoretical and empirical data that supports the utility of predictability. By being predictable, one lowers the risk of miscalculation and war from occurring by decreasing the chance of misunderstanding. Again, I think Trump is probably smart enough to understand this. After all, many IR theories are adapted from microeconomics and game theory, fields that any self-respecting businessman would be acquainted with. Trump’s problem is that he is too uninformed to actually generate a foreign policy strategy, so he is hiding behind the bogus position of “unpredictability.” Of course, his fawning supporters will never call him out on this. Therefore, I figured that I would.