The foreign policy debate that wasn’t and the Trump successes that were

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By John J. Metzler

Turn down the shouting, tone down the hype and tune in for a serious moment on U.S. foreign policy.

In the closing stages of the seemingly perpetual U.S. Presidential election campaign, the final debate was slated to cover foreign policy — it really didn’t.

But let’s first focus on what was said concerning the foreign policy before widening our lens to the wider challenges and successes in the global arena.

Consider the combustible situation on the Korean Peninsula. When Donald Trump assumed the presidency, North Korea had already conducted four nuclear tests and had tested intercontinental missile systems to deliver them. Kim Jong-Un’s communist regime had announced a target list which included American bases in Japan as well as Hawaii and West coast USA. And this was ok?

By 2013 the new North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un had made threats and brought the Obama administration to the point of hand wringing over the clear and present danger from North Korea.

But in 2017, newly elected President Trump bluntly warned Kim from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly. The world appeared on the brink. But the Donald got Kim to blink and amazingly offered to meet with the North Korean dictator in a momentous Singapore Summit. The world paused, exhaled and stepped back from the abyss. Trump stopped the ticking clock but didn’t solve the long-term problem of Pyongyang’s nuclear proliferation and its threats. But no war!

Democrat challenger Joe Biden scorned the Trump Administration for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Nonetheless despite leaving the formal agreement, the USA has significantly reduced its carbon emissions via private sector initiatives.

Viewing China, Donald Trump’s tariffs and sanctions have worked to stop the hemorrhage of American jobs, massive trade deficits, serious human rights violations, and perfidious technology theft.

The debate’s big face-offs over American energy production and especially fracking, went viral.

But take note; the United States became the world’s top crude oil producer in 2018 and 2019!

Amazingly despite a powerful industrial economy, the USA is no longer dependent for its energy supplies from the volatile Middle East. Energy independence has emerged as a vital strategic asset for the USA since it makes us less dependent on restive regions. Moreover there’s less likelihood to be pulled militarily into the region for wars and extended commitments.

For a long time the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the reviled OPEC oil cartel, had USA industry and consumers over the proverbial barrel hostage to scarcity, price and risk.

In 1980, 62 percent of U.S. petroleum imports came from OPEC; by 2000 it was 45 percent and by 2019 it fell to 18 percent! Importantly, U.S. petroleum imports in 2019 were the lowest since 1954, and that’s in a surging powerful pre-pandemic economy!

This is one reason why fracking is so vital to domestic energy production.

While Washington has dramatically improved its relations with democratic Israel, the Trump Administration has led an amazing outreach to the Arab World, starting with Saudi Arabia, not only to isolate Islamic Iran, but to coax key Arab states to recognize the State of Israel. For the first time in 26 years, Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now surprisingly even Sudan, a dramatic outlier with a political rap sheet like Iran, all have offered diplomatic recognition to the Jerusalem government courtesy of dogged and focused American diplomacy. This process has created a fundamental shift towards Middle East peace.

But the debate did not have a peep about terrorism, Afghanistan, Islamic State or other issues which have dominated American policy concerns since 2001. Or NATO. How about Cuba and Venezuela?

Islamic State, which was originally described as a junior varsity operation by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, grew to seize an area of Iraq the size of Pennsylvania. Occupation, genocide and anti-Christian persecution in 2015 made the Caliphate a major threat to regional stability. Soon after taking office, the Trump Administration unleashed the U.S. military’s terrible swift sword to largely eradicate the Islamic State.

Syria? Despite the ongoing civil conflict, the U.S. wasn’t taking the bait for military involvement.

Afghanistan poses a different quandary. After twenty years of fighting terrorists where it all started, the Administration plans to finally withdraw the already downsized American troop commitment pending a peace deal with the Taliban. It’s long overdue for the Afghan army to do the heavy lifting to defend their country.

The foreign policy lines appear drawn, that’s until there’s a surprise crisis.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]