We have entered the era of “America first” with only a vague understanding of its meaning. President Trump’s inaugural address signaled an ambitious nationalist reimagining of the post-World War II international order. Trump’s foreign policy team, in contrast, seems to spring from that order. The resulting uncertainty is global and dangerous. Vacuums of leadership are not generally filled by the good guys.
The administration’s policy shift is most evident so far in the areas of trade and refugees — Trump prefers less of both. Given a narrowed conception of national interest and the president’s discomfort with the idea of “nation building,” foreign assistance would seem a natural next target. Persistent rumors that the administration is mulling major cuts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have heightened this speculation.
Although Trump hasn’t spoken much on this topic, some of his comments have reflected an inclination to pull back. “It is necessary that we invest in our infrastructure, stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us and use that money to rebuild our tunnels, roads, bridges and schools,” he said when he announced his candidacy. And in a March 2016 interview with the Washington Post editorial board, he said: “I watched as we built schools in Iraq and they’d be blown up. And we’d build another one, and it would get blown up. . . . And yet we can’t build a school in Brooklyn. We have no money for education, because we can’t build in our own country. And at what point do you say, hey, we have to take care of ourselves.”