If President-elect Joe Biden wants to ensure his foreign policy is successful, he would do well to seek some inspiration from an unlikely source: President Donald Trump.
Overall, Trump’s foreign policy has been chaotic at best and a disaster at worst, and he didn’t accomplish a lot of what he set out to do. But occasionally his instincts pointed him in the right direction, and Biden would be wise to chart a similar path.
Trump’s Washington-outsider status and lack of knowledge about American foreign policymaking led him to frequently question long-held beliefs and break taboos that another, more experienced president probably wouldn’t have.
Though in some cases this caused problems, it also opened up new avenues for diplomacy and possible new solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts. From meeting face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to pursuing normalization deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Trump’s natural willingness to reject Washington foreign policy orthodoxy enabled him to forge new ground.
His “America First” approach led him to push hard to end the “forever wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq; refrain from starting new conflicts abroad; and deal with major challenges like China. And his obsession with securing the release of American hostages abroad brought many of them home while elevating that mission’s importance.
Each of those helped US foreign policy during the last four years. If Biden refused to follow Trump’s example, out of partisan passions or a straight rejection of anything Trump touched, many experts on the left and right believe the incoming commander in chief would be making a huge mistake.
“The question is will he recognize the successes of Trump’s efforts at all and build on them rather than apologize for them,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a US foreign policy expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington.
Below are three important foreign policy lessons Biden should learn from Trump’s time in office.
Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid to question foreign policy shibboleths
Trump’s lack of knowledge and his unqualified belief in himself as a master statesman led him to eschew many tenets of the decades-long bipartisan foreign policy consensus in Washington.
For instance, experts long warned that the US president shouldn’t meet face-to-face with the leader of North Korea unless and until he made significant concessions on curbing his nuclear and missile programs. The argument was that such a meeting would give Kim Jong Un a huge foreign policy win — showing his people and the world that he’s an important world leader who has the personal attention of the American president — without getting anything in return.
But Trump rejected that notion and went ahead and met with Kim Jong Un — not once, but three times. They even sent so-called “love letters” to one…