Politics

Trump gave his first State of the Union a year ago. Where is US foreign policy today?

A white man with his first raised, with two white men clapping.

US President Donald Trump gestures at the podium in front of Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House US Rep. Paul Ryan during his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 30, 2018.

Credit:

Win McNamee/Reuters

US President Donald Trump will address Congress and the American people Feb. 5 in the second State of the Union of his presidency.

The State of the Union is the president’s opportunity to lay out his own agenda for the year.

He signaled on Friday that the address, an annual rite of American politics, will include extensive remarks about his standoff with Democrats over building a wall along the US-Mexico border, the subject of an intensely partisan battle prompting a 35-day partial government shutdown that ended a week ago. 

A senior White House official said that Trump will outline what he sees as areas where Republicans and Democrats may be able to find agreement. These include a plan to fund infrastructure improvements across the country, lower the cost of prescription drugs and work to resolve long-standing differences over healthcare.

Trump is also expected to cover foreign policy. According to Reuters, he also said on Thursday that in his address, he will likely announce the site of his late-February summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with Hanoi, Vietnam, as a lead possibility. 

He may also cite progress in peace talks between the government in Afghanistan and Taliban rebels. Trump has signaled that a peace deal would allow the United States to withdraw troops from Afghanistan after 17 years of war triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He and his advisers have been discussing withdrawing half of the US troops in Afghanistan, officials have said, a steep drop that could prompt criticism that Trump is putting US gains there in jeopardy.

Trump is expected to declare in his speech that the fight against ISIS militants in Syria is largely complete, reinforcing his decision to pull 2,000 troops out of Syria, another abrupt move that angered many in his own party.

Here’s what Trump said last year and what actually happened: 

‘America first’ rhetoric, a year later

In last year's State of the Union speech, Trump capitalized on “America first” rhetoric and heart-wrenching stories of everyday Americans in his bid to underline “the steel in America's spine.” But the president also pointed to foreign policy gains made since he took office — many achieved during Republican control of both chambers of Congress — and echoed campaign statements in his promises for the future.

‘Fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones’

Trump’s tariffs have dominated headlines for the better course of 2018. The impacts have been felt across industries and all over the US: Corn and soy farmers. Boating. Hotels.

He also targeted the North American Free Trade Agreement — the “single worst deal ever approved,” according to Trump, and a signature promise of his 2016 campaign. This policy goal has come to some fruition, though some analysts say changes have been more for show than substance. On Nov. 30, 2018, the US, Mexico and Canada signed the USMCA, or NAFTA 2.0. Congress has signed the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which outlines some changes for the auto industry, agriculture, labor and digital and intellectual property, but has not yet ratified it. And while the name of the treaty has been updated, dramatic economic effects as compared with the original NAFTA are unlikely.

"Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we haven’t seen for decades,” Trump said in his 2018 address. (A fact-check after his speech said this is partially true.) But in November, GM, the No. 1 carmaker in the US, announced the closure of four American factories and one in Canada.

‘No longer a nuclear threat’

In his 2018 State of the Union, Trump called Kim Jong-un's North Korean regime “depraved” and vowed to address North Korea head on: “I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.”

Trump has since flaunted a warm relationship with Kim, tweeting after their June summit, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience.”

But just last week, intelligence chiefs released a report saying “North Korea retains its WMD capabilities, and ... is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities. North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival.”

Related: Trump and Kim will meet again, but why in Vietnam?

In his 2018 address, Trump made an appeal to lawmakers: “I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”

On May 8, 2018, the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. The multilateral deal came into effect in January 2016, under President Barack Obama, and with buy-in from America's European allies. The withdrawal under Trump threatens to undermine the stability of the deal writ large and erode allies' trust in US commitments. While Iran is still complying with the terms of the deal, the same intelligence report warned that Iranian officials have indicated that Iran may “resume nuclear activities that the [deal] limits — if Iran does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected.”

‘We no longer tell our enemies our plans’

In 2018, Trump announced new “rules of engagement” in military conflict. Speaking with regard to Afghanistan, he said, “our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.” Trump had long criticized Obama for giving away “the element of surprise” in announcing military plans.

But in December, Trump himself brashly announced a pull out of troops from Syria, declaring in a tweet, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” Trump did pledge to “extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth” in his 2018 address, saying the US “will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

But thousands of ISIS fighters are still active. According to the January intelligence report, “ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.”

Last year, Trump praised his recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. This move garnered support from Trump's evangelical base and Israel itself, but it has also been cause for significant concern. In January, terrorist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for a devastating attack on Nairobi, Kenya. They released a statement citing the recognition of Jerusalem as the reason for storming the Dusit2D hotel and surrounding shopping complex, which led to the deaths of at least 21 people, including an American and a British citizen.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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