The Alexander Hamilton Society Grades Trump’s Grand Strategy


Rachael Osman

On Oct. 30, the Alexander Hamilton Society hosted its first event of the year featuring Professor Peter Feaver and his take on President Donald Trump’s Grand Strategy.

Every semester, the Alexander Hamilton Society organizes events on campus to connect students to foreign policy experts. Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University and scholar in civil-military relations, offered his insights into Trump’s management of foreign policy. He delivered compelling arguments about President Trump’s successes and failures and captivated the audience for the entirety of the discussion.

Professor Feaver opened his speech with a humorous warning that his goal was to anger both the liberal and conservative members of the audience in assessing President Trump’s foreign policy decisions. He divided his lecture into three main categories: grading President Trump on a curve, Trump’s foreign policy struggles compared to other US presidents, and Trump’s “grand strategy.”

In his first argument, Professor Feaver argued that President Trump is “not as bad when graded on a curve,” and, therefore, needs to be graded based on the hand that he was dealt. Primarily, Trump inherited problems that would have troubled any candidate. There is also no indication that other candidates would have made different foreign policy decisions, as Hillary Clinton held the same views on certain issues, like withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran (JCPOA). 

In addition, while President Trump has made many controversial statements, his actions have “a long pedigree in history.” Previous presidents have complained about Europe free-riding off of the United States, and even though President Trump expresses his views more frequently on Twitter, he has been more successful in gaining concessions from Europe. Finally, Feaver claimed that President Trump’s biggest errors are “versions of big mistakes that previous presidents made.” Obama’s abandonment of Iraq– which created a power vacuum– is comparable to Trump’s current policy toward Syria.

For his second argument, Professor Feaver acknowledged that President Trump has struggled more than other presidents in executing successful foreign policy. This can be attributed to the fact that it was “his own failure to prepare to be President” due to the unimpressive caliber of the people that Trump appointed. President Trump assembled the “weakest team of national security experts of any president” and, therefore, began his presidency already having to play catch-up. In addition, Trump’s continuous struggles have illustrated his inability to learn from past mistakes. It is hard to determine whether President Trump is more successful now compared to his beginning days in office. 

Professor Feaver also made a comical analogy of President Trump to Adam Sandler in the movie 50 First Dates. In the movie, Adam Sandler’s character has to woo over his wife each day due to her short-term memory loss, and President Trump similarly “forgets” all the promises he makes with the justification that his promises only last for one day.

In his final argument, Professor Feaver closed by claiming that Trump has no single grand strategy. Due to the high turnover of officials, there have been five dramatically different administrations, policy priorities, communication strategies and, consequently, policy outcomes. Nevertheless, in Dec 2017, Trump released a formal vision of a national security plan that can be found online, although as a whole, it does not capture any of the five policy eras. 

As a result, President Trump’s legacy on US foreign policy cannot be determined but will be more consequential if he is reelected as president. However, Professor Feaver also pointed out that President Trump’s foreign policies cannot be dismissed because the “United States is the number one point of reference for all allies no matter the president.”

Professor Feaver ended his lecture by providing his expert opinion on what’s coming next in US foreign policy, which is: “who knows.”