More than any previous president, Donald Trump comes into office as a wild card on international affairs. He is not beholden to any of the standard orthodoxies of American foreign policy, and his contradictory statements and actions make it unclear what he is actually going to do. His policies are more Jacksonian than anything we've seen in modern times. He has expressed no interest in promoting American values abroad, only in acquiring good deals for the United States. He wants to ramp up military spending but it's unclear what for. He seems to think that the best way to handle asymmetric threats like terrorism is torture.
Here are four immediate thoughts for what we might expect.
Neoconservatism is dead, for now, again
Neoconservatives — who believe that Washington must forcefully stand up for American values abroad — have historically switched back and forth between Democrats and Republicans depending on what the ruling party's policies were. They hated Nixon's detente, but loved George W. Bush's presidency. Most of them were horrified by Trump's candidacy and defected from the GOP this cycle to favor Hillary Clinton, whose support of various interventions in the name of American values dovetails nicely with their worldview. Now, with her defeat, they are an ideology without a party.
It's remarkable that a Republican nominee could hate the Iraq War as much as Trump does. Never mind that Trump was not actually against the Iraq War when it happened, as he claimed. Unlike most establishment Republican candidates this cycle (Marco Rubio comes to mind), Trump could flout party orthodoxy with impunity... and even turn the issue against the Democrats, given that Clinton was their nominee. He has allowed the GOP to finally unburden itself from defending the war. Now both parties can have an honest debate about what's next.
Trade deals are dead
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is finished. NAFTA might be torn up. Trade wars are a legitimate possibility, recessions be damned, as is the United States storming out of the World Trade Organization in a huff.
We are about to find out just how important trade deals are in cementing ties in international affairs. TPP proponents have argued that if it did not pass, Asian and Pacific countries would turn to China, which would rewrite the trade rules of the region on its own terms. Will that happen? Or will countries continue to use the United States economically and militarily to counterbalance China's rise? The standard post-war liberal orthodoxy hasn't had a lot of counterfactuals to compare it to, and it's about to get one now.
Will Trump uphold our security commitments?
People who like the status quo and don't want to see nuclear proliferation and war on the Eurasian continent breathed a mighty sigh of relief when Trump said he would uphold America's security commitments to South Korea.
He had previously complained that Japan and South Korea free-ride on American defense commitments, demanded that both countries pay the United States more, and suggested that they should get their own nuclear weapons. After his victory, South Korea held an emergency security meeting to discuss its options, and soon after Trump reassured South Korean President Park Geun-hye in a phone call.
That's one hurdle out of the way. Now what about our security commitments across the other ocean? Just as with Japan and South Korea, Trump has claimed that the United States was getting a raw deal in Europe and Europeans were free-riding without contributing to their own defense. Given Trump's closeness with Russia, this raises serious questions about whether he will continue to uphold America's commitments to NATO. If he does not, all bets are off. Russian invasions of Baltic states? European nuclear proliferation? The return of balance-of-power politics on the continent? All in play.
Trump's win means that the war in Syria is more likely to end sooner
My biggest fear for a Hillary Clinton presidency was that she would ramp up American involvement in the war in Syria, turning it into a full-blown proxy war between the United States and Russia which would last as long as those two countries were willing to sustain it... which, as the Cold War demonstrated, could be decades.
With Trump as president, the rebels are doomed and they probably know it. Trump wholeheartedly buys the Russian line that Bashar al-Assad's government and ISIS are the only two viable actors in the field, and that the latter must be destroyed. The United States will likely now stand aside while Assad crushes all opposition, and might even coordinate with Russia to get the job done. Trump seems to view the world almost exclusively from a nationalist, what's-in-it-for-us perspective, and the plight of the Syrian people living under Assad's yoke simply doesn't concern him at all.
That said, the Syrian war has been so destructive that any outcome that stopped the fighting might be superior to continued bloodshed. An Assad victory is now the fastest, and most likely, way for that to happen.