US Foreign Policy: How “America First” Affects Allies and Partners

12/10/2017 | 16:30 - 18:00 | DGAP Berlin | Invitation only


Category: United States of America, Germany - USA

On October 12, 2017, the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) hosted a background discussion on American foreign policy under the Trump administration.

The meeting in Berlin focused on the new dynamics and unpredictability of the American administration, and the significant impact these have on the international order. Participants particularly highlighted the duality between president Trump’s rhetoric and his administration’s policy. The debate focused on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the implications of President Trump’s announcing to possibly decertify Iran.

US Foreign Policy under Trump

American and German participants agreed that Trump’s foreign policy has in fact turned out to be more conventional than had been expected at the beginning of his term. One reason for this is that foreign policy challenges remain the same as those that previous administrations had to face. The three most important issues in current US foreign policy concern regions where the US aims at achieving or preserving stability, i.e. first Asia, with a particular focus on China and North Korea; second, the Middle East, with a focus on Iran and the fight against ISIS; and third the relationship between the US and Europe.

Duality Between Trump and his Administration

Discussants agreed on the evident discrepancy between President Trump’s rhetoric and his senior government officials’ actions. However, they disagreed on how this rift within the administration affects actual policy. Some argued that it was near impossible to understand Trump’s foreign policy based on his public rhetoric, geared toward appealing to his supporters as it is – one ought to focus much more on Trump’s actions rather than his rhetoric. Other participants cautioned that, in fact, rhetoric constitutes an important aspect of diplomacy and that an American President’s words carry a lot of weight – his statements ought not to be underestimated.


President Trump belongs to those believing that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran does not prevent the country from becoming a nuclear power. Discussants expected that the US president would probably decertify Iran as complying with the agreement and thereafter leave it to the US Congress to decide on follow-on actions such as new sanctions against the Iranian regime. Some participants noted that the remaining parties to the agreement needed to stand firm and united if they wanted to preserve the nuclear deal.

Overall, the discussion provided a comprehensive exchange of American and German perspectives on American foreign policy today, contributing to the understanding of challenges and dissent between the transatlantic partners.

Dr James Carafano is a Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and E. W. Richardson Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He served as a member of President Trump’s transition team for homeland security and foreign policy.

Dr Henning Riecke heads the DGAP’s USA/Transatlantic Relations Program.

Sebastian Feyock, Program Officer of the DGAP’s USA/Transatlantic Relations Program, chaired the discussion.

The event was supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the US Embassy in Berlin.

Most Read