Trump and Asia: Continuity, Change, and Disruption


The election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States in 2016 sparked intense anxiety about the future of American leadership in Asia and the world. The new president’s attacks on alliances, trade, and global institutions; his praise of erstwhile adversaries such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un; his adoption of the pre-war isolationist “America First” label; his disregard for human rights and democracy; his understaffing of foreign affairs and defense positions in government; his transactional approach to summitry; and his impetuous surprise tweets on foreign policy have all dominated the headlines about American foreign policy and unnerved internationalists at home and abroad. Diplomats—especially those representing close US allies—are barely able to conceal their exasperation at the disruptive, unpredictable, and often insulting style of the president. Yet no close US ally or partner in Asia has de-aligned from the United States. If anything, security cooperation with major allies and partners has increased since 2016, and some allies like Japan have welcomed a more forceful US security policy after growing concerns about the Obama administration’s comparative passivity in the face of Chinese coercion. Two years into the Trump administration, there is evidence of both disruption and continuity in US strategy in Asia. An objective assessment of Trump’s Asia policy requires careful consideration of both dimensions.

One analytical framework that helps in this assessment is to separate Trump’s approach to Asia into the two variables most often used by social scientists: agency and structure. Agency accounts for the sources of greatest anxiety, while structure explains why there is so much continuity and resilience in US relationships despite the style and worldview of the 45th president. 

Agency: History begins with Trump, according to Trump

How can we use logic to explain the agency of Donald J. Trump? Responsible journalists try to report the facts, but in the current divisive environment reporting is often driven by short-term tweets, ideologically-framed expert commentary, and opinion rather than historical or policy context. Political scientists should try to define the variables that explain state behavior, but generally reject agency as a unit of analysis because there is little opportunity for generalizable theorization.1 That is why classical realist Kenneth Waltz acknowledged the importance of individual leadership—his “first image” of analysis—but rejected it in preference for the measurable second and third images of state behavior and the international system.2 Historians, meanwhile, can provide important context but also tend to defer more rigorous scholarship until archival materials are available. Psychiatrists have some of the most important analytical tools necessary to explain agency, but the American Psychiatric Society’s so-called “Goldwater Rule” (established in 1973 after a group of psychiatrists publicly asserted in 1964 that the Republican candidate for president was mad) bans members from commenting on public figures’ psychological state without having conducted a professional assessment of that individual.3 It is noteworthy that psychiatrists are allowed to assess past leaders and have noted, among other things, that authoritarians have tended to demonstrate strong indications of obsessive compulsive disorder, paranoia and narcissism—but this scholarship evokes more speculation than it provides a scientifically verifiable explanation for agency in the current context.4

In short, scholars are still struggling to explain Trump’s agency in a rigorous and methodological way even as they are obsessed by it. Nevertheless, certain aspects of his leadership style and worldview are both self-proclaimed and/or sitting in plain sight. These provide a basis for beginning to explain that which fundamentally separates Trump from his predecessors with respect to foreign policy, particularly towards Asia.

First, the president has since the mid-1980s argued consistently that Japan and Korea are cheating the United States by sustaining large trade surpluses while unfairly expecting that the US military defend their countries. While the overwhelming majority of economists would argue that trade deficits are largely the result of macroeconomic factors and are not indicators in themselves of relative economic competitiveness and the majority of security experts would assert that US forward military presence helps prevent threats from arising to the United States itself, Trump clearly believes that international trade is akin to lending money to governments that then do not pay for security services rendered.5 Thus, he has rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have aligned US allies and partners around a set of rules to pressure Chinese compliance and has instead applied steel tariffs on those same allies and partners while threatening massive auto tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (all based on a spurious “national security” provision rejected by the Pentagon).6 Trump has also reportedly demanded that Japan and Korea pay 100% of the costs of stationing US forces plus a 50% mark-up. While the administration has not followed through on the more extreme demands from the president as of this article, the threats themselves have undermined confidence in the US commitment to alliances at a time of rising challenges from China and North Korea while yielding little in the way of new market access for US manufacturers and farmers (the US trade deficit has gone up since 2016). Thus far, support for alliance with the United States has held steady in Japan, Korea, and Australia—but confidence in the US leadership has plummeted, according to polls in those countries.7 At some point, one would expect that declining confidence in US judgment and commitment would weigh down support for alliances themselves, even under the shadow of Chinese and North Korean threats.

Second, Trump has defined US relations with other countries largely around his personal relationships with the leaders of those countries, rather than the values, national interests, or standing treaties and commitments that have framed previous presidents’ approaches. The president has argued since the 1980s that his business experience and skill at “the art of the deal” give him unique powers to transform relations with adversaries.8 Trump has rejected the assessments of his intelligence community and the warnings of his own envoys in dealing with Putin, Kim Jong-un, and Xi Jinping, often publicly accepting these leaders’ words over his own appointees.9 The president’s self-confidence in his own judgement is mirrored by a demonstrated lack of confidence in experts of his own choosing and a penchant for publicly countermanding (usually by tweet) the positions of his cabinet secretaries or envoys, often when they are implementing his own policies. As a result, the usual machinery of diplomacy has been weakened, with dictators defying US officials’ demands and seeking deals directly with Trump, while allies question whether their negotiations with US counterparts will ultimately be undone by the president.

Third, the president has embraced the “America First” label with its anti-alliance, anti-Semitic, and isolationist overtones from the pre-war years. It is probable that Trump did not know the history of the America First Committee when David Sanger of the New York Times asked in an interview in March 2016 whether the candidate’s worldview was comparable to that isolationist pre-war organization, but the president has since embraced the label.10 The America First worldview manifests itself in ways that are deeply destructive to American engagement in Asia and the world at large, including: White House proposals for budgets that would have slashed spending on diplomacy and development; a continuing nonchalance about the absence of senior political appointees on Asia in the State and Defense departments11; the emphasis on anti-Muslim overtones to immigration policy; and the adversarial approach to multilateral institutions that form an important toolkit for US policy in Asia such as the World Trade Organization or the United Nations.

Yet, it is also important to remember that the roots and evolution of the America First movement are not purely isolationist with respect to Asia. In 1940 a majority of Americans rejected involvement in the war in Europe according to Gallup surveys, but a majority also favored resisting Japan in Asia even at the risk of war.12 In the early 1950s many of the pre-war isolationists shifted their criticism of entangling alliances to Europe—arguing for an “Asia First” strategy that would have supported General Douglas Macarthur’s call for total war against Chinese communism rather than the Truman administration’s emphasis on NATO. Steve Bannon, the closest thing Trump has to a foreign policy intellectual, has argued that US foreign policy has to be radically reconfigured to shift away from Europe and the Middle East towards a focus on confronting China.13 While the unilateralist, xenophobic, and isolationist elements of Bannon’s worldview distress those in Asia who seek enlightened American leadership, his views on China resonate with hardliners in Tokyo and Taipei and probably add some ideological glue to the administration’s emphasis on strategic competition with Beijing. Finally, in sharp contrast to the pre-war America Firsters, Trump has followed his campaign promise to increase defense spending to contend with the high-end military and technological threat posed by the PLA.

The president’s supporters would argue that his style confounds adversaries by being both muscular and unpredictable. That assessment is not entirely wrong. Richard Nixon’s surprise opening to China in 1971 shocked allies but ultimately reset the balance of power in Asia after Vietnam and forced Moscow to the negotiating table for arms control. Ronald Reagan’s maritime strategy to choke the Soviet navy inside the Sea of Okhotsk from Japan and the First Island Chain was too risky for many in Washington and the region, but successfully reversed Soviet expansion under the Brezhnev Doctrine. The president’s enthusiasts often evoke these precedents to claim that Trump is also being “bold”—but there are critical differences as well. First, Nixon and Reagan were careful students of history and of the institutions they would lead, while Trump clearly is not. Moreover, Nixon and Reagan caused disruption in the pursuit of restoring American leadership in the world—a goal Donald Trump has not once articulated as his purpose. Indeed, for Trump disruption itself often appears to be the objective. And while Trump has brought greater pressure to bear on adversaries, including his September 2017 economic sanctions on North Korea, he often undercuts that leverage as he did by “falling in love” with Kim Jong-un and freezing further sanctions and military exercises without achieving verifiable results.

Finally, despite the powers afforded to him as commander-in-chief under the Constitution, Donald Trump has spent most of his time railing against institutions rather than trying to lead or shape them. In part this is because his campaign was always about punishing the bicoastal elite rather than enacting a governing agenda. But Trump has also been frustrated by the structure of American domestic politics and the international relations of Asia.

Structure: Trumpism cannot bend history that easily

Three structural factors at home have prevented the worst outcomes from Trump’s worldview. First, the Founding Fathers constructed a republic that would place multiple checks and balances on the executive. The president may propose slashing foreign affairs and development spending, for example, but the Congress controls the power of the purse and has consistently restored State and USAID budgets in law. Second, interest group politics do not align behind the anti-trade, isolationist approach often articulated by the president. One of the most important interest groups to Republicans, for example, are farmers and ranchers, who are overwhelmingly pro-trade and opposed to tariffs. Another constituency critical to Republicans is the business community, which is also pro-trade (though initially too enamored of the Trump administration’s tax cuts to actively lobby against steel tariffs). The only interest group supportive of tariffs and protectionism is organized labor—a traditional constituency of the Democratic Party but one that helped to push Donald Trump just over the top in Ohio and Michigan in 2016. Still, labor union membership constitutes only 10.5% of all workers in the United States and exerts an electoral impact primarily because of the battle for swing states in the Midwest.14

Perhaps, the most important domestic structural constraint on Trump’s agency is that the 2016 election did not represent a popular mandate for protectionism or isolationism. In polls taken after 2016 the American public’s support for global engagement, trade, defending Asian allies, and immigration rose to the highest levels in decades.15 Much of this is reflected in Congress, though just below the surface since many Republicans are hesitant to invite a primary challenger from the right by openly challenging Trump, while many Democrats are afraid to hand the labor vote over to Trump by openly championing free trade. A September 2018 CSIS survey of congressional attitudes demonstrated robust bipartisan support for global engagement with only a small handful of bona fide “isolationists” in either chamber—most notably Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who has been relatively muted on Asia compared with his opposition to commitments in Europe and the Middle East.16 Congress has quietly constrained Trump’s impulses on Asia in critical ways. After the president said that he would eventually like to pull troops out of South Korea during his June 2018 Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, for example, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) preventing the administration from going below 22,000 troops without congressional approval.17 In order to compete with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, Congress took the initiative to pass the Build Act, doubling the lending levels authorized for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and permitting equity positions on infrastructure loans similar to those taken by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).18 Overall congressional views on Asia were reflected in the Asia Reassurance and Investment Act (ARIA) which passed by wide margins in both chambers in December 2018 and authorized (though did not appropriate) greater support for diplomatic engagement, development, and trade policies towards Asia. The bill’s author, Senator Cory Gardiner of Colorado, explained to the press that the bill reflected Congress’s deep anxiety that the withdrawal from TPP left their constituents without a framework for expanding economic opportunities in the region.19

 In short, the structure of domestic American politics inclines the nation towards deeper engagement with Asia rather than retrenchment. However, there is one important caveat to this conclusion and that is the deepening polarization of American (and many other nations’) politics.  In surveys Americans do not list foreign affairs as the issue they primarily vote on.20 Moreover, populist candidates have a demonstrated ability to swing the foreign policy views of their base in new and often unlikely directions. For example, before Trump’s election 58% of Republicans said Russia was a threat. This number dropped to 38% after Donald Trump told them that Putin was not a threat, while Democrats in contrast increased their threat assessment of Russia from 50% to 63%.21 Political polarization in the United States is largely about culture and identity, and these are variables that are more susceptible to agency than others.

Yet, the structure of international relations in Asia comes into the equation as a further source of continuity in American engagement of the region. The recent foreign policy strategy white papers of Japan, Australia, and New Zealand all showcase the growing anxiety of US allies about Chinese intentions and a determination to preserve a favorable balance-of-power centered on the United States despite misgivings that have also grown about Donald Trump.22 American foreign policy strategy has historically been responsive to allies’ concerted warnings in Asia, particularly when rival hegemonic powers are seeking to expand. It was Japanese anxiety that helped to reverse Jimmy Carter’s promise to pull troops out of Korea, for example, and a chorus of warnings to Barack Obama from democratic leaders in the region that convinced him of the need to restore credibility and presence through membership in TPP and then the “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia in 2011.23 Donald Trump is less empathetic to allies’ anxieties than any of his predecessors, but that is not true of the Congress, the think tanks, the media, or the national security establishment writ large.

As I argued in By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific since 1783, the United States has been clumsily but predictably responsive to hegemonic threats to the balance-of-power in the Pacific since the beginning of the Republic.24 Despite Trumpism, that characterization certainly applies to the current administration. The Trump administration’s 2018 National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS) are the first such strategies since the Cold War to argue unequivocally that the United States is engaged in great power competition for regional leadership. Competition with China is the clear framing strategy for the national security community in Washington—clumsily but predictably.

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific vision: Continuity and contradictions in US strategy

The continuity and contradictions of US policy towards Asia under Donald Trump are particularly evident in the administration’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) vision. First articulated by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a speech at CSIS in March 2017, the FOIP has been derided by critics as hypocritical or inattentive to key parts of the region, but the conceptual framing it represents is worthy of serious consideration. Indeed, the FOIP as it is now sometimes called as an acronym, represents an evolution in US competitive strategies vis-à-vis a rising and coercive China that will likely prove enduring even if the label changes under future administrations.

To begin with, the FOIP answers one fundamental question about Asia strategy that has vexed US policy for decades: whether the US response to the rise of China should be accommodation or competition and whether future regional order would be settled primarily through a bipolar condominium between the United States and China or through harnessing of Asian multipolarity and closer alignment among the major democratic powers in the region to constrain China’s ability to assert hegemony. Xi Jinping’s answer to that question was the proposal for a “New Model of Great Power Relations,” which was embraced by Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice but resisted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama’s secretaries of defense because it visibly downgraded the influence of US treaty allies and rising democracies like India and Indonesia.25 Tillerson’s announcement of the FOIP—and the administration’s consistent use of the term and concept since—was a victory for Mahanian maritime strategists, including Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo, whose own foreign ministry had developed the FOIP concept. The administration’s embrace of a US-Japan-Australia-India “Quad” following Tillerson’s speech also marked a clear contrast to earlier administrations’ reluctance to provoke Beijing by embracing what looked like quasi-containment.26 The US-Japan-Australia trilateral leg of the FOIP has been particularly productive, with the three countries increasing military interoperability and signing an MOU on cooperation in infrastructure development in the region. Importantly, the overall premise of FOIP enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Congress and think tanks, despite much criticism on implementation.

Yet FOIP also suffers from the idiosyncrasies of Trump’s style and worldview. For one thing, it is not entirely clear whether the president himself has ever studied let alone articulated the vision (aside from one prepared speech), despite persistent efforts by the vice president and national security team to advance the strategic vision. Second, any vision for a “free and open” Asia Pacific will be incomplete without a plan to promote free trade and open societies—two pillars of US strategy in the Pacific since 1945. The Trump administration’s trade strategy is being driven primarily by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, an advocate of managed trade who has insisted that his trade negotiations with Japan, China, Korea, Canada, and Mexico remain independent of the larger national security strategy of the administration. In most respects the Lighthizer negotiating strategy undermines alliances in ways that contradict the FOIP.

Moreover, the shift from TPP to bilateral negotiations focused on allies’ manufacturing does considerable harm to US economic interests as agricultural exporters are locked out of liberalization afforded to remaining TPP members (now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Pacific Partnership or “CPTPP”) and to high tech US firms that needed the leverage of TPP to bend China to global rules with respect to issues such as forced technology transfer and disciplining state-owned enterprises. Promotion of values has also been a critical part of US strategy in Asia, as a way to sustain domestic support in the United States but also based on the realist assumption that resilient and justly governed states will be less susceptible to coercion from hostile powers and more inclined to friendly relations with the United States. Trump has expressed virtually no interest in human rights or democracy in Asia or any part of the world (with the exceptions of Venezuela and briefly North Korea), and while engagement with difficult regimes may be necessary to counter Chinese strategic ambitions, inattention to democratic norms will spawn no shortage of opportunities for influence campaigns and coercion in the region.

Third, FOIP suffers from dysfunctional execution from the top down. While a handful of key Asia officials at NSC and Defense are among the best and brightest in the field, the administration has allowed huge gaps to grow in personnel, including ambassadorships, the assistant secretaries of state in charge of East and South Asia, and key jobs on Asia at Defense. The policymaking process is also chaotic by all accounts. Previous administrations issued initial presidential directives on how the NSC meetings and the broader interagency process would be organized, but after several do-overs of the presidential directive (the first included Bannon and was dropped after much controversy), the Trump administration still lacks an identifiable process for policy coordination. Initially this reflected the Trump team’s own surprise at coming to power, but more fundamentally it flows from the president’s own historic preference for ad hoc decision-making and stove-piped rivalry.

Finally, FOIP has fallen victim to some recurring blind spots in the traditional Mahanian approach to Asia. Most notable is the lack of attention to the Korean Peninsula as a fulcrum of great power rivalry in Northeast Asia. The maritime view of US interests reflects Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan’s own 19th-century view that the continent of Asia was a “hornets’ nest” that would only entrap the United States in unwinnable conflicts. That same perspective led George F. Kennan and then Secretary of State Dean Acheson to draw the Cold War defensive line in January 1950 on the wrong side of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Jimmy Carter to think that it was strategically sound to retreat from the peninsula twenty-five years after that.27 The FOIP and Quad have the merit of harnessing powerful maritime democracies in the region, but neither has a convenient role for Seoul. Trump’s approach to North Korea, including his impetuous decision to freeze military exercises with the ROK after meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, also speaks to a level of strategic illiteracy about the geopolitical importance of the Korean Peninsula. China’s effort to pull South Korea into a 2014 Shanghai summit statement calling for Asians to determine Asian security alone and subsequent mercantile coercion of Korean companies to block US deployment of Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) systems to the South should have provided warning to the Trump team of Beijing’s effort to weaken a critical US alliance. Southeast Asia has similarly been neglected, and the recent Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) survey of strategic elites within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reveals how quickly the United States has lost influence in that subregion since 2016.28

These considerable criticisms aside, FOIP does provide clear direction to those on the front lines of US diplomacy and military service in the Western Pacific. While putting to rest the illusion that a grand strategic bargain with China is possible under Xi Jinping, FOIP also has the virtue of placing the United States, Japan, Australia, and other like-minded powers on the side of smaller nations in the region seeking to determine their future trajectory without coercion from China. Historically US foreign policy has been more successful when it has aligned with the aspirations of post-colonial states in Asia and less successful when it has not (the Vietnam War). FOIP has that virtue.

China: Competition or containment?29

One larger question hanging over Trump Asia policy –and one not entirely answered by FOIP—is the end state the administration expects from its China policy. FOIP was clearly designed around competition with China through alignment with like-minded states in the region, but none of those states will align with the United States if Washington’s goal is containment of China as we defined the term during the Cold War. The reasons should be obvious: most regional states trade more with China than with the United States (though foreign direct investment remains far stronger with the United States) and none are prepared at this point to divert attention from economic development towards military confrontation.

Thus far, the administration has defined the boundaries of competition with China in maximalist terms. Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on China in October 2018 provided a long and generally accurate list of Chinese transgressions against US interests, but only cursory attention to the question of whether cooperation with Beijing is even possible.30 The one area of cooperation that defined the Obama administration’s China policy, climate change, is now off the agenda for the Trump team. It is not clear whether the NSC or Pentagon still believe that it is possible to “shape” China’s direction, which was a key assumption behind the Quadrennial Defense Reviews of the previous decades. Instead, the emphasis at the Defense Department is on making up for lost ground in terms of high-end warfighting capabilities (ground lost as Chinese ship-to-ship missiles and other systems began to outrange and outgun US systems because of the focus on counterinsurgency and the deleterious effects of sequestration). The response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been inconsistent, with the administration publicly condemning Italy for agreeing to participate in BRI in early 2019 but remaining silent on Japan agreeing to cooperate with BRI in November 2018.31 The administration’s response to Chinese political influence in the United States has also gone to extremes, with the foreign policy experts in the administration narrowly averting a Spring 2018 proposal by White House senior advisor Stephen Miller to ban all Chinese students from receiving visas—a move that ironically would have devastated colleges and universities in the states that voted for Donald Trump.32

The administration’s internal economic debate on China is even more confusing. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has pursued an agreement with Beijing on bilateral economic issues that would reassure Wall Street investors anxious about growth-crippling trade wars; White House economic advisor Peter Navarro has sought complete decoupling of production networks from China; Lighthizer has pushed Beijing to agree to internal restructuring under the continued threat of tariffs in a move that few China experts expect Xi Jinping to accept or implement. The economic team was at such odds that the principals openly fought with each other in front of their Chinese counterparts in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in May 2018.33

Nevertheless, the Trump administration appears to be pursuing legitimate national security and economic concerns that a more conventional Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush administration would have had to confront as well. Most prominent is the move by Beijing for Huawei and other government-directed Chinese companies to control the global 5G global telecommunications market. While US farmers and consumer goods manufacturers may find it impossible to imagine decoupling from China economically, there is a robust consensus emerging in Congress and the administration that decoupling from China on 5G is essential for the United States on national security and technology development grounds. Support for this position varies overseas but is generally strong among the so-called “Five Eyes” (US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) and Japan.34 In fact, the administration’s muscular declaratory policy on strategic investment screening and new legislation from Congress on CFIUS (the Committee on Foreign Investment into the United States) has caused Chinese investment into the United States to decline by 95%. Meanwhile, White House and congressional criticism of universities that take funding from China has led several to refuse those funds and many others to put in place safeguards against undue Chinese interference.35 Too often, however, the administration conflates all aspects of economic interaction with China as bad.  That narrative weakens support from allies on areas such as 5G where a united front with Asian and NATO allies is necessary.  


New chapters in US strategy towards Asia tend to begin clumsily –and this is a particularly clumsy opening to the era of overt long-term strategic competition with China. Yet the US emphasis on strategic competition is more a matter of structure than agency. It was Beijing that challenged the received assumptions about China policy in Washington by militarizing the South China Sea, reversing Deng’s era of “reform and opening,” calling on Asians to move away from alliances with the United States, pledging technology dominance in Made in China 2025, expanding domestic repression, and enacting mercantilist embargoes against neighboring states. Scholars can debate how many of those Chinese moves were agency (Xi Jinping) or structure (power cycle theory), but they have had an enormous impact on US strategic thinking across the ideological spectrum. The alarm has been sounded not only in the White House and the halls of Congress, but even by the strongest advocates of condominium with China, including former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, who warned in November 2018 that China has itself brought an “iron curtain” down by its own actions.36

Whether Donald Trump wins re-election or not, strategic competition is likely to be the conceptual foreign policy framework the next administration will have to adopt unless Xi himself changes direction. That said, the Trump administration will have to define what victory in this long-term contest looks like, as other specialists on grand strategy have recently urged.37 Washington will also have to find ways to avoid self-defeating competition with large parts of the American electorate and America’s closest allies. Otherwise, the surprisingly enduring solidarity around U.S. leadership in the region will begin to shift. 

* Michael J. Green is Director of Asian Studies and Chair in Modern and Contemporary Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asia on the NSC staff.

1. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, “Let Us Now Praise Great Men,” International Security Vol. 25, No. 4 (April 1, 2001): 107–46.

2. Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 26.

3. Aaron Levin, “Goldwater Rule’s Origins Based on Long-Ago Controversy,” Psychiatric News, August 25, 2016,; American Psychiatric Association, The Principles of Medical Ethics: With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry (2013), p. 9.

4. Seth Davin Norrholm and Samuel Hunley, “The Psychology of Dictators: Power, Fear, and Anxiety,”, last updated January 12, 2017,; James Fallon, “The Mind of a Dictator: Exploring the Minds of Psychopaths and Dictators,” Psychology Today, published November 11, 2011,; Ann Ruth Willner, “Political Strategies in Aid of Charisma,” and “The Impact and Legacy of Political Charisma,” in The Spellbinders: Charismatic Political Leadership (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 172-201; Benedict Carey, “Teasing Out Policy Insight From a Character Profile,” The New York Times, March 28, 2011,

5. For details see Victor Cha, “Seoul Searching,” The National Interest (May/June 2019), pp. 10-19.

6. David Lawder and David Shepardson, “Automakers Brace for U.S. Government Report on Import Tariffs,” Reuters, February 15, 2019,

7.   “2018 Joint Japan-U.S. Public Opinion Survey,” Yomiuri Shimbun and Gallup, December 19, 2018,; Dina Smeltz, Karl Friedhoff, and Lily Wojtowicz, “South Koreans See Improved Security, Confident in U.S. Security Guarantee,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, January 18, 2019,; Alex Oliver, “2018 Lowy Institute Poll,” Lowy Institute, June 20, 2018, pp. 6-7,

8. Lois Romano, “Donald Trump, Holding All The Cards The Tower! The Team! The Money! The Future!,” The Washington Post, November 15, 1984,

9. Greg Miller, “Gap Continues to Widen Between Trump and Intelligence Community on Key Issues,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2018,

10. David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, “In Donald Trump’s Worldview, America Comes First, and Everybody Else Pays,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016,

11. For the record, the author signed an August 2016 letter by 50 former Bush administration officials rebuking candidate Trump’s worldview and has not sought or desired a position in the administration, instead focusing on attempts to provide balanced foreign policy assessments and to train a new generation of Asia experts.

12. Gallup, “The Gallup Poll,” 1:297, cited in Michael Green, By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), p. 181.

13. Heather Long, “Think What You Want About Steve Bannon, But He’s Got a Good Point on China,” The Washington Post, August 17, 2017,; Michael Crowley, “The Man Who Wants to Unmake the West,” March/April 2017, pp. 24-32,

14. “Union Members 2018,” U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 18, 2019,

15. Dina Smeltz, et al., “2018 Chicago Council Survey – America Engaged: American Public Opinion and US Foreign Policy,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, October 2, 2018, pp. 2-6,; Dina Smeltz, et al., “2017 Chicago Council Survey: What Americans Think about America First,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, October 2, 2017, pp. 2-7,; Frank Newport, ”Trump’s Foreign Policy and American Public Opinion,” Gallup, July 12, 2018,

16. Kathleen H. Hicks, et al., “Beyond the Water’s Edge: Measuring the Internationalism of Congress,” CSIS, September 26, 2018,

17. Scott R. Anderson, Sarah Tate Chambers, and Molly E. Reynolds, “What’s in the New NDAA,” Lawfare, August 14, 2018,

18. Patricia Zengerle, “Congress, Eying China, Votes to Overhaul Development Finance,” Reuters, October 3, 2018,

19. Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018, S. 2736, 115th Cong. (2018); “2019 U.S.-Japan Security Seminar: Challenges and Opportunities for the Alliance,” CSIS, January 10, 2019,

20. Frank Newport, “Top Issues for Voters: Healthcare, Economy, Immigration,” Gallup, November 2, 2018, Ahead of the 2018 US midterm elections, foreign affairs was the 7th most important issue for registered voters, after healthcare, the economy, immigration, the way women are treated in society, gun policy, and taxes. 69% of Democrats or Democrat-leaning voters said foreign affairs is extremely or very important, while 67% of Republicans or Republican-leaning voters said the same. But among Democrats or Democrat-leaning voters, foreign affairs was only the 8th most important priority.

21. Kristen Bialik, “Putin Remains Overwhelmingly Unpopular in the United States,” Pew Research Center, March 26, 2018,

22. See Japan’s National Security Strategy. Tokyo: Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, December 17, 2013, pp. 20-23,; Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. Canberra: Australian Government, November 23, 2017, pp. 37-47,; New Zealand’s Strategic Defense Policy Statement 2018. Wellington: New Zealand Government, July 2018, p. 14, Note that the 2013 Japan National Security Strategy was deliberately not updated or changed after 2016.

23. Franz-Stefan Gady, “How the ‘Deep State’ Stopped a US President From Withdrawing U.S. Troops From Korea,” The Diplomat, June 15, 2018,; Kurt M. Campbell, The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2016), pp. 11-17.

24. Michael J. Green, By More than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific since 1783 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), pp. 9-15

25. For further analysis, see Ibid., pp. 526-27.

26. Jesse Barker Gale, “The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Maritime Silk Road Initiative,” CSIS, April 2, 2018,

27. Green, By More than Providence, pp. 7-9.

28. Tang Siew Mun et al., “The State of Southeast Asia: 2019 Survey Report,” Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute ASEAN Studies Center, January 29, 2019, pp. 21-22, 26-32,

29. Karl Friedhoff and Craig Kafura, “China Not Yet Seen as a Threat by the American Public,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, October 19, 2018,

Vice President Michael Pence, “Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China,” Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C., October 4, 2018, While the vice president offered a generally accurate list of Chinese transgressions, the charge of Chinese interference in US elections was unfounded.

Davide Ghiglione, et al., “Italy set to formally endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Financial Times, March 5, 2019,; Jason Horowitz, “Italy’s Deal with China Signals a Shift as U.S. Influence Recedes,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019,; Gaku Shimada, “Japan and China take first step toward joint infrastructure abroad,” Nikkei Asian Review, September 4, 2018,; Andreea Brînză, “Japan’s Belt and Road Balancing Act,” The Diplomat, November 8, 2018,

30. Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell, “U.S. Considered Ban on Student Visas for Chinese Nationals,” Financial Times, October 2, 2018,

31. Damian Paletta, “Top Trump trade officials still at odds after profane shouting match in Beijing,” The Washington Post, May 16, 2018,

32. Rob Taylor and Sara Germano, “At Gathering of Spy Chiefs, U.S., Allies Agreed to Contain Huawei,” The Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2018,

35. Josh Rogin, “University rejects Chinese Communist Party-linked influence efforts on campus,” The Washington Post, January 14, 2018,

36. Hank Paulson, “Remarks by Henry M. Paulson, Jr., on the United States and China at a Crossroads,” Paulson Institute, November 7, 2018,

37. See for example, Hal Brands and Zack Cooper, “After the Responsible Stakeholder What? Debating China Strategy,” Texas National Security Review, Vol. 2, No.  2 (February 2019), (

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