Donald Trump’s foreign policies reverse legacy, achievements of George H.W. Bush

December 4, 2018

As President Trump prepares to pay his respects to the late President George H.W. Bush, he is doing his best to reverse many of the internationalist policies Mr. Bush embraced.

On the day that Mr. Bush died, Mr. Trump signed a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, the deal that the late president considered one of his crowning achievements. Mr. Trump gave Congress six months to accept his new agreement or go back to pre-NAFTA trade rules.

“We [will] get rid of NAFTA it’s been a disaster for the United States,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump also has criticized harshly the World Trade Organization, saying its rules consistently hurt the U.S. economy. Mr. Bush’s administration laid much of the groundwork for creating the WTO, which was established in 1995, three years after he left the White House.

“They’re such different characters,” foreign-policy analyst Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute said of the two presidents. “It’s as if they don’t belong to the same Republican Party.”

Mr. Bush advocated trade liberalization as president, saying it was the best way to raise the standard of living of all U.S. trading partners while creating jobs at home.

“I think free trade is going to expand our job opportunity,” Mr. Bush said while running for re-election in 1992. “We need more free-trade agreements.”

While Mr. Trump has roundly criticized NAFTA for being unfair to the U.S., his new deal leaves in place the basic framework of Mr. Bush’s vision a trilateral pact aimed at promoting economic cooperation. Mr. Trump is implementing requirements that he says will encourage companies to produce more in the U.S. to prevent a drain of jobs to either trading partner.

The friction between Mr. Trump and the Bush family is well-documented. But in the lead-up to the late president’s funeral Wednesday in Washington, the White House is focusing on Mr. Bush’s service to the nation and his reputation as a gentleman, rather than any policy clashes.

“Looking forward to being with the Bush Family to pay my respects to President George H.W. Bush,” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday.

Larry Kudlow, economic adviser to Mr. Trump who supports the president’s tariffs on China to force a more level playing field on trade, got to know then-Vice President George H.W. Bush while serving as a White House staffer in the Reagan administration. He said he was occasionally tasked with crafting budget talking points for Mr. Bush.

“Many times he’d actually call you into his office to thank you for the talking point, and talk about the talking point,” Mr. Kudlow said Monday. “It’s an anecdote to show you what a class act he was. Papa Bush was a great American.”

Ms. Pletka said there are similarities in the way that Mr. Trump and Mr. Bush handled Saudi Arabia and China, calling their approaches “intensely transactional.” But she said American attitudes have changed about U.S. involvement in the Middle East since Mr. Bush was president.

“The attitude that George H.W. Bush brought and for which he was applauded going to war to remove [Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein and not paying a penny for it, would be something for which Donald Trump, if he chose to do it, would be flayed alive,” she said.

She also said Mr. Trump is extremely pro-Israel, while Mr. Bush “wasn’t particularly interested in Israel and didn’t especially have sympathy for the country.”

Mr. Bush also reveled in foreign policy as a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a CIA director and former U.S. diplomat to China. He earned much credit for his handling of the fall of the former Soviet Union, working carefully toward the unification of East and West Germany without antagonizing Russia.

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