Yisu Zheng / Sun Staff Photographer

Dr. Richard Bush, who spoke at Cornell on Thursday, is currently a senior fellow and the co-director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

April 22, 2018

Trump Administration Creates a ‘Rather Strange Policy Environment’, Says Guest Lecturer

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Dr. Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that “working in Washington is like living in a post-modernist hell” in a talk about President Donald Trump’s impact on East Asia on Thursday.

Bush worked in the U.S. government for almost two decades, including in Congress, the intelligence community and the State Department, according to the event description. He was previously the chairman and managing director of the American Institute in Taiwan before joining the Brookings Institution, where he is now a senior fellow and the co-director of its Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

At the lecture  sponsored by the China and Asia Pacific Studies program, Bush described how Trump has created an almost-dystopian atmosphere surrounding the policy process, where events such as the “fake news” movement have rendered even facts or statistics void.

“The Trump administration has created a rather strange policy environment … every fact is open to challenge and where contending political forces construct self-serving narratives while deconstructing the narratives of their adversaries,” he said.

Bush argued that this situation has led to many issues. For example, Trump has publicly threatened the use of violence against the Kim regime in North Korea, but there is no clear image of what that would entail or if it would actually happen at all.

In addition, Bush said that the current administration is constantly in a state of flux and has a very nebulous stance on foreign policy in East Asia.

“Whether we are talking about North Korea or China or Taiwan, the administration may be pursuing different policies at the same time. President Trump makes sudden and radical shifts in policy,” Bush said, referencing Trump’s policy shift over the year from “maximum pressure” to meeting the dictator face-to-face last month.

Trump has also talked “as if he wants to end the North Korean regime, which other officials have said is not our goal,” Bush said.

“[He] assumes that if he appears really tough, the other side will back down and accommodate to U.S. wishes,” Bush said. “This is a thread that runs through U.S. policy on a lot of issues. It’s true for China, it’s true for the Middle East, and so on.”

This is not the first time Trump posed a controversial stance related to foreign policy, according to Bush.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump’s statements regarding his foreign policy ideas conveyed what he was against: multilateral trade agreements, other countries using free trade to disadvantage the United States, and security allies freeriding on their alliances with the United States,” Bush said.

Bush said these ideas, however, are not novel concepts with regards to foreign policy in Washington as pro-labour Democrats had voiced the same opinions in the 80’s, and so had Trump.

“He never changed his views, the world on the other hand, changed a lot since then,” Bush said. “He didn’t.”