The debate on President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in his first two years in office revolved around the question of what mattered more: the policy or the tweets. Trump-administration officials, sympathetic conservatives, and a significant number of foreign government officials argued that the policy pursued by the administration was sound even though the president had a penchant for hyperbole and sensationalism. Yes, he questioned NATO, but the United States was sending more troops to the Baltics and it provided lethal assistance to Ukraine. Skeptics argued that the president was not aware of many of these policies and that his words mattered. Yes, his National Security Strategy was coherent, but he had not read it and never spoke about its contents. Over time, the skeptics said, he would impose his will on his administration. Then he would act in accordance with his visceral instincts and his daily whims.
Historians will undoubtedly weigh in on which of these two arguments was true in 2017 and 2018, but there is no dispute about the state of affairs in 2019 and looking ahead to 2020. The policy and the tweets are now fused. Trump grew frustrated with the so-called axis of adults, who sought to preserve a mainstream foreign policy. He replaced these officials with people who are too sycophantic or weak to stand up to him. In John Bolton, his erstwhile national security adviser, Trump thought he had a sycophant. But when Bolton pushed back, Trump forced him out, too. As one former administration official put it to Politico, this is not “an A Team or B Team”; what you’re “really getting down to [is] who’s left that will say ‘yes.’”