Where Donald Trump’s views differ — and align — with his nominees on global issues
Donald Trump is set to become one of the most powerful people in the world Friday, but his administration’s view of the US role in global affairs is far from unified.
As Trump’s prospective secretary of state, defense secretary and US ambassador to the United Nations were quizzed at Senate confirmation hearings over the past two weeks, significant differences emerged between the views of the incoming president and his nominees.
But Trump is looking past those differences. He recently tweeted: “All of my cabinet nominees are looking good and doing a great job. I want them to be themselves and express their own thoughts, not mine!”
Here’s a look at where Trump and his cabinet stand on a range of foreign policy issues.
Where Trump stands: Trump recently admitted he believed Russia was behind election-related hacking, after months of refusing to acknowledge it was possible. He’s expressed a willingness to work with Russia in Syria and suggested he might recognize Russia’s claim to Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014. He’s promised to improve relations between the two countries and suggested he’d be open to lifting sanctions on the Kremlin, if Russia helps the US battle terrorists and if they can strike a nuclear weapons deal. But he said he plans to keep sanctions for “at least a period of time.”
Where his pick for Secretary of State stands: At his hearing, former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson said he’d support providing arms to Ukraine and called Russia’s invasion an “illegal action.” He suggested there were benefits to keeping sanctions in place. Tillerson described hacking allegations as “troubling” and agreed it was a “fair assumption” that Russian President Vladmir Putin authorized the attacks.
Where his pick for Secretary of Defense stands: Retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis said there were “a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively, and an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia.” In reference to the merits of sanctions on Russia, Mattis said it was important to recognize the “reality of what we deal with (in) Mr. Putin.”
Where his pick for UN Ambassador stands: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also acknowledged election-related Russian hacking and emphasized her support for maintaining sanctions: “I certainly think they should be preserved and I don’t think they should be lifted until we see a … change.”
Where Trump stands: Trump has sent mixed signals. He’s called NATO “obsolete” because it was designed many years ago. He criticized member states for not paying their fair share to the military alliance, which many see as a vital bulwark against potential Russian aggression. But he also said “NATO is very important to me” and said that Europe can depend on an American security guarantee.
Where Tillerson stands: Tillerson said NATO’s collective defense “commitment is inviolable and the US is going to stand behind that commitment.”
Where Mattis stands: Mattis, a former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO’s transformation command, has provided unequivocal support for the alliance. “If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it,” Mattis said, describing it as “vital to our national interests, and it’s vital to the security of the United States.”
Where Haley stands: Haley reaffirmed the value of NATO and said she believed Trump’s views would inevitably shift as his national security team advised him. “NATO has obviously been an alliance that we value and an alliance that we need to keep,” Haley said.
Where Trump stands: Trump has pledged to renegotiate the deal with the U.S. and five other countries to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions, describing it as a “terrible” agreement.
Where Tillerson stands: Tillerson said he supports a “full review” of the nuclear deal: “We need to examine our ability to clarify whether Iran is complying.”
Where Mattis stands: “It’s not a deal I would have signed,” Mattis said. He told lawmakers he would ask Congress to form a joint committee to oversee the implementation of the accord, boost intelligence community monitoring, and have “a combined missile defense, air and missile defense capability, for our Gulf allies.”
Where Haley stands: Haley said it would be better for the US to carefully review the Iran nuclear deal rather than unilaterally withdraw from it: “I think what would be more beneficial at this point is that we look at all the details of the Iran deal, we see if they (the Iranians) are actually in compliance. If we find that there are violations then we act on those violations.”
Where Trump stands: Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and has called out Beijing for what he described as its “brazen” island-building activities in the South China Sea. He’s also questioned whether the US should maintain its longstanding position that Taiwan is part of “One China,” and broke diplomatic protocol by speaking to the president of Taiwan.
Where Tillerson stands: Tillerson called China’s actions in the South China Sea “extremely worrisome” and compared them to Russia’s Ukraine adventure: “Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea.”
Where Mattis stands: Mattis identified Chinese island-building in the South China Sea as one of the biggest security issues since WWII — along with Russian aggression and terrorism.
Where Haley stands: Haley didn’t mention the South China Sea during her hearing, but she stressed the importance of working closely with China to deal with North Korea. Haley said she would try to convince Beijing that it is in China’s national interests to work with Washington to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
Where Trump stands: Trump has pledged to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and slammed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to Israel’s development of settlements in the West Bank.
Where Tillerson stands: Tillerson described Israel as America’s most important ally, and called the UN resolution on settlements “not helpful.” He added that the resolution “undermines” the conditions for peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Where Mattis stands: “Right now I go with US policy,” Mattis said when asked whether he would support moving the embassy to Jerusalem, adding that he would defer to the nominee for secretary of state. Mattis also said he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if it promotes peace, but he has not weighed in on the UN resolution condemning settlements in the West Bank.
Where Haley stands: In her opening statement, Haley spoke at length on one international issue: Israel. Haley condemned what she described as a long history of “anti-Israel bias” at the UN and called the resolution on settlements “very harmful to achieving the two-state solution.”
Where Trump stands: Trump has said he would “bomb the s***” out of ISIS and that he would declare war on the terror group while putting “very few” US boots on the ground. He’s also spoken of joining forces with Russia to eliminate ISIS in Syria.
Where Tillerson stands: Tillerson has called defeating ISIS the most urgent step in thwarting “radical Islam.” “Defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the Middle East,” he said, adding that competing priorities in the region “must not distract from the mission of defeating ISIS.”
Where Mattis stands: The retired four-star general has called for an “integrated strategy” to deliver a “very hard blow” against ISIS — and emphasized that for any strategy to succeed, it must target recruiting and fundraising by the terrorist group.
Where Haley stands: Haley criticized Barack Obama for being “unwilling or unable” to deal with the threat of ISIS in January 2016. But when asked this week whether she would support a congressional authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, Haley was less definitive: “I do think that [ISIS] has to be dealt with. I just think it needs to be done responsibly, knowing that we have a measurables on what we’re looking for, where the end goal is, and knowing where exactly the start and stop is.”
By Eliza Mackintosh