Major differences between Trump’s, Obama’s foreign policy

Professor Aubrey Westfall highlighted three distinctive differences between the Trump and the Obama administrations’ approach to foreign policy: a transactional model versus a diplomatic model, doctrinal versus pragmatic decision-making and prioritizing the use of hard power versus soft power.

Westfall directly cites Trump’s tactics when dealing with Mexico around building the wall as an example of his ideologically-driven approach. He makes a specific decision and will not compromise or consider alternatives, while, in diplomatic negotiations, two entities attempt to “find common ground,” according to Westfall.

“He doesn’t have experience with political diplomacy,” said Westfall. “He’s a businessman. He has experience with brokering deals for profit.”

In discussing Obama’s legacy, Westfall refers to an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic called “The Obama Doctrine,” which reveals Obama as a careful decision-maker, who would “evaluate each case based on its own merit,” according to Westfall, resulting in a seemingly inconsistent position. Trump, by contrast, is motivated by strong conviction and a grand strategy.

Underneath these two traits reveals a key difference between the two presidents: Trump encourages the dominant use of hard power, while Obama prioritized soft power approaches. Hard power relies on coercive carrots and sticks, such as military and economic measures, to influence the behavior of others. Soft power refers to the power of persuasion, which typically relies on reputation.    

Westfall highlights that both presidents wanted to make America great, just in different ways and with different understandings of what being great means. Obama’s great America was an internationally-engaged and outward-looking America, while Trump’s America is inwardly-focused and nationalistic.