Over more than a decade of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” programs at Marquette Law School, has that ever previously been the first word spoken by someone Gousha was interviewing? But has there ever been a president like Donald Trump before?
So when Gousha opened an “On the Issues” program Thursday by asking Ingrid Wuerth, director of the International Legal Studies Program at Vanderbilt University, for thoughts on the Trump administration’s foreign policy, her first words were: “Wow, the differences between the Trump administration and the Obama administration.”
Wuerth, a leading scholar of foreign affairs and public international law, listed treaties and other international agreements where Trump has shifted directions substantially from what President Barack Obama did. She said there has been “a significant step back from international law and international organizations.”
But, Wuerth noted, Trump “has not been an international law violator,” and that should be kept in mind. For example, Trump said the United States will withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, but he is following the five-year process for doing that rather than simply shutting down American involvement. And he has sought to renegotiate trade agreements, but he has not advocated violating existing ones, Wuerth said.
Taking part with Wuerth in the program were Professor Ryan Scoville of the Marquette Law School, who teaches and writes on American foreign relations and international law, and Robbie Gramer, who covers the State Department for Foreign Policy magazine.
Neither of them used the word “wow,” but they added their thoughts on how much things have changed with the inauguration of Trump eight months ago.
Scoville said, “Trump is far more uncomfortable (than Obama) with international law in its multinational manifestation. Bilateral manifestations, he seems to be far more comfortable with.”
Gramer said that the Trump administration has not quite defined its foreign policy mission, but there has been a decline in the American role in global matters. For one thing, he said, “the State Department is pretty hollowed out right now,” with many vacancies in significant positions. There has been a ramping up of the role of the military in shaping American foreign policy, he said, with generals in key positions held in the past often by civilians. Gramer said that other nations, including China and Russia, are stepping up their roles in global politics.
Wuerth, Scoville, and Gramer discussed specific hot subjects such as what Trump is going to do about the nuclear treaty with Iran and the future of American involvement in NATO. Video of the hour-long program may be viewed by clicking here.
Also on Thursday, Wuerth delivered the Law School’s 2017 Robert F. Boden Lecture. In the lecture, titled “International Law and Peace Among Nations,” Wuerth said that, in broad terms, there is a strong case that international law has helped maintain peace broadly in the world. Since World War II ended, there have been fewer open wars between nations than in the extended period before then, she said., and wars of “territorial conquest” have been curtailed.
But there are threats to peace. One that Wueth focused on – perhaps to the surprise of some in the audience – is human rights advocacy. She said the laudable objective of pushing for human rights was creating territorial uncertainty and was tearing at adherence to international obligations in some parts of the globe.
The text of Wuerth’s Boden Lecture will appear in a future Marquette Lawyer magazine.