You may love him. You may hate him. Either way, Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. The tasks ahead of him are enormous. Most of the early focus has been on what he will do in regard to domestic policy. Abroad, however, he will find the challenges no less daunting.

President Bush made his share of foreign policy and national security mistakes. Nothing he did came close to matching the scale of the disasters presided over by President Obama. Worldwide, on an unprecedented scale, the United States finds itself facing truly strategic threats that, if not confronted and successfully mastered, will fundamentally reshape the balance of power on the planet.

The South China Sea

Eight years ago the South China Sea was a body of water outside of the territorial boundaries of any nation state. The free passage of all merchant vessels was guaranteed not only by international law but also by the firepower of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, as it had been since at least 1945.

Today, the South China Sea is claimed in its entirety by the People’s Republic of China. That claim is not simply a paper one. It is supported by the presence of an impressive string of man-made fortified islands built by Chinese engineers and manned by Chinese troops.

Weak American diplomatic protests, the ruling of the International Court of Justice against Chinese actions, and periodic freedom of navigation transits of the area by U.S. warships have made no difference. The reality is that the Chinese now control a very large portion of the Pacific Ocean and can act anytime they please to put a stranglehold on one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

Russia and the Middle East

In the wake of the crushing defeat of Soviet-backed Arab forces in the Yom Kippur War of 1974, Russian influence in the Middle East virtually vanished. For decades thereafter the Russians lost one after another of their traditional allies and became largely strategically irrelevant across the region. No more.

Emboldened by the lack of American response to the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and by the sheer incompetence of American efforts in Iraq and Syria, Russia has reemerged as a major player in the Middle East. Russian troops and aircraft are on the ground in Syria in large numbers. A massive Russian fleet is hovering in the eastern Mediterranean, preparing to level what is left of Aleppo. The United States is on the defensive and boxed out, and traditional American allies are wrestling with what appears to be a new regional balance of power.


For decades following the fall of the Shah, American foreign policy in the Middle East was predicated on support for Israel and the containment of the radical Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on a naïve belief that the Iranians could be constructive players on the world stage and an irrational obsession with concluding a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration abandoned this policy completely, walked away from traditional allies, and granted massive concessions to Tehran.