So, what has Trump actually done? Most significantly, the Iran deal has not been torn up. Instead, Trump seems to be trying to use his skepticism about the deal as leverage to coerce Iran to fall in line on regional issues. That has come alongside some muscle-flexing against Iran in Yemen, of all places, remaining (thus far) a proxy war rather than a full-scale war with Tehran. The Iran deal may yet be undermined by Congressional sanctions or by developments on the ground, but this will only isolate the United States as other countries — to include American allies — continue to build relations with Tehran. While brinksmanship with Iran is dangerous, this tougher line on Iran’s regional influence is also pretty much the same approach Hillary Clinton would have taken.
On Israel too, Trump’s policy has tracked more closely than expected with tradition. As during previous administrations, who made similar promises, the campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has yet to materialize. The United States and Israel are once again bickering over West Bank settlements. Trump may have backed away from traditional American commitments to a two state solution, but he has also signaled his interest in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. That will likely have the same effect as those initiated by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations: endless talks providing regional cover for Arab states to cooperate with Israel and domestic cover for the survival of the Palestinian Authority, without any real progress toward a two-state solution.
Trump’s secret plan for defeating ISIL has, as predicted, turned out to mostly be taking credit for continuing President Barack Obama’s campaign. While there has been an intensified pace in bombing and an alarming increase in the deployment of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria, the fundamentals of this war remain the same. Trump continues to work closely with the Iraqi government despite concerns about Iranian influence in Iraq. Nor has the president backed away from partnering with Syrian Kurds in the anti-ISIL campaign, despite Turkish distress about the role of the Kurds. Proposed “safe areas” in Syria (which themselves are a bad idea not far from what Clinton suggested) floated by Tillerson remain little more than a half-baked idea. Trump departs from Obama in that he no longer pays lip service to the idea that Assad must be removed from power in Syria, but this shift away from regime change has been the de facto reality for years.