In the rhythm of U.S. foreign policymaking, the first few weeks of every year are a dramatic pause. Experts in the field make preparations in early January as they await the president's State of the Union address, slated this year for Jan. 30, somewhat later than usual. After a spate of "year-in-review" articles, followed by "what-to-expect" pieces, the experts turn their attention to the annual speech to see what course of action the White House plans to take.
The current president, however, is different from his predecessors. The leading publications and established institutions specializing in international affairs may be less useful sources for gleaning the direction of U.S. foreign policy this year than they have been in the past. Rather, the primacy of domestic policy will dictate the course of new foreign policy initiatives. Now that Congress has passed a new, far-reaching tax bill — leaving few easy domestic legislative projects ahead — the best way for President Donald Trump to demonstrate that he is keeping his promises to his constituency is to seize on a domestic issue that translates into foreign policy: trade.
This is the year in which Trump must move forward with his trade agenda; there simply is no alternative. He can no longer just talk about his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to multilateral trade agreements, or, indeed, to what he considers unfair bilateral trade agreements, such as the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. If he wants to keep his word — and it's clear that he means what he says — the president will have to take steps to correct what he sees as a negative environment for trade.