Davis & Elkins professor examines the changing world political stage


BUCKHANNON — Has U.S. foreign policy changed under President Donald Trump?

Dr. David Turner, professor of history at Davis & Elkins College and a freelance columnist for The Inter-Mountain, joined the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday to talk about how U.S. foreign policy has evolved over the past several decades, from the past several administrations to the current one.

“Trump has been an advocate of sometimes ‘America first,’ obviously with the Iranian deal and all that, but I think what often gets lost in the whole melee of this and that and the other thing and the anti-Trump vs. pro-Trump is how much the administrations are different than similar,” Turner said. “It’s very interesting.”

Turner highlighted the recent trip of King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Russia.

“Last week the Saudi king, King Salman, was in Moscow,” Turner said. “Now, what is a Saudi Arabia king doing in Moscow? That’s the first time he ever went. Then, a week later, the kingdom of Morocco signs a trade deal with Russia. Well, that’s very interesting.”

Turner said people are often not aware of these sorts of international events because media outlets are more focused on social controversies.

“The Chinese have purchased about 30 percent of the arms industry, but that doesn’t make it into America’s papers at all,” Turner said. “There are too many people worried about somebody’s table manners or something like that. In the long run, why did this happen?”

Turner said former president Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. reverted to focusing on human rights and nongovernmental organizations.

“It was ‘you will do this, and you will do that,’ and governments don’t tend to like that,” Turner said. “The United States has become – and this is not just Trump, it’s Obama to some degree and George W. (Bush) to a small degree – the wagging of fingers and telling people how to live their lives have created a situation that has produced these kind of bloodbaths.”

Turner turned to the controversy surrounding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, in which Trump defeated Clinton.

“(Politicians and government officials) jumped him (Trump) on the (Vladimir) Putin business – I imagine there was some interference, I’m not denying that – but I’m also saying that it was an attempt to prevent some kind of reparation with Russia,” Turner said. “Democrats have little to brag about. The attempt to intervene in the Syrian War – which I will say, I’ll give Obama credit on that, it’s better not to cross a red line when that red line is fraught with danger, that I’ll give him – but we shouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place.”

Turner called Trump’s efforts to alter U.S. foreign policy “dead on arrival.”

“I’m not defending him on it – he’s made some bad decisions on certain things,” Turner said. “With America in the 21st century, we are dealing with a far more dangerous situation because things have changed so much.”

The U.S. is still a super power, but not a “super super super duper power” as it once was, Turner said.

“That happens through time; it happened with the British, and it’s going to happen with us,” Turner said.

Having taught at D&E for 32 years, Turner is the recipient of the Lois Latham Award for Teaching Excellence and held the Thomas Richard Ross Endowed Chair in history and the humanities for 10 years. He is currently chair of the Division of Humanities at D&E and his research interests include U.S. history, environmental history, the American Revolution, the Third Reich, the Sixties, the Civil War, southern history and Vietnam, according to D&E’s website.

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