The months before and after a presidential election are particularly fragile for foreign policy. Each of the five presidents I served understood, as did his team, the weight of this time. Politics and legacy were always front of mind. They were all also conscious of the ways they could help pave an easier path for their successors. They all ultimately put country over party. That won’t be the case with Donald Trump. If the next 150 days turn out to be Trump’s final days in office, he could still wreak a lot of havoc on American foreign policy.
As a young National Security Council staffer, I sat in the Oval Office in December 1988 as Ronald Reagan—the fireplace crackling behind him—authorized the first-ever U.S. dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He saw it, at least in part, as a way to spare his successor, then–Vice President George H. W. Bush, from spending precious political capital early in his administration on an essential, if controversial, step toward Middle East peacemaking. [Read more]