Trump’s Foreign Policy Is A Disaster

He’s squandering our global leadership and dragging us toward war.
08/03/2017 09:31 am ET Updated Aug 04, 2017

For all the dysfunction at home, it is Donald Trump’s ad-hoc, chaotic foreign policy that stands to do the most damage.

Showing no understanding of history or the complexity of the world, Trump has insulted our allies, emboldened our adversaries, squandered American leadership, and confused the entire world. Worst of all, if he doesn’t get serious about diplomacy, he could blunder into a catastrophic war with a nascent nuclear power.

Let’s start with our allies.

Trump launched his presidential campaign by insulting Mexico. He accused the Mexican government of exporting rapists and drug dealers into the United States. He promised to build a wall to keep them out, and he insisted that Mexico would pay for it.

Candidate Trump first met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto last July. The meeting was so disastrous that Pena Nieto’s domestic favorability ratings immediately dropped to an all-time low. Adverse public reaction in Mexico forced Pena Nieto to cancel a scheduled meeting with Trump in January.

As President, Trump finally met with Pena Nieto in July, some six months after he was inaugurated. They met not on a state visit, but on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. Trump reiterated his insistence that Mexico must pay to wall itself in.

Big deal, right? So what if the President of Mexico got his feelings hurt, right?

Wrong. There have already been real consequences. An article in the May issue of The Atlantic, “Mexico’s Revenge,” describes how Trump’s bullying is drawing Mexico away from the U.S. and closer to China. The “Trump effect” also has made it more likely that the bombastic left-wing populist, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will be elected next year as President of Mexico. The election of the so-called “Tropical Messiah” would radically change our relationship with our southern neighbor, not for the better.

He has put our allies and adversaries alike in the awkward position of being unable to fathom what he believes in, if anything.

Then there’s the NATO alliance.

Trump’s performance at the NATO summit in Brussels last May will go down in history as one of the worst presidential trips in modern history. Trump shocked our allies by omitting from his speech any reference to our Article 5 commitment to mutual defense. Instead, he scolded them for their refugee policies, and humiliated them as NATO freeloaders.

Trump himself, possibly with an assist from the Xenophobic Steves, Bannon and Miller, decided to omit the Article 5 assurance at the last minute, without consultation or advance notice to his security team.

Some two weeks later, Trump finally expressed his commitment to NATO’s mutual defense pact. In a joint press conference with the President of Romania, Trump begrudgingly declared that he was “committing the United States to Article 5,” as if that were something new.

Perhaps Trump’s belated assurance mitigated some of the damage he had done in Brussels. But what good could it possibly do to raise doubts in the minds of our allies about our commitment to mutual defense? Why throw a “we’ll see” into the equation?

However our NATO allies sort through Trump’s inconsistent signals, they won’t have the same confidence in the United States that they have had since the end of World War II. They have already begun pulling back their reliance on the U.S., exploring alliances and trade agreements with other powers.

Trump’s Asia policy, if it can be called that, is even worse.

Whatever window may have been open for a serious diplomatic response to North Korea’s rapid emergence as a nuclear threat seems to be closing, if it has not closed already.

Rather than engaging in serious diplomacy with the one country that has real influence on North Korea, China, Trump harbored the notion that he could charm China’s President Xi Jinping to do his bidding by chatting him up over dinner at Mar-a-Lago. When that brain-dead approach failed, Trump began to publicly belittle Xi, expressing his disappointment that Xi didn’t just flip a switch to end the North Korea problem.

After a brief spell of moderating his rhetoric toward China, Axios reports, an irritated Trump is now planning an aggressive trade campaign against China.

While a trade war with China may make Trump feel manly, it will only be an obstacle to any diplomatic efforts to enlist China’s support in dealing with North Korea.

War with North Korea may yet be averted. Or it may have been unavoidable even if Trump had done everything right. But he hasn’t, and as a result there may soon be no other options.

For all the dysfunction at home, it is Donald Trump’s ad-hoc, chaotic foreign policy that stands to do the most damage.

Trump is pursuing an equally brain-dead, self-defeating course with Iran. As I wrote months ago, reasonable people disagreed about the wisdom of entering the Iran nuclear deal in the first place. But once the deal was done, and now that our side has performed its obligations, only Iran would benefit from blowing up the deal.

Heedless of the near-unanimous advice of his foreign policy team, Trump is now attempting to sabotage the deal. According to the New York Times, he has assigned a team of White House staff members “to develop a case within the next three months for declaring that Iran had violated the agreement.”

If Trump does blow up the Iran deal, Iran will walk away from its obligation to abandon its nuclear program, and our European allies will continue to do business with Iran while moving farther away from the United States.

Trump will have succeeded in isolating America, not Iran.

Trump has even bungled our relationship with Russia. God (and maybe Robert Mueller) only knows what explicit or implicit promises Trump and his associates made to Russia during the campaign, but whatever it was, it’s not working.

Trump’s non-stop whining about being victimized by the press over Russia, along with his creepy bromance with Vladimir Putin, have only strengthened the resolve of Congress to get tough on Russia, and of investigators to get tough on Trump. Meanwhile, Putin continues to expand his sphere of global influence.

And Trump has done nothing to mitigate the danger that Russia will continue to interfere with our democracy. Quite the opposite. By refusing even to acknowledge Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, much less to condemn it, Trump is displaying a weakness that can only encourage Putin to continue to create mischief.

I could go on, citing diplomatic blunders with Israel, Syria, Canada, and a dozen other countries.

But the worst of it isn’t the damage done in any one country. Rather, it’s the spiritual harm to our country, and the decline of America’s moral authority resulting from Trump’s dishonesty, inconstancy, and casual promiscuity in tweeting out inconsistent policies without thought, consultation, or even a working knowledge of the subject matter.

He has put our allies and adversaries alike in the awkward position of being unable to fathom what he believes in, if anything. This is an invitation to our adversaries to test him, and to our friends to distrust, or even ignore him.

All of this has already taken an enormous toll on America’s standing in the world.

The Pew Research Center’s recent survey of Global Attitudes and Trends tells a chilling story of American decline since the beginning of the Trump presidency.

Pew’s report, “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership,” shows that global confidence in the U.S. president has fallen from 64% at the end of the Obama presidency to 22% after only a few months of the Trump presidency. Trump’s global “no confidence” number is a whopping 74%.

The decline is not just personal to Trump. He has dragged the nation down with him. The greatest damage is with our allies. On Trump’s watch, U.S. favorability ratings have dropped by 20 to 40 points in almost all of Europe, most of North America (with notably high drops in Canada and Mexico), India and Australia. Our ratings have gone up in only two countries, Russia and Vietnam.

Public opinion matters in democracies. It shapes a nation’s policies and actions.

What happens the next time the U.S. needs to cobble together a “coalition of the willing” to support us in a global crisis? Who will support us if Trump blunders into a war with North Korea or Iran?

And who would have thought that the health care fiasco, tax cuts for the rich, a phantom infrastructure program, Russiagate, and a White House in chaos would turn out to be the least of our worries?

Follow Philip on Twitter at @PhilipRotner. Philip is an engaged citizen and a columnist who has spent over 40 years practicing law. His views are his own and do not reflect the views of any organization with which he has been associated.

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