The sensation this week is Bob Woodward’s book on the Trump White House titled, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” It shows a President Trump universally disparaging his own White House staff, even cabinet members. His first Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is likened to a rat, “He just scurries around.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is, “mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama”. To commence Secretary Wilbur Ross: “You’re past your prime.” He could well be, otherwise he would have resigned following such a clear and direct indication of no confidence.
As can be expected such ‘favors’ are reciprocated. Thus Chief of Staff John Kelly, “We’re in Crazytown.” He is alleged also to have called President Trump an “idiot’ repeatedly. Defense Secretary James Mattis told an aide that Trump understands foreign policy at the level of a “fifth or sixth grader”. Of course, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was once quoted in news reports as calling Trump “a f****ing moron”.
All of which serves as an introduction for a quick look at Trump’s foreign policy. To say it is unorthodox is to minimize the upending of the status quo ante. He has simultaneously angered European allies, Canada and Mexico, threatened trade war with China and broken the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement with Iran. He has embraced Israel’s Netanyahu in the tightest hug seen, moving the U .S. embassy to Jerusalem — the sole major power to do so — and dumping the Palestinians in a garbage bin of misery by cutting US funding for their UN Relief and Works Agency lifeline.
His reflexive attack on Syria following a chemical attack in the country established a trigger-happy Trump reputation, which might paradoxically have helped negotiations with North Korea. Tensions have subsided following the summit and the North Koreans have dismantled nuclear testing facilities, although it would be naive to imagine they will give up nuclear weapons. The ambiguity of informal promises continues to cause mild acrimony.
Mr. Trump is not getting a new wall from Mexico but a new NAFTA has been agreed upon pending Canada’s decision. The White House says it will continue talks with its northern neighbor. The issues with Canada are of course different from Mexico.
For several decades, Donald Trump has been accusing America’s allies notably the major European powers and Japan of getting a free ride on defense while they focus their resources on improving their own quality of life. He wants Europeans to abide by the NATO stated goal of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. A majority now have plans to do so by 2024.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has neatly side-stepped a trade war. As early as April 2018, he showed a willingness to compromise, pledging to reduce barriers to foreign investment in his country. Meanwhile, more tariffs escalating tensions continue to be imposed by both sides as trade negotiations continue and China enjoys a huge trade surplus.
The wily Vladimir Putin manages to maintain good relations with countries that are sworn enemies to each other, for example Israel and Iran. He is selling arms to NATO member Turkey and he has had a friendly summit with Mr. Trump … plus he is getting his own way in Syria.
So the report card on Trump’s foreign policy? He is being taken seriously by his allies as he continues to be outflanked by China and Russia.