Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Policy

Written by  //  March 19, 2017  //  Foreign Policy, U.S.  //  1 Comment

Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War
What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead?
By Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa
(The New Yorker 6 March edition) No reasonable analyst believes that Russia’s active measures in the United States and Europe have been the dominant force behind the ascent of Trump and nationalist politicians in Europe. Resentment of the effects of globalization and deindustrialization are far more important factors. But many Western Europeans do fear that the West and its postwar alliances and institutions are endangered, and that Trump, who has expressed doubts about NATO and showed allegiance to Brexit and similar anti-European movements, cannot be counted on. Although both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have expressed support for traditional alliances, Trump remains entirely uncritical of Putin. “Trump changes the situation from a NATO perspective,” General Shirreff said. “The great fear is the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security. If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities. If Trump steps back the way he seemed to as a candidate, you might not even need to do things like invade the Baltic states. You can just dominate them anyway. You’re beginning to see the collapse of institutions built to insure our security. And if that happens you will see the re-nationalizing of Europe as a whole.”

Tillerson ends China trip with warm words from President Xi
(Globe & Mail) China has been irritated at being repeatedly told by Washington to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and the U.S. decision to base an advanced missile defence system in South Korea.
Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions towards self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, with the Trump administration crafting a big new arms package for the island that is bound to anger China.
But meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, those issues were brushed aside by Xi and Tillerson, at least in front of reporters, with Xi saying Tillerson had made a lot of efforts to achieve a smooth transition in a new era of relations.
“You said that China-U.S. relations can only be friendly. I express my appreciation for this,” Xi said.

10 March
Ambassador_Jon_HuntsmanJon Huntsman Is Said to Accept Post as Ambassador to Russia
(NYT) Mr. Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah, served as former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011. Experts said he will need his political dexterity to navigate Moscow at a time when Mr. Trump has called for better ties even as Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election remains under intense scrutiny.
(CNN) Huntsman in exile: Did appointment make way for Hatch?

3 March
Roger Cohen: Trump’s Many Shades of Contempt
(NYT) Let’s start with the utter contempt that President Trump has shown for the State Department since taking office six weeks ago. Some 70,000 American patriots across the globe, dedicated to the American idea as a force for good in the world, have been cast adrift.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is a near phantom. He has no deputy, having seen his first choice nixed by Trump. No State Department press briefing, once a daily occurrence, has been held since Trump took office. The president has proposed a 37 percent cut in the State Department budget. An exodus of senior staff members continues. The State Department has taken on a ghostly air.
The message is clear. America has no foreign policy so nobody is needed to articulate it. All we have are the feverish zigzags of the president, a man who thinks NATO is obsolete one day and glorious the next. There is no governing idea, only transactional hollowness. One midlevel officer told Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic: “It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has become the foreign service of the United States of America.

17 February
Quartz weekend summary: This week the US president appeared to ditch a 20-year-old tenet of American policy—that for peace to come, the Palestinians must get their own independent state alongside Israel. But, as has happened on other issues, his own officials immediately appeared to contradict him: First his UN ambassador, then even his hawkish nominee for ambassador to Tel Aviv, insisted that a two-state solution is still the goal. Trump has also vacillated about Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and whether to move the US embassy to Jerusalem … The main thing to take from this week’s statement is that, as with other foreign-policy issues—“One China,” Crimea, NAFTA—the White House is making things up on the fly, casually discarding US policies crafted over decades and then backtracking when it meets resistance. This kind of behavior may be giving Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who uses unpredictability as a deliberate policy tool, a taste of his own medicine (paywall). But it doesn’t make for good foreign relationships, a strong United States, or a safe world.
steve-bannon-jared-kushnerPhotograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Report: State Department Shut Out of Netanyahu Talks
(The Daily Beast) Not a single representative from the State Department was reportedly present for White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Instead, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has no diplomatic experience or regional expertise, was given a central role in the meeting, according to a CBS News report late Thursday. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon … reportedly was shut completely out of the White House gathering. The news comes as nearly an entire floor of State Department personnel were reportedly laid off Thursday, amid continued confusion as the Trump administration moves in at Washington’s central diplomatic institution. As Tillerson was making his first trip abroad in the post—in Germany for the G-20 summit—longtime staffers for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor (sic) offices were being dismissed, raising fears of politically motivated reprisals and additional losses of expertise at a time when many high-ranking State jobs have gone unfilled.
16 February
Out of the loop: Rex Tillerson finds state department sidelined by White House
America’s top diplomat is operating with senior staff positions left vacant, his deputy vetoed and foreign policy made by an ideological clique around Trump
Rex Tillerson began his first foreign outing as US secretary of state on Thursday, meeting counterparts from G20 countries in Bonn, but he has left behind in Washington a department that is severely weakened and cut out of key policy decisions.
Since starting the job two weeks ago, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, has soothed nerves at the state department by consulting widely with regional and country experts, but it has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.
“What concerns me is that in the absence of any confirmed officials other than the secretary, they will not have the weight to make those educated voices heard as the White House makes policy,” said Thomas Countryman, former assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation and one of the senior staff who was suddenly sacked before Tillerson’s arrival.
“My nagging suspicion is that the White House is very happy to have a vacuum in the under-secretary and assistant secretary levels, not only at state but across government agencies, because it relieves them of even feeling an obligation to consult with experts before they take a new direction.”
… The NSC itself is being bypassed on key decisions by a small group of highly ideological advisers around Trump led by his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive with ties to the far right. Bannon has presented his role as one of a deliberate disruptor of the Washington establishment and its normal ways of functioning.
2 February
Trump defends chaotic foreign policy: ‘We’re going to straighten it out, OK?’
US president describes a world ‘in trouble’ in speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, amid a growing number of disputes with foreign leaders
Donald Trump defended his unpredictable approach to foreign policy, which has shaken the political establishment and roiled activists across the country, during a speech at the annual interfaith prayer breakfast in Washington on Thursday.
The new administration has faced sustained backlash over an order which suspends the country’s refugee program and temporarily bars entry to the US to people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“The world is in trouble – but we’re going to straighten it out, OK?” Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast, gesturing his hands for emphasis.
“That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to be tough, it’s time we’re going to be a little bit tough, folks. We’re taken advantage by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen any more.”
27 January
Nikki Haley Puts U.N. on Notice: U.S. Is ‘Taking Names’
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, issued a stark warning Friday to allies and rivals abroad, saying in her first remarks at the headquarters of the world body that the Trump administration would hold to account those who do not back the United States.
Trump Is Already Damaging the Ability of the State Department to Function
(Foreign Policy) [W]hat is happening these days at the State Department — where a slew of senior career diplomats and management professionals have been given the non-choice between resigning effective Friday and being summarily relieved of their duties and where several others have retired voluntarily — is different and could be damaging. These are not, for the most part, people who have any role in implementing signature Obama administration policies on which the new team has signaled a different direction, like the Iran nuclear deal, fighting climate change, addressing women’s issues globally, or managing the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Rather, many of the officials set to depart in the coming days are responsible for bread-and-butter diplomatic and bureaucratic work that benefits all Americans and should be beyond the reach of politics. They oversaw the production of 19 million U.S. passports last year, the second highest annual total in American history. They helped return some 300 children abducted abroad to their rightful American parents. They are responsible for arranging visas for foreign nationals who come to the United States to do business or spend tourism dollars. They oversee security for more than 275 diplomatic posts overseas. They executed Obama’s decision to close Russian diplomatic facilities in response to interference in our election. They make good on our commitment to transparency by processing an unprecedented volume of document requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And they arrange for the evacuation of American citizens amid, for example, medical emergencies or burgeoning foreign crises.
26 January
Mr. Tillerson’s job just got a whole lot harder
The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned
(WaPost) Suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.
25 January

Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would clear the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and potentially abrogate certain forms of multilateral treaties.
The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria.
Those criteria include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea. The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights.
The order calls for then enacting “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in remaining United States funding toward international organizations.
America’s New President Is Not a Rational Actor
Whether by accident or design, Donald Trump is isolating himself and erratically unraveling the world order.
By Stephen M. Walt
(Foreign Policy) I’ll hazard two guesses. First, foreign and defense policies are going to be a train wreck, because they don’t have enough good people in place, the people they have appointed don’t agree on some pretty big issues (e.g., NATO), the foreign-policy “blob” will undercut them at every turn, and Trump himself lacks the discipline or strategic vision to manage this process and may not care to try. Even if you agree with his broad approach, his team is going to make a lot more rookie mistakes before they figure out what they are doing.
Second, get ready for a lot of unexpected developments and unintended consequences. If the United States is giving up its self-appointed role as the “indispensable nation” and opting instead for “America First,” a lot of other countries will have to rethink their policies, alignments, and commitments. Unraveling a long-standing order is rarely a pretty process, especially when it happens quickly and is driven not by optimism but by anger, fear, and resentment. I’ve long favored a more restrained U.S. grand strategy, but I also believed that that process had to be done carefully and above all strategically. That doesn’t appear to be President Trump’s approach to anything, which means we are in for a very bumpy ride to an unknown destination.
24 January
Michael Den Tandt: Batten the hatches — China and the U.S. poised to clash as never before
all the signals coming from senior Trump administration officials — from the president himself, with his Taiwan-friendly Tweets, on down — are not of waning interest in the Pacific region, but waxing. Only rather than the softish power of multilateral trade ties, the primary instrument of American power projection will be military — aircraft carriers and nuclear deterrence.
(National Post) The president’s executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, far from pulling America back from the Pacific region, sets the stage for an old-fashioned superpower standoff there.
Long before the TPP (which had comprised Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Mexico and Peru, Canada and the United States) ran afoul of right-wing nativists and left-wing populists in the United States, it was an Obama administration strategy for containing the increasingly impatient regional muscle-flexing of Communist China.
The U.S. Navy is the guarantor of last resort for international law and international shipping through the South China Sea, worth an estimated US$5-trillion annually. China is attempting to assert a claim over much of that open ocean, contained by its so-called nine-dash line, as well as a group of small islets in the East China Sea in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture.
Chinese incursions into territory long claimed by its neighbours have become commonplace in recent years, causing Japan to re-garrison its farthest-flung islands. Regional nerves have been further frayed by the People’s Liberation Army’s rapid building of various regional shoals and reefs into what appear to be air strips and fuel depots.
20 January
Paul Heinbecker: Trump’s toxic world view is blind to history
(Globe & Mail) How Mr. Trump’s encouragement of nativism and xenophobia in Germany and the rise of the extreme right in Europe, while ignoring Russian transgressions, is in anyone’s interests, including especially the United States’ interests, is difficult to fathom.
A few more months of tweeting will undo decades of U.S. achievement and dismantle a painstakingly constructed international system. To paraphrase Marx, he who forgets (or never learns) the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them and not as farce but as tragedy. Who will tutor the new president of the United States before it is too late?
12 January
What kind of threat does Russia pose to the U.S.?
President-elect Trump has said he would like to improve relations with Russia. But his choice for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, views Russia as America’s number one threat. What’s the reality of the White House-Kremlin dynamic? Steve Inskeep discusses with Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official, and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Mattis breaks with Trump on Iran, Russia
Secretary of Defense pick says U.S. must stick with nuke deal, confront Putin.
Breaking with President-elect Donald Trump, James Mattis said Thursday in his confirmation hearing to be defense secretary that he supports a permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltics to deter Russia — and reiterated that he believes the U.S. must stick to the Iran nuclear deal even if it is flawed.
The retired Marine Corps general initially tried to dodge the question on Eastern Europe, saying he’d wait until Trump’s national security team was in place. But when panel Chairman John McCain pressed, Mattis said he agreed: “I do, sir.”
In Senate hearings, Mattis and Pompeo differ over Iran nuclear deal
(PBS Newshour) Gen. James Mattis was well received by the Senate Armed Services Committee, with whom he discussed threats from China and the Islamic State, as well as women in combat roles. In front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mike Pompeo disavowed “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Both nominees also addressed the Iran nuclear deal.
James Mattis: I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it.
Mike Pompeo: It was my view that the JCPOA was a mistake for American national security.
11 January
How Trump’s Attacks on U.S. Intelligence Will Come Back to Haunt Him
(Politico) No American president can succeed in foreign policy—and by extension his term as commander-in-chief—without a good relationship with the intelligence community.
Considering the crowd around him, it may not be long before Trump asks, for example, for covert options to destabilize the Iranian regime. The answer from the intel community will never be no. Instead, the planners will brief the president on three different approaches. Then they will assess the risk of failure for each at 60-80 percent, providing the Oval Office with a dare it cannot possibly accept. For some, of course, this could turn out to be a silver lining in otherwise dismal story.
President-elect Trump has shown distinctive tastes in world leaders, quoting Benito Mussolini approvingly, openly admiring Putin and lauding Saddam Hussein’s counterterrorism efforts. Another figure who fits well into this lineup is the totalitarian Josef Stalin, who also ignored and disparaged the foreign intelligence that was brought to him, especially the assessments in 1940-1941 about a Nazi buildup on Soviet Russia’s borders. That didn’t work out too well for Stalin and his people. Trump might ponder that.
5 January
It’s clear why Trump wants Exxon’s ex-CEO, but not why the ex-CEO wants him
(Quartz) Steve LeVine on the imminent frustrations of Trump secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson: “A meticulous preparer in the tradition of every Exxon executive before him, Tillerson would likely find the shoot-from-the-hip Trump disrupting the works with very unExxon-like, hunch-based tweets… One wonders how long Tillerson will be contented working for the notoriously unruly, unread, and uncouth president-elect.”
A looming question for the senators will be: When Tillerson is chatting up Putin ostensibly in support of American national interests, to what degree will the potential jackpot to accrue to his friends at Exxon, and a desire therefore not to upset Russia’s leader, be part of his calculus?
In Break With Precedent, Obama Envoys Are Denied Extensions Past Inauguration Day
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, according to several American diplomats familiar with the plan, breaking with decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.
The mandate — issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said — threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain.
1 January 2017
Putin’s Real Long Game
The world order we know is already over, and Russia is moving fast to grab the advantage. Can Trump figure out the new war in time to win it?
By Molly K. McKew (who) advises governments and political parties on foreign policy and strategic communications.
(Politico) We must … focus now, as Putin does, on shaping the world that comes next and defining what our place is in it. Trump has shown willingness to reevaluate his positions and change course — except on issues relating to Russia, and strengthening alliances with the Kremlin’s global illiberal allies. By doing so, he is making himself a footnote to Putin’s chapter of history — little more than another of Putin’s hollow men. …
In a strange way, Trump could be just crazy enough — enough of a outlier and a rogue — to expose what Putin’s Russia is and end the current cycle of upheaval and decline. This requires non-standard thinking and leadership — but also purpose, and commitment, and values. It requires faith — for and from the American people and American institutions. And it requires the existence of truth
27 December
UN just a club to have a good time, says Donald Trump
(The Australian) Days after the UN voted to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Donald Trump has questioned its effectiveness, saying it’s just a club for people to “have a good time”.
The president-elect tweeted yesterday the UN had “such great potential,” but it had become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
On Saturday, Mr Trump warned, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he takes office.
24 December
Uri Avnery: Don’t Send Him!
DONALD TRUMP has spat in my face.
Not only in my own face, but in the faces of at least half the Israeli population.
He has appointed a bankruptcy lawyer named David Friedman to the job of US ambassador in Israel.
FIRST OF all, it is bad practice to appoint an ambassador to a country with which he has a deep personal connection. You don’t send a Cuban-American Castro-hater to be the US ambassador in Havana. You don’t send Kuomintang Chinese from Taiwan to be US ambassador in Beijing.
True, it is not the first time an American Jew has been appointed ambassador to Israel. There have been two or three, who could just as well have served as Israeli ambassadors to Washington. But they were far less opinionated than this specimen.
An ambassador serves as the eyes and ears of the home country in a foreign state. Among his tasks is providing his superiors in the foreign office with reliable, unbiased information, on which to base policy. The ideal ambassador is a cool observer, with no strong feelings towards the country of his mission, neither positive nor negative.
This description of a diplomat is the exact opposite of this particular individual.
22 December
Sad that editors feel the need to label this ‘satirical’ – however, it may not be far from the truth!
Op-ed: What Now? (Satirical) Advice to Diplomats from an Ex-Ambassador
The diplomats should put down their bottles of antacids and relax. Their job has really become much easier. All they have to do is follow the rules of this new reality.
Rule one: Ignore the various government agencies, especially the State Department. They will all continue to beaver away and put out statements and position papers, but they no longer matter. They will be staffed by dispirited career bureaucrats overseen by clueless political appointees with no government experience. The only thing they will have in common is that they will have no impact on the policy process.
Congress will also no longer matter. The overwhelming mandate derived from coming in a distant second in the popular vote will allow the president-elect to have his way whatever it is. And congressmen are as spineless as those Republican luminaries who, a few weeks ago, were harshly critical of the man they are now sucking up to for a job. So, you can forget the checks-and-balances thing.
Trump Pressures Obama Over U.N. Resolution on Israeli Settlements
(NYT) President-elect Donald J. Trump publicly pressured President Obama on Thursday to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power. His words closely echoed the positions expressed by Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has welcomed Mr. Trump’s election as a breath of fresh air after years of clashes with Mr. Obama.
Egypt, one of Israel’s most reliable partners in the Middle East and a longtime United States ally, announced that it would put up the draft measure for a vote after extensive consultations with fellow Arab diplomats. The vote was scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m. But by mid-morning, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered his diplomats to pull the resolution.
… Mr. Trump’s ambassador-designate, David M. Friedman, has suggested that Israel annex the West Bank, has denounced the two-state solution …  Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who has an apartment in Jerusalem, is also a major backer of settlements, serving as president of an American fund-raising group that supports a yeshiva in Beit El, a religious settlement deep in the West Bank. Mr. Trump and Mr. Friedman have also said they plan to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, something counter to longstanding bipartisan policy that could yield ire throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
The UN weighs in on Israeli settlements. The UN Security Council will vote on a draft resolution calling for Israel to stop settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The US will most likely use its veto, as it always has in the past to protect Israel—but abstaining would be a pointed parting shot by Barack Obama, who’s had a tense relationship with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
20 December
The Trump Doctrine: A Work in Progress
(Stratfor) Perhaps the greatest difference between the Obama and Trump foreign policies lies in what may be Trump’s biggest virtue: his unpredictability. Obama has been criticized as overly cautious in his foreign policy and thus too much of a known entity for U.S. adversaries. Trump, on the other hand, gives the impression that he is willing to throw caution to the wind and rely on instinct in shaping foreign policy. This matters immensely for U.S. allies and adversaries alike that have to be kept on their toes in developing their long-term strategy while avoiding the unexpected with the world’s superpower.
19 December
The Trump World Order
(Bloomberg) Trump isn’t yet president, so it’s early to be drawing conclusions. But concern is warranted. Trump rejects the status quo in America’s relations with the rest of the world, and seems to see global stability as a kind of national surrender.
[With respect to China] Trump is proposing to connect trade policy to an issue of great-power politics over which China may be willing to go to war. Stir things up to get better deals. (The implication that the U.S. will have nothing to say on Taiwan so long as Beijing gives Trump a trade deal he likes is disturbing in its own right.) This kind of thinking leads nowhere good.
18 December
White House faces exodus of foreign policy experts ahead of Trump’s arrival
An unusual number of the National Security Council’s more junior officials are looking to depart, due to concerns about incoming advisor Michael Flynn
(The Guardian) The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials.
The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart.
It could be hard for NSC staffers “detailed” (seconded) from other departments to return to their former positions ahead of schedule. That would require the agreement of their managers and could harm long-term career prospects. Those that do leave however, will leave vacancies that are hard to fill. Their replacements would have to be drawn from career civil servants at other agencies, as the White House does not have the budget to fund the posts if they are filled by political appointees.
16 December
trump-and-david-friedmanDavid Remnick: Trump’s Daily Bankruptcy and the Ambassador to Israel
(The New Yorker) … let’s concentrate on the outrage of the day: the appointment of a bankruptcy lawyer named David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel. Friedman writes regularly for Arutz Sheva, a pro-settler Web site that is available in English. After reading these columns, you might reasonably conclude that, if Israel decided it was in its interest to annex the West Bank, Friedman would heartily approve and help raise the flag. Ideologically, Friedman is to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu. His rhetoric, his viewpoints, and his prejudices are in sync with settler leaders in the government, and in the settlements themselves.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has been a crucial adviser to the campaign and the transition, and he and his family have an intense interest in Israeli affairs. Their politics on the issue are distinctly right-wing. Kushner’s family foundation has, according to Israeli media reports, donated tens of thousands of dollars to West Bank institutions, despite the fact that the State Department has long regarded the settlements there as a barrier to peace in the region. In 2013, for instance, the Kushner family foundation gave twenty thousand dollars to the Beit El Yeshiva, a school in a particularly hard-right settlement. Friedman is the president of a foundation that raises money for institutions in Beit El.
Trump Chooses Settlements Supporter as Ambassador to Israel
David Friedman’s pick may signal major shift in U.S. policy
Nominee opposes two-state solution, backs Israeli settlements
J Street Vehemently Opposes Nomination of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel
He has publicly called President Barack Obama an anti-Semite. He has promoted the false and dangerous conspiracy theory that a Pakistani-Indian aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has labeled “liberal Jews” as “worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust, thereby hideously twisting the legacy of the Holocaust for use as a political weapon. His nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.
Senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values that this nominee represents, and that his confirmation to serve in this position would undermine the core values underlying the US-Israel relationship and to endanger both American and Israeli interests.
15 December
Trump’s Secretary of State Pick May Help Direct Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy
Donald Trump laid out a wholesale rethinking of American foreign policy during his campaign.
(NBC) If confirmed by the Senate … Rex Tillerson … would have to implement that vision.
That work will likely include efforts to ease tensions between the U.S. and Russia, withdrawing from global agreements on climate change and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, limiting the number of refugees coming to America, and ending the American-backed push to force Syria’s Bashar Assad from power.
Trump says that America can have a less tense relationship with Russia. In a press conference in July, the businessman suggested he would consider both lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia and formally recognizing Russian control of Crimea. He could accomplish both through his executive authority.
Tillerson … in his role at Exxon, expressed skepticism about the sanctions against Russia.
During the campaign, Trump called for a more aggressive posture toward China, at least on economic issues. He frequently suggested he would rethink American trade with the world’s most populous nation, arguing current policy allows China to “rape our country” and threatening tariffs on Chinese-made goods imported to the U.S. … he would also reconsider the American “One China” policy that does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. China will also be influential in U.S. efforts, which Trump says he will continue, to prevent North Korea from further developing its nuclear weapons program.
The Middle East
Trump has said he broadly wants a pullback from U.S. engagement in the Middle East. In a interview last month with the Wall Street Journal, Trump suggested the U.S. should better hone (sic) in on fighting ISIS, rather than supporting rebel efforts to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia factors into his calculations given that nation’s support of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
He wants to rethink the multi-national agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons and generally be tougher with the Iranian regime. And he wants to have a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of Trump’s most specific promises during the campaign was changing how America talks about terrorism. … the president-elect insists that the U.S. must publicly say that ISIS and other groups are Islamic, making clear who the U.S. is fighting against.
Trump Feud Over Russia Intel Raises Deeper Concerns, Experts Say
President-elect Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with U.S. intelligence agencies over alleged hacking by Russia is unnerving outside national security experts, some of whom fear the frosty relationship could impact Trump’s ability to govern.
Of course Trump — who said in August the intelligence community’s performance has been “catastrophic” —wouldn’t be the first president to have a strained relationship with his own agencies. But what separates Trump, some experts say, is his unusually harsh public criticism of the intelligence community’s basic worth and and a lack of clarity on how he plans to gather facts if he refuses their counsel.
13 December
Netanyahu: Trump’s Idea to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is ‘Great’
(Haaretz) Prime minister’s comments during his visit to Azerbaijan come day after president-elect’s aide says moving the embassy is a ‘very big priority’ for Trump.
Moving U.S. embassy to Jerusalem ‘very big priority’ for Trump, senior adviser says
Where does Donald Trump stand on Israel?
Jerusalem mayor and Kushner pal Barkat optimistic Trump will move embassy to Jerusalem
rex-tillersonRex Tillerson’s World: In His Own Words
Remarks by the nominee for secretary of state reveal a pragmatic executive whose views often appear to diverge from Donald Trump’s.
(The Atlantic) I read five years worth of speeches made by Tillerson on Exxon’s website, and comments elsewhere, and they reveal a pragmatic executive confident about the role of energy in the world, the benefits of deregulation as well as free trade, and the dangers posed by climate change and the best ways to tackle it. Many of these views appear to diverge from Trump’s positions. [e.g.]
In the years ahead, as the economy and energy landscape evolves worldwide, leaders in the United States and Asia will need to examine how their own policies can support international cooperation and energy trade. One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Climate change
Exxon, under Tillerson, supported the Paris climate accord, from which Trump has said he wants to withdraw. Earlier this year, Tillerson said: “We share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action.” Tillerson has made the case for a carbon tax “as the best policy of those being considered.”
Trump’s Team Differs on Foreign Policy Issues
Key members of national-security team have conflicting views on Iran, climate change and trade
President-elect Donald Trump has selected a national-security team whose members hold conflicting positions on some major foreign-policy issues, leaving open the question of how he will exert U.S. power on the world stage.
Mr. Trump’s core advisers differ on topics including climate change, trade, and the international nuclear deal with Iran. But there is an overarching similarity in their worldviews: that the time has come for a shift from the current U.S. approach to global affairs.
Mr. Trump already has demonstrated his intent to upend President Barack Obama’s approach to Russia and China by pursuing warmer ties with Moscow and a more confrontational posture toward Beijing. Mr. Obama has sought a closer relationship with China while aggressively taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his interventions in Ukraine and Syria. …
Mr. Trump also has signaled a willingness to change positions he took in the campaign on issues such as U.S. commitments to an international climate change agreement or the Iran nuclear deal.
“I don’t think there is a clear and coherent worldview yet,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former career diplomat and undersecretary of state during the George W. Bush administration, of Mr. Trump. “We have these emotions and opinions, but we don’t have a coherent governing strategy yet and he deserves some time to be able to put that together.”
12 December
China warns Trump against ignoring its Taiwan interests
(Reuters) China expressed “serious concern” on Monday after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said the United States did not necessarily have to stick to its long-held stance that Taiwan is part of “one China”, calling it the basis for relations.
Trump’s comments on “Fox News Sunday”, questioning nearly four decades of U.S. policy, came after he prompted a diplomatic protest from China over his decision to accept a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Dec. 2.
China’s Foreign Ministry said cooperation was “out of the question” if Washington could not recognize Beijing’s core interest on Taiwan, indicating it would reject any effort by Trump to use the issue as a bargaining chip in a long list of commercial and security problems facing the two countries.
Trump says U.S. not necessarily bound by ‘one China’ policy
Trump plans to nominate a long-standing friend of Beijing, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, as the next U.S. ambassador to China.
But Trump is considering John Bolton, a former Bush administration official who has urged a tougher line on Beijing, for the No. 2 job at the U.S. State Department, according to a source familiar with the matter.
In a Wall Street Journal article last January, Bolton said the next U.S. president should take bolder steps to halt China’ military aggressiveness in the South and East China seas.
Listen Closely: Donald Trump Proposes Big Mideast Strategy Shift
He signals a break from Obama and Bush: ‘We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments’
On their face, [his] statements suggest:
— An end to the effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for the effort to throw out Mr. Assad is nothing if not an effort to topple a regime.
— A partnership with Russia in the region, for Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly has demonstrated he is “willing to join in the effort” to defeat Islamic State in Syria.
— A warmer relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, a strongman who has demonstrated an unmistakable ferocity in his own fight against Islamic extremism, while also being largely shunned by the Obama administration for shredding civil liberties in Egypt.
— A policy toward Iran that doubtless will be hostile and include an attempt to dissolve the Obama-negotiated deal on nuclear arms, but one that won’t include regime change in Tehran as an explicit goal.
5 December
(The Atlantic) Last week, president-elect Donald Trump placed an impromptu phone call to Taiwan’s president, breaking a decades-old U.S. policy of refusing to recognize the Taiwanese government. This week, the fallout continues, with one Chinese scholar, Shen Dingli, arguing that if Trump did something similar after taking office, Shen might recommend China’s breaking ties with the U.S. Here’s the full interview with Shen, and here are some reactions from readers—one of whom makes the case for why it might be time to for America to reconsider its political fiction of a non-relationship with Taiwan. That would come, however, at the cost of seriously angering China, whose key partnership with the U.S. is already precarious.
2 December
So, Why Can’t You Call Taiwan?
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
(The Atlantic) Trump’s previous conversations might provide hints on whether foreign governments will take Trump seriously. As Uri Friedman wrote today, Trump’s conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already had repercussions. The Pakistani government put out a readout that read suspiciously like a near-verbatim transcript of Trump’s words, capturing the tone the president-elect uses. His promise to “play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems” might sound to an American who just observed the election as so much Trumpian space-filling, but it made headlines in Pakistan, where some interpreted it as a nod to Pakistan’s conflict with India in Kashmir. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told the Times it appeared Pakistani officials had taken Trump’s words too seriously.
China is perhaps a more sophisticated foreign-policy player than Pakistan; it’s certainly a more important one. But as Fallows points out, a China that sees Trump as buffoon probably isn’t good for American interests either.

1 December
A World of Trouble for Donald Trump
(NYT Editorial) That Donald Trump is having trouble choosing a secretary of state underscores concerns about his ability to manage the international challenges he will face in office — from the aggression of leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the Islamic State to strains among NATO allies.
At times, Mr. Trump’s campaign talk suggested new approaches; at other times, he offered a jumble of contradictory ideas. His mantra of “America first” implies a reduced American role overseas, but he has also advocated a tough posture toward adversaries. All of this creates an unsettling unpredictability that has already affected how governments and companies think and act. There is still little sign that Mr. Trump, who has declined daily briefings by the intelligence agencies, understands these threats and how to deal with them. …
Iran: Mr. Trump has vowed to tear up the 2015 deal under which Iran halted its most dangerous nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions. The agreement is working, as many of its critics in Congress and the Middle East acknowledge. Mr. Trump, however, has chosen a national security adviser and a C.I.A. director who are both adamantly opposed to the deal, regardless of the consequences of ending it.
Presidents have wide latitude to act unilaterally in foreign policy and command a powerful bully pulpit. Even so, Congress, career diplomats, interest groups, the media and foreign leaders can help shape, inform and stymie presidential intentions. The world has long relied on the United States to be the steady hand. The challenges will be more complex than Mr. Trump ever imagined. There is little reason to believe that he will provide strong leadership on these fronts, but every reason to hope that he does.

21 November
Long, fascinating, and at times scary. It also presupposes far more deep thinking than Donald Trump has exhibited to date publicly
Donald Trump’s New World Order
What a Kissinger-inspired strategy might look like.
By Niall Ferguson
(The American Interest) Kissinger’s recommendations to Trump may be summarized as follows:
Do not go all-out into a confrontation with China, whether on trade or the South China Sea. Rather, seek “comprehensive discussion” and aim to pursue that policy of dialogue and “co-evolution” recommended in World Order. Kissinger sees the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, quite regularly. When he says that Xi regards “confrontation as too dangerous” and thinks that “adversarial countries must become partners and cooperate on a win-win basis,” he speaks with authority. The questions the Chinese want to ask the new President, according to Kissinger, are these: “If we were you, we might try to suppress your rise. Do you seek to suppress us? If you do not, what will the world look like when we are both strong, as we expect to be?” Trump needs to have answers to these questions. The alternative, as Kissinger has said repeatedly, is for the United States and China to talk past each other until they stumble into 1914 in the Pacific, not to mention in cyberspace.
Given a weakened, traumatized, post-imperial Russia, the recognition Putin craves is that of “a great power, as an equal, and not as a supplicant in an American-designed system.” Kissinger’s message to Trump is well calibrated to appeal to his instincts: “It is not possible to bring Russia into the international system by conversion. It requires deal-making, but also understanding.” The central deal, Kissinger argues, would turn Ukraine into “a bridge between NATO and Russia rather than an outpost of either side,” like Finland or Austria in the Cold War, “free to conduct its own economic and political relationships, including with both Europe and Russia, but not party to any military or security alliance.” Such a non-aligned Ukraine would also need to be decentralized, increasing the autonomy of the contested eastern regions, where there has been intermittent conflict since separatist movements received Russian support in the wake of the Crimean annexation. The alternative to such a deal is that we may inadvertently over-use our financial and military superiority, turning a post-Putin Russia into a vast version of Yugoslavia, “wracked by conflict stretching from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.”
Treat Brexit as an opportunity to steer the continental Europeans away from bureaucratic introspection and back to strategic responsibility. (“They’re talking about tactical matters while they’re in the process of giving up the essence of . . . what they’ve represented throughout history.”)
Make peace in Syria rather as we made peace in the former Yugoslavia nearly twenty years ago. Kissinger now recommends a “cantonization” of Syria similar to the federalization of Bosnia under the Washington and Dayton agreements, with an “off-ramp for Assad” lasting around a year, all under the “supervision” of the interested outside powers. Iran must be contained, much as the Soviet Union was in the Cold War, because it poses a similar threat, acting as both an imperial state and a revolutionary cause. But keep the Iran agreement because to abandon it now “would free Iran from more constraints than it would free the United States.” And finally take advantage of the new-found, albeit tacit, anti-Iranian and anti-ISIS alignment of the Arab states with Israel to achieve a new kind of Arab-sponsored peace deal that would “improve the lives of Palestinians to the greatest extent possible, perhaps including quasi-sovereignty . . . that is, de facto autonomy without a legalistic superstructure.”

9 November
Robert Fisk: The Middle East will present Donald Trump with a terrifying choice – and he won’t be able to handle it
What does Trump actually do when these lands present a “threat” to the West? Dust off his anti-Muslim hatreds? Call up his mate Vladimir? Ask for an atlas?
(The Independent) Trump’s Middle East is likely to be pretty much the same as Hillary’s Middle East might have been. Uncritical support for nuclear Israel and its chaotic prime minister, constant bombast about terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror (delete when you get tired of the word) and support for “moderates” – be they rebels (of the Syrian variety), presidents and kings (of the Sissi of Egypt/Abdullah of Jordan variety) and our friends (Saudis/Qataris/Kuwaitis) whose dead kings will usually be worthy of a flag at half staff.
But we will arm them. Be sure of this. The Gulf states will continue to gobble up US weapons/missiles/tanks/aircraft and Trump will visit these dusty monarchies and be treated like a king – which, I suppose, he would rather like to be – and he will assure Israel of America’s undying, constant, unquestioning support for the “only democracy in the Middle East”.
So I’ll hazard a cruel prediction. The Middle East will reach out and grab Donald Trump when he least expects it, that it will present him with a terrifying choice (war or peace) and that his administration – such as it is – will not be capable of dealing with it. That will be the ultimate responsibility of American voters, of course.

One Comment on "Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Policy"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson January 7, 2017 at 12:27 am · Reply

    Note from a European friend of Wednesday Night.
    After the intelligence debacle of the Iraq war and “weapons of mass destruction”, it is actually quite understandable that Trump does not trust US intelligence agencies. Very few do. However, the Russian hacking operation has been confirmed by BND as well as the French, both well informed in Russian affairs.
    The problem here is, that no-one, not even the US agencies, can reveal their sources as that would have serious consequences. Knowing this, Trump can and probably will deny their claims as “unsubstantiated”. He does this knowing that he was wrong, but cannot admit to have been elected with Russian help either, even that he most likely never asked for it.
    We have no other alternative than to pin our hopes on Trump being a cunning wheeler-dealer, who will in time realise that Putin is taking him on a ride. That will perhaps solve the “Russian problem”. The one in the Mid-East will not be solved, but get worse. Here Trump trusts his “advisers” = minders.
    To make matters worse, Trump is aggravating China and at the same time ignoring entirely another rising power: India. We are entering a new unpredictable era in foreign relations.

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