Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Relations 2018

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Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations
North Korea
Israel – Palestine/Gaza 2017

Anatole Kaletsky: Trump’s Victorious Retreats
Why does US President Donald Trump keep making empty threats against other countries? While his detractors think he is simply a braggart, a fool, and an ignoramus, there could be a less unflattering, though equally depressing, explanation.
(Project Syndicate) Why does Trump keep making empty threats? His detractors respond that he is simply a braggart, a fool, and an . But there could be a less unflattering, though equally depressing, explanation.
Trump’s approach to foreign policy is the opposite of President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous early-twentieth-century dictum: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Trump’s modus operandi could be described instead as, “Shout loudly and carry a white flag.” And while this sounds irresponsible and cowardly, it may be the most politically effective and rational strategy for conducting US foreign policy in the twenty-first century.
If we acknowledge that the United States is now a global hegemon in decline, it is reasonable for US voters to reject any serious economic or military sacrifices in pursuit of unattainable foreign policy objectives such as containment of China. And if Americans are no longer prepared to bear the costs of global domination, then disguised retreat is a better policy than the neo-conservative belligerence that produced the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the liberal interventionism that encouraged the Arab Spring and caused the disasters in Syria and Libya.
Trump’s skill at turning US retreats into personal political victories was on display in his dealings with North Korea and his acquiescence to Russian dominance in Syria. A similar policy should probably be expected vis-à-vis China and possibly Iran and Ukraine, because it reflects geopolitical and economic realities – and, more important for Trump, it enhances his personal position.

3 August
There’s Trump’s Foreign Policy and Then There’s His Administration’s
In the last five days, President Trump has thanked Kim Jong-un of North Korea for his “nice letter,” reminisced about his “great meeting” with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and offered to meet Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, without any preconditions.
During those same five days, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on a Russian bank accused of helping North Korea with weapons-related activities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed stringent preconditions for any engagement with Iran. And the administration’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials vowed to combat Russian interference in the midterm elections, while Senate Republicans pushed a bill that would impose harsh new sanctions on Moscow.
The dissonance between Mr. Trump and his staff extends to countries like Iran, with which neither he nor his aides are seeking a warm relationship. The president’s declaration that he would meet Iran’s leaders “anytime they want” — without preconditions — came just as other officials, including Mr. Pompeo, were hardening their language toward the country.
Mr. Pompeo quickly listed three preconditions for engagement: that the Iranians “demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior” and “enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation.”
For aides like Mr. Pompeo or Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, there could be another reason for the disconnect with Mr. Trump: they harbor their own long-term political ambitions and do not want to run afoul of traditional Republican constituencies.

23 July
Danielle Allen: Trump’s foreign policy is perfectly coherent
(WaPost Opinion) Less than seeking to disrupt the old order because he has a considered view about it, apparently Trump seeks a global order that turns around him personally, where global politics is conducted as a series of deals with Donald Trump.
The important thing to recognize about Trump’s foreign policy agenda — his sequential, bilateral dealmaking — is that we, the American people, with our mammoth consumer market, are now his most valuable asset. Other countries want access to us; this is the ace in Trump’s hand. Like his erstwhile casinos, we’re a stake he can put on the dealmaking table
The purpose of Trump’s bilateralist foreign policy is not some overarching vision about world peace or democracy’s role in global order. The purpose is simply to maximize Trump’s personal power, to make him personally great, by proving his dealmaking prowess and making himself necessary to the world’s economy.

13 July
Trump leaves London after wreaking diplomatic destruction
US president was shielded from the public but causes havoc for Theresa May
(The Guardian) The presidential hurricane had swept through southern England, uprooting protocols, rattling institutions and leaving politicians with a sense of whiplash. As the disrupter-in-chief’s MV-22 Osprey helicopters departed, Theresa May could be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief familiar to any sorely tested host.
The US president is finally coming to Britain, but he won’t be honoured with a state visit
The prime minister invited Trump for a state visit … . It was swiftly downgraded to a “working trip” after huge public opposition to the visit and MPs vowed not to give Trump the opportunity to address parliament.

“He Chooses the Hammer Every Time”: NATO Left Fuming as Trump Turns Toward Putin
The president’s three-country European tour has been NATO’s worst nightmare, weakening the alliance and empowering Russia. “This meeting confirmed that Trump barely knows the politics, if even the geography, of Europe,” one foreign diplomat said. “Diplomacy has become a sadly hilarious affair with him.”
(Vanity Fair) Damon Wilson, the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council who was in attendance, told me. “He helped to sort of elevate and, to some degree, fabricate a sense of crisis. He created a sense of friction between characters and used it to create a situation in which he could basically solve the problem, come in, and declare victory.”
11 – 12 July
Trump’s Feud With Europe Is Worse Than You Think
A three-week trip across the continent revealed a transatlantic relationship in tatters.
By ABRAHAM NEWMAN
(Politico) Europeans bemoaned U.S. surrogates, who seemed cast right out a crime drama procedural, playing good cop-bad cop. One day, the European officials would find themselves talking to a rather sympathetic U.S. figure doing his or her best to justify or even apologize for the administration’s demands. The next day, the “cowboys,” as my European friends called them, would arrive, setting down ultimatums. Both positions would then be made irrelevant by a single presidential tweet.
… it is not just that Europeans do not know what the U.S. wants. They also told me they are increasingly skeptical of what Americans are telling them. U.S. intelligence and information has long been considered the gold standard, its detail and sophistication unparalleled. In areas from counterterrorism to corruption and financial regulation, the U.S. has used this advantage to press its policy objectives globally. For example, a U.S. official might approach a European counterpart with evidence of a crime committed by a European firm or citizen. In the past, European officials would typically trust U.S. intelligence and arguments. Increasingly, however  … I increasingly had conversations in which Europeans questioned the trustworthiness of their interlocutors as well as the credibility of the information they provided.
The transatlantic partnership is not made up of any single commitment or set of funding requirements. It is made up of thousands of people on both sides of the Atlantic, working every day to bring prosperity and peace to each other. In the short term, the administration’s disregard for these relationships will make it harder for the U.S. to address its own policy priorities, from terrorism and migration to nonproliferation and financial stability. In the long term, it could set in motion a radical transformation in the international system.

How Trump’s Nato summit meltdown unfolded
(The Guardian) The agenda for Thursday seemed, on the surface, to offer little reason for further confrontation with Trump: a routine discussion of moves by Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato and of Nato involvement in Afghanistan.
Seldom keen on such detailed discussions, the US president turned up late and came with a different agenda.
Ignoring the discussion about Georgia and Afghanistan, Trump charged forward, saying his predecessors in the White House had pushed for an increase by Europeans on defence spending and he was not going to put up with it. Dispensing with the usual diplomatic niceties, he pointed at Merkel, whom he dislikes on a personal level as well as over their policy differences, and said: “You, Angela.”
The most stunning comment came from a source reported by Reuters: “He said they must raise spending by January 2019 or the United States would go it alone.”

A tense NATO summit begins. European Council president Donald Tusk warned Donald Trump yesterday to “appreciate your allies,”  European Council president Donald Tusk warned Donald Trump yesterday to “appreciate your allies,” but the president is thirsty for a showdown over NATO members’ defense-spending contributions. Already this morning, Trump called Germany a “captive of Russia” over a gas-pipeline deal

Trump’s neglect of Europe goes beyond angry tweets
Unfilled positions, truncated communications, lack of policy clarity combine to provoke anger across the continent.
(Politico) …as they braced for Trump to barrel into Europe this week with visits to NATO and Britain and a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, senior officials from more than a dozen countries, most of them steeped in decades of experience with the trans-Atlantic relationship, insisted that the breaches under this administration go well beyond the types of policy disagreements of the past. They spoke to POLITICO largely on condition of anonymity out of fear of worsening the situation, or redirecting Trump’s ire at their own capitals, which each have different interests and priorities in Washington. Despite those differences, they voiced a consistent message of concern: pointing less to Trump’s rhetoric than to a more organic breach of collaboration, a collapse of institutions and, most worrisome to them, the obliteration of any sense of predictability.
For instance, for more than a year and a half into a four-year term, dozens of positions crucial to the trans-Atlantic relationship remained vacant, leaving their European counterparts stranded and grasping for interlocutors, on everything from trade policy to Russian sanctions. One senior American diplomat in Brussels said European officials, desperate for lines of communication — and thrown off balance by the churn in the White House — pleaded for more visits by members of Congress, especially Republicans.
Only at the end of June did the Senate finally confirm Gordon Sondland, a hotel magnate and longtime Republican Party fundraiser, as ambassador to the European Union, and he just took up the post on Monday. The most prominent envoy Trump has sent — Richard Grenell in Germany — has stirred controversy by seeming to threaten to meddle in European politics, telling the right-wing news site Breitbart: “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”
Several key European ambassadorships remain unfilled, including in Ireland, which is at the center of the sensitive negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, and Poland, which is in a fierce battle with Brussels over alleged rule-of-law violations. This month, Trump finally nominated an ambassador to Albania, days after a crucial EU summit where leaders decided to postpone membership talks with the strategic Balkan nation for at least a year.

8 June
(New York) As he meets with America’s supposed allies in Canada, President Trump continues to fulfill Vladimir Putin’s loftiest goals, Jonathan Chait writes in “Trump Is Fulfilling Russia’s Dream of Splitting the Western Alliance.” Time after time, Europe and Canada have urged Trump to act in the mutual interest of what used to be a stable partnership. But Trump is far more comfortable dealing in “transactional” (a.k.a. corrupt) terms with the globe’s strongmen and despots, with whom he shares a personality type and style. All this is great news for Russia, China, and everyone else delighted that America is willingly diminishing its own power more and more each day.
The rise of Donald Trump has been met with a persistent strain of denial. First domestically, and then abroad, his would-be partners greeted the unfathomable election of an uneducable demagogue by convincing themselves he didn’t really mean ravings that passed for his official policies, and that they could reason with, co-opt, or otherwise negotiate with him. Trump’s domestic counterparts grasped reality more quickly than his international partners.
“Senior government officials in Washington, London, Berlin, and other European capitals” tell Susan Glasser “they now worry that Trump may be a greater immediate threat to the alliance than even authoritarian great-power rivals, such as Russia and China.” Trump might be a greater threat to the West than Putin. Worse, he might be, in a sense, the very same threat.
(The Atlantic) Rough Relations: On his way to the G7 Summit, President Trump said the forum “should let Russia come back in.” Russia has been suspended from the group since 2014, and Trump’s call for its reinstatement may add to the divisions between the U.S. and its fellow G7 members. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe and Canada are a key point of conflict, reportedly even causing friction between him and French President Emmanuel Macron, who had cultivated a friendly relationship with his U.S. counterpart. As for America’s relations with Asian powers, Reihan Salam argues that normalizing trade relations with China was a mistake.

3 June
American Foreign Policy: It’s Worse Than It Looks
By James Fallows
(The Atlantic) This past week I argued that the current U.S. approach to China mattered enormously, and was being grievously mishandled. The set-up for the argument was a ranking of which U.S. relationships were “most” by a variety of criteria, which the Atlantic.com’s editor Adrienne LaFrance brilliantly summarized this way:
Now, two reader reactions I’d like to quote. First, from the author (and veteran of congressional politics) Mike Lofgren, who says that I’m wrong to worry more about what’s happening with China than about the less sexy-sounding but more profound damage the United States is doing to its long-standing alliances in the rest of the Americas and with Europe.

31 May
Trump’s Art of Unpredictability Starts to Backfire Overseas
(Bloomberg) Trump “is oblivious to the advantages of being at the center of the global order,” said Michael Fullilove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, in Sydney. “He is dubious about the value of alliances, even though China or Russia would dearly love to have an alliance network as powerful and cost-effective as that of the United States.”
In recent days, Trump’s sudden policy reversals on everything from tariffs to nuclear non-proliferation have prompted complaints from allies and rivals alike. Such flexible negotiating tactics — laid out in Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal” — have led them to question America’s reliability as a negotiating and, in some cases, security partner.
With defense ministers from around the world convening Friday for the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore, questions around U.S. reliability are likely to rival familiar concerns about China’s growing military assertiveness.

28 May
James Fallows: America Is Fumbling Its Most Important Relationship
The United States has a China problem—and pundits and politicians are making it worse.

29 May
(The Atlantic) International Relations: Recent comments from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggest that the goal of President Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran is to force a regime change. That plan could backfire. It’s also disrupted the United States’ relations with its European allies, who now frown upon the Trump administration’s disengagement with global politics. The country’s most important relationship of all is with China, James Fallows argues—and right now, American leaders may be fumbling it.

8 May
Trump is Master of the Art of Making America Grate
(Australian Institute of International Affairs) Trump’s decision this week to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is a global tragedy likely to unsettle an already volatile Middle East and a world in some disarray.
Trump has pulled out of the deal not because it was flawed, but because it was working as intended and this posed an insurmountable obstacle to potential military strikes on Iran. As a consequence, Trump’s decision will worsen relations with Europe, destabilise the Middle East, complicate negotiations to reverse North Korea’s nuclearisation and damage the global nuclear order.

Trump Continues to Rebrand America As Weird and Flaky
Pulling out of the Iran deal breaks a long U.S. foreign policy tradition of avoiding surprises — and it works against all the president’s goals.
(New York Magazine) The president provided all the television staples of national-security seriousness. He described the threat posed by Iran with headline-worthy hyperbole. No one thinks Iran is close to having a missile that can “threaten American cities” (that would be North Korea). He said Israel had provided new information about Iran’s nuclear intentions — all of which dated from before the agreement was signed and implemented, but never mind. And, with a flourish, he signed a national-security directive that would, he said, institute “the highest level of economic sanction.”
But wait. Insiders had told reporters an hour before that sanctions would not be reimposed for six months. Statements from the White House and other agencies provided no details on when sanctions would come, or what they would include. In the prose of the White House fact sheet, “Those doing business in Iran will be provided a period of time to allow them to wind down operations in or business involving Iran.”
Trump’s Iran decision just brought us closer to war
(WaPost editorial board) THE NUCLEAR deal struck with Iran three years ago was far from perfect, but President Trump’s decision to abrogate it over the opposition of our European allies and without a clear strategy for replacing it is reckless and, most likely, self-defeating. Mr. Trump has opened a rift with Britain, Germany and France, who were partners to the pact along with Russia and China, and he has handed Iran’s Islamic regime some unfortunate opportunities.

14 April
A Trump Doctrine for the Middle East
The region has now been Trump-branded as “a troubled place”—and one America is not particularly interested in helping
(The Atlantic) Trump already has a Middle East strategy. It’s just not the one [his critics], and possibly Bolton, would prefer. He will embrace America’s Middle East partners, autocrats and democrats alike, and sell them all the arms they can afford. But it’s their job to assume the burdens of dealing with this troubled place, not his.
If Assad dares to use chemical weapons again, Trump made clear he’ll bomb again. But if Assad wants to continue slaughtering his people with conventional weapons, it’s up to others to deal with him. Listen up: “The fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people,” not in Trump’s hands.

12 April
(The Atlantic) Affairs of State: CIA Director Mike Pompeo faced the Senate in his confirmation hearing to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Uri Friedman breaks down the most revealing part of the testimony. If confirmed, Pompeo could spell new relevance for the Republican foreign-policy establishment. His hearing comes at a time when Trump’s views on military intervention in Syria are rapidly evolving. The conflict in the country, where Israel and Iran are closing in on a clash, is growing ever more complicated.

16 March
U.S. hints at shift on Russia with sanctions and condemnation
(Reuters) “I think we have hit an inflection point in the current administration’s approach towards Russia,” said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. By imposing new sanctions on Russia and condemning a suspected Russian chemical attack in Britain, Washington has hinted at a tougher stance toward Moscow despite President Donald Trump’s stated desire for better ties.

15 March
Why Trump’s admission that he made stuff up to Justin Trudeau is particularly bad
by Aaron Blake
((WaPost) … the fact that Trump would make up this particular fact is especially remarkable and ominous.
The first reason is that this is perhaps the one issue Trump has focused on for decades: trade. It would be more understandable for him to make things up on guns and immigration, but trade is supposedly the issue on which Trump has been entirely consistent for many years. … The second reason is that it was a rather pointless invention. Why Trump would feel the need to make something up that is of such consequence to Trudeau doesn’t even make sense for strategic reasons. The final part of this is what it says about Trump’s brand of diplomacy. … Can a guy who can’t be bothered to understand the basics before talking to foreign leaders and lawmakers do the kind of homework required for very sensitive and complicated negotiations involving nuclear programs? And what if he doesn’t even try? What if he decides to wing it, as he did with Trudeau?

13 March
Rex Tillerson Out as Trump’s Secretary of State, Replaced by Mike Pompeo
(NYT) He had deep experience with Middle Eastern potentates, and knew President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia through Exxon’s extensive efforts to explore for oil in Russia. But the early enthusiasm for bringing a business sensibility to the State Department faded fast, as Mr. Tillerson seemed overwhelmed by the diplomatic challenges before him and isolated by career foreign service officers whom he often froze out of the most important debates. His profound disagreements with the president on policy appeared to be his undoing: Mr. Tillerson wanted to remain part of the Paris climate accord; Mr. Trump decided to leave it. Mr. Tillerson supported the continuation of the Iran nuclear deal; Mr. Trump loathed the deal as “an embarrassment to the United States.” And Mr. Tillerson believed in dialogue to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened military options.
(Updated from 30 November 2017) Replacing Tillerson With Pompeo Would Supplant a Moderate With a Hawk

12 March
9 things Trump should do before he meets with Kim Jong-un
By Jeffrey A. Bader, Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center
(Brookings) How should responsible critics of President Trump react to the seriously flawed initiative for the U.S. president to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un? I would offer nine specific suggestions for how to make it work passably and how to minimize the risks:

Donald Trump’s Year of Living Dangerously
It’s worse than you think.
By SUSAN B. GLASSER
(Politico Magazine January/February 2018) A year into his presidency, this is where we are: Trump’s national security team and his allies are engaged in a silent conspiracy of sorts to guide and constrain him. America’s enemies in China and Russia have taken their measure of the man and are preparing to test him more decisively than they have yet ventured. Opportunists in the Middle East and elsewhere are taking what they can get. War talk with North Korea grows ever louder. And in Washington, the America Firsters have been purged from the White House staff—but not from the Oval Office itself. (2 January 2018)


6 January
Hard-won UN debate sees US at odds with partners over Iran
America accused of ‘preposterous bullying’ by Iran as heated discussion lays bare deep rifts over Middle East’s future
The US successfully fought off a Russian-led attempt on Friday to block a UN security council discussion over the past week’s Iranian protests. But it immediately found itself at odds with its European partners, who used the subsequent debate to reject American efforts to make the protests an excuse for ditching the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

(Brookings) Trump is right about Pakistan. After accusing the country of providing safe haven to terrorists followed by a suspension of military aid this week, President Trump has initiated a fundamental shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan. Vanda Felbab-Brown explains Pakistan’s logic in supporting terrorist groups and the limits of U.S. pressure, while Bruce Riedel outlines what other tools the Trump administration has at its disposal.
Cutting Off Pakistan, U.S. Takes Gamble in Complex Afghan War
(NYT) Afghan officials have pleaded with three American presidents to reconsider their support for Pakistan, which was both receiving billions of dollars in American aid and harboring the leaders of a Taliban insurgency that the United States has struggled to defeat.
But when President Trump suspended nearly all American security aid to Pakistan on Thursday for what he called the country’s “lies and deceit,” any jubilation in the halls of power in Afghanistan — and there was some — was leavened with worry over how the move might affect a complex war that has pushed the Afghan government to the brink.

5 January
(Quartz) The US and South Korea talk trade. Negotiators meet in Washington today to thrash out changes to Korus, the free-trade pact between the two countries. The White House has criticized the deal, saying that the US trade deficit with South Korea has more than doubled since the agreement started in 2012.
North Korea said “yes” to South Korea’s high-level talks offer. They’ll meet on Jan. 9, with a key topic being the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. The White House said it hoped Seoul wouldn’t “go off freelancing” on other issues, while Donald Trump took credit on Twitter for the diplomatic breakthrough.

1 January
‘Nothing but lies and deceit’: Trump launches Twitter attack on Pakistan
US president tweets saying Pakistan is providing ‘safe haven to terrorists’ and America was ‘foolish’ to give $33bn in aid
Trump began the new year by launching an attack on Islamabad in his first tweet of 2018, saying Pakistan was providing “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt”.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” he wrote. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
The tweet on Monday comes in the aftermath of heightened tensions between Washington and Islamabad since the summer, when the US president announced his administration’s national security strategy for Afghanistan.

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