Trump rattles allies’ feathers
His cabinet tries to smooth things over
U.S. President Donald Trump’s spats with U.S. allies as close as Mexico and as unlikely as Australia are leaving his new secretary of state and others in his Cabinet to clean up a lot of potential damage. It’s a goodcop, bad-cop dynamic that could define America’s foreign policy for the next four years.
Trump’s first two weeks on the job have rattled foreign friends and foes alike — and even members of his own party — starting with his order to temporarily halt all refugee admissions as well as immigration from seven mainly-Muslim countries. Concern only escalated the past few days with his personal dust-ups with foreign leaders and declaration that Iran is now “on notice” for possible American action.
“It’s time we’re going to be a little tough, folks,” Trump said at a National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, as unseemly details circulated about his private phone calls with the Mexican and Australian leaders. “We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore.”
Trump’s blunt comments came a day after word emerged of a tense discussion with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, in which the new U.S. president lambasted an Obamaera deal to resettle some 1,600 asylum-seekers.
Diplomatic dysfunction was clear. Minutes after the U.S. Embassy in Canberra said the deal was still on, Trump seemed to contradict that message, tweeting: “I will study this dumb deal!”
On the other side of the globe, new details emerged about strained ties between the U.S. and its southern neighbour. There was already irritation on both sides following Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s cancellation of a trip to Washington after Trump made the visit contingent on Mexico agreeing to pay for a U.S. border wall.
In a follow-up phone call, Trump warned Pena Nieto that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” if Mexico’s military can’t control them, The Associated Press learned. The White House said the comments were made in a “lighthearted” manner. But administration officials described the calls with both leaders as contentious.
Some top aides underscoring Trump’s emphasis on toughness and brawnier U.S. negotiations, dominant themes of his “America First” foreign policy.
At the United Nations, Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, said the U.S. would be “taking names” of countries that “don’t have our back.” His national security adviser, Michael Flynn, made a surprising appearance at the White House daily briefing to “officially” put Iran “on notice” after its ballistic missile test.
Trump topped Flynn Thursday by saying “nothing is off the table” when it comes to a potential American response.
But Trump’s top diplomats are striking noticeably softer tones.
Rex Tillerson, in his first day as secretary of state, implicitly acknowledged in an address to staff that many U.S. diplomats oppose some of Trump’s positions. Without criticizing that, he called for unity.
“Honesty will undergird our foreign policy, and we’ll start by making it the basis of how we interact with each other,” Tillerson said. “We are human beings first.”
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Saturday.