Trump’s pol­icy shifts are ei­ther strat­egy or flex­i­bil­ity

The Commercial Appeal - - Nation - DAVID JACK­SON

WASH­ING­TON Three months in of­fice, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is giv­ing the world pol­icy whiplash.

A week af­ter or­der­ing a mis­sile strike on Syria — in stark con­trast to the po­si­tion he took as a pri­vate cit­i­zen in 2013 — the still-new pres­i­dent is re­vers­ing him­self on a host of is­sues, from Rus­sia to NATO, from Chi­nese cur­rency val­u­a­tion to the wor­thi­ness of the Ex­portIm­port Bank.

All pres­i­dents change po­si­tions af­ter they take of­fice and re­ceive more in­for­ma­tion, but Trump’s pace “is still pretty re­mark­able,” said Ni­cole Re­nee Hem­mer, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia’s Miller Cen­ter.

“We’ve had plenty of ev­i­dence over the past year and a half that Trump is a man of im­pulses more than a man of doc­trine,” she said, “which makes his poli­cies much more pli­able than most politi­cians.”

In a sense, it’s “wel­come to the White House” for Trump. The pres­i­dent who had no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in po­lit­i­cal of­fice sim­ply is learn­ing more about the ar­ray of is­sues that con­front any chief ex­ec­u­tive, say ad­min­is­tra­tion aides and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts.

In some cases, Trump seems to be us­ing new poli­cies as bar­gain­ing chips for other goals. He sug­gested this past week that he would stop ac­cus­ing China of ma­nip­u­lat­ing cur­rency rates if Beijing would help the United States de­ter North Korea’s nu­clear threats. And on Fri­day, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a re­view that de­clined to list China as a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor.

An­other rea­son: The seem­ing tri­umph, at least so far, of Trump ad­vis­ers who are big­ger back­ers of the global econ­omy, such as se­nior aides Jared Kush­ner and Gary Cohn, over the “eco­nomic na­tion­al­ist” wing cham­pi­oned by po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Steve Ban­non.

Trump, mean­while, said he is keep­ing his prom­ises “one by one.” On Twit­ter, he said he is busy re­duc­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions in or­der to stim­u­late the econ­omy, par­tic­u­larly in the en­ergy sec­tor. “Jobs are re­turn­ing, il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is plum­met­ing, law, or­der and jus­tice are be­ing re­stored,” Trump tweeted Thurs­day.

Trump and his aides have ex­pla­na­tions for his changed views:

» Syria. Trump cited the pho­tos of dead and maimed ba­bies af­ter an April 4 chem­i­cal weapons at­tack in Syria as among the rea­sons he au­tho­rized the mis­sile strike — an op­tion he had crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Barack Obama for con­sid­er­ing (and re­ject­ing) in 2013.

» Chi­nese cur­rency. Af­ter vow­ing dur­ing the cam­paign to de­clare China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor on “Day One” of his pres­i­dency, Trump told The Wall Street Jour­nal he no longer be­lieves China is ma­nip­u­lat­ing its cur­rency. The Jour­nal re­ported Trump be­lieves that “tak­ing the step now could jeop­ar­dize his talks with Beijing on con­fronting the threat of North Korea.”

» The Ex­port-Im­port Bank. Trump once de­nounced the in­sti­tu­tion that fi­nances and en­sures for­eign pur­chases of U.S. goods, call­ing it “feath­erbed­ding” for politi­cians. He told The Wall Street Jour­nal that the bank “ac­tu­ally makes money,” and en­dorsed the idea it helps U.S. com­pa­nies that have to com­pete with for­eign ri­vals that re­ceive sub­si­dies from their gov­ern­ments — ar­gu­ments that sup­port­ers of the Ex­portIm­port Bank have made for years.

» NATO. At a news con­fer­ence with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg, Trump sud­denly dis­closed a new view of the U.S.-Euro­pean al­liance: “I said it was ob­so­lete. It’s no longer ob­so­lete.” The pres­i­dent noted he had com­plained that NATO didn’t fight ter­ror­ism, and “they made a change,” though counter-ter­ror­ism has been part of its mis­sion since 9/11.

» Rus­sia: Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump spoke of im­prov­ing re­la­tions with Rus­sia, and op­po­nents said that was one rea­son that Rus­sian hack­ers sought to in­flu­ence the elec­tion in his fa­vor. Now Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin are in­volved in a war of words over Syria.

All pres­i­dents back­track on var­i­ous prom­ises.

Yet Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., said the changes are “dizzy­ing,” adding, “The only thing that’s con­sis­tent about Trump’s for­eign pol­icy so far is its in­con­sis­tency.”

EVAN VUCCI/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has changed his po­si­tion on such mat­ters as the value of NATO and the Ex­port-Im­port Bank since tak­ing of­fice. The pres­i­dent is learn­ing more about the ar­ray of is­sues that con­front a chief ex­ec­u­tive, say aides and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts.

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