Trump’s policy shifts are either strategy or flexibility
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.”
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.