Trump breaks rules of world diplo­macy

Se­cu­rity team makes im­pact

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND DAN BOY­LAN

It started with tak­ing a pro­to­col-shat­ter­ing phone call from Tai­wan. Then came an al­most im­me­di­ate re­align­ment with Saudi Ara­bia against Iran, 59 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles fired at Syria, an in­creas­ingly com­bat­ive pos­ture to­ward Rus­sia, a mas­sive mil­i­tary strike in Afghanistan and a level of North Korea brinkman­ship not seen from U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions in decades.

For all the road­blocks and head­winds Pres­i­dent Trump has faced on the do­mes­tic front, there is lit­tle de­bate that he and his un­con­ven­tional na­tional se­cu­rity team have made a con­se­quen­tial im­pact on the course and con­duct of for­eign pol­icy in his first 100 days in of­fice.

The man whose pop­ulist in­au­gu­ra­tion speech vowed to put “Amer­ica first” has been dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines with ag­gres­sive for­eign en­gage­ment and high­level meet­ings, in­clud­ing host­ing lead­ers such as Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe at his Mara-Lago re­sort.

From Can­berra and Ber­lin, from Tokyo and Ankara, Mr. Trump has ran­kled for­eign lead­ers with his abra­sive­ness while in­trigu­ing them with a will­ing­ness to re­think con­ven­tional wis­dom and con­ven­tional poli­cies in Amer­i­can diplo­macy.

It was at Mar-a-Lago, for in­stance, that Mr. Trump in­formed Mr. Xi on April 7 over a “beau­ti­ful” piece of choco­late cake that he had au­tho­rized airstrikes against Syria — the first by the U.S. to ex­plic­itly tar­get the regime of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad over the sus­pected use of chem­i­cal weapons.

It was also at his Florida win­ter White House that Mr. Trump’s in­creas­ingly bare-knuckle pos­ture to­ward North Korea be­gan to de­velop, when news broke that Py­ongyang had tested a bal­lis­tic mis­sile just as the pres­i­dent was win­ing and din­ing Mr. Abe.

In the months since, Mr. Trump has or­dered more U.S. mil­i­tary as­sets to South Korea and dis­patched Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence to the re­gion to de­liver the mes­sage that the “era of strate­gic pa­tience” — a ref­er­ence to Wash­ing­ton’s long-held pol­icy of try­ing to pres­sure Py­ongyang through sanc­tions and diplo­macy — “is over.”

With the prospect of a pre­emp­tive U.S. strike against North Korea a sub­ject of deep spec­u­la­tion in Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Pence is­sued his state­ments on Py­ongyang just af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pref­er­ence for “hard” over “soft” power was put on dra­matic dis­play in Afghanistan with a mas­sive ord­nance air blast strike against sus­pected Is­lamic State hide­outs this month.

Crit­ics con­tend that Mr. Trump still has ar­tic­u­lated no clear strat­egy for North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan or the Is­lamic State group, let alone Iran, where au­thor­i­ties ap­pear to be brac­ing for the pres­i­dent to fol­low through on threats to up­end the multi­na­tional nu­clear ac­cord that Pres­i­dent Obama pushed through in 2015. Trump sup­port­ers counter that the pres­i­dent’s ac­tions have in­jected a much-needed de­gree of un­pre­dictabil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity to Amer­i­can power pro­jec­tion around the world.

Some ar­gue that Mr. Trump was ex­pected to emerge as a se­ri­ous for­eign pol­icy pres­i­dent be­cause the for­mer prop­erty mogul and re­al­ity TV star was a global pres­ence long be­fore he had the chance to live on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue.

Bumpy ride

All sides agree it’s been an un­usu­ally bumpy ride at the start, with Mr. Trump’s first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, re­tired Gen. Michael Flynn, forced to re­sign just weeks into the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Large num­bers of posts be­low the Cabi­net level at the State De­part­ment and other agen­cies have yet to be filled, and a probe of po­ten­tial Rus­sian links to the Trump cam­paign and in­flu­ence on the Novem­ber elec­tion still hangs over the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Still, Mr. Trump’s emerg­ing for­eign pol­icy team is start­ing to win higher marks, with Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster show­ing greater co­he­sion.

World lead­ers have watched with cu­rios­ity as Mr. Trump has al­tered or, in a few cases, re­versed ma­jor pol­icy po­si­tions he pushed as a can­di­date.

He cam­paigned on avoid­ing en­gage­ment in Syria’s civil war in fa­vor of a laser fo­cus on de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group. Then he launched the mis­sile strikes in re­tal­i­a­tion for chem­i­cal at­tacks on civil­ians by the regime of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. He de­clared NATO “ob­so­lete” but has since em­braced the al­liance. He was ac­cused of cozy­ing up to the Krem­lin. Now he is toughtalk­ing to Rus­sia. He branded China a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor, then ate cake with Mr. Xi.

Mr. Trump has talked of th­ese shifts as the mark of a deal-maker, say­ing on Twit­ter once: “‘Be flex­i­ble enough to ad­just to chang­ing cir­cum­stances.’ — Think Big.”

A com­bi­na­tion of im­pulsedriven ac­tion and deal-mak­ing savvy has de­fined the pres­i­dent’s first 100 days.

Both were on dis­play just be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion in a De­cem­ber call with Tai­wan’s pres­i­dent. It was the first in 40 years be­tween a Tai­wanese leader and an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent-elect in the wake of the 1979 “one China” pol­icy.

China was out­raged. Al­though Mr. Trump later tamped down fric­tion by say­ing he wouldn’t break with “one China,” the move ap­peared to have put Mr. Xi off bal­ance ahead of talks with the new U.S. pres­i­dent.

With Mr. Trump propos­ing a 28 per­cent cut to the State De­part­ment’s bud­get, Mr. Tiller­son still has no ad­min­is­tra­tion-ap­pointed deputy and has named only a few U.S. am­bas­sadors to rep­re­sent the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tions around the world.

For­eign pol­icy spe­cial­ists say the evolv­ing sit­u­a­tion makes it hard to grade the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s diplo­macy, even though sev­eral ac­knowl­edge that they have been im­pressed by the pres­i­dent’s fo­cus on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

“There re­main rea­sons to be con­cerned, par­tic­u­larly about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade agenda,” Daniel Twin­ing, a di­rec­tor at the Ger­man Mar­shall Fund, said in an anal­y­sis that the or­ga­ni­za­tion cir­cu­lated this week. “But U.S. power is back as a force to be reck­oned with in a dan­ger­ous world, af­ter what many saw as Pres­i­dent Obama’s ab­di­ca­tion of the U.S. role as global guar­an­tor and fol­low­ing a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign in which the U.S. was pre­sented as a vic­tim of glob­al­iza­tion rather than as its en­gine.”

While oth­ers ar­gue there is un­cer­tainty over where U.S. for­eign pol­icy is headed — or which coun­try Wash­ing­ton might bomb next — Mr. Twin­ing has been joined by a range of hawk­ish an­a­lysts in prais­ing Mr. Trump’s ini­tial for­ays.

Ge­orge­town Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor Matthew Kroenig, writ­ing in For­eign Af­fairs, praised Mr. Trump’s ag­gres­sive pos­ture, par­tic­u­larly com­pared with his pre­de­ces­sor’s.

“Trump has be­gun to cor­rect the fail­ures of the past eight years and po­si­tion the United States well for the chal­lenges to come,” Mr. Kroenig wrote. “With greater ad­her­ence to a core strat­egy go­ing for­ward, Trump may well, as [Henry] Kissinger pre­dicted was pos­si­ble, go ‘down in his­tory as a very con­sid­er­able pres­i­dent.’”


MARK­ING MILE­STONE: As Pres­i­dent Trump pre­pares to notch 100 days in of­fice, Democrats are stick­ing with their strat­egy of op­pos­ing his poli­cies at ev­ery turn.

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe was one of the high-pro­file lead­ers to visit Pres­i­dent Trump, who is in­trigu­ing them with a will­ing­ness to re­think con­ven­tional wis­dom and con­ven­tional poli­cies.


Af­ter sharply crit­i­ciz­ing Chi­nese poli­cies dur­ing his cam­paign, Pres­i­dent Trump this month seemed to em­brace Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

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