Trump’s dizzy­ing day of five pol­icy flip-flops

U.S. pres­i­dent changed stance on China, NATO, in­ter­est rates, na­tional debt and ex­port bank

Toronto Star - - WORLD - DANIEL DALE WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF

Can­di­date Don­ald Trump could not have been clearer. On the first day of his pres­i­dency, he wrote in late 2015 his ad­min­is­tra­tion would deem China a “cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor.”

He re­peated his al­le­ga­tion of Chi­nese ma­nip­u­la­tion in rally speeches and in­ter­views over the course of the 2016 cam­paign. Even af­ter his first day in the Oval Of­fice came and went, even af­ter ex­pert af­ter ex­pert pointed out that China had stopped de­valu­ing its yuan, Trump was un­re­lent­ing.

“You know, when you talk about, when you talk about cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion, when you talk about de­val­u­a­tions, they are world cham­pi­ons,” he told the Fi­nan­cial Times last week. “And our coun­try hasn’t had a clue, they haven’t had a clue . . . but I do.”

Trump did an­other in­ter­view with a busi­ness-fo­cused news­pa­per on Wed­nes­day. This time, there was no hint of the China-bash­ing rhetoric of the past two years. Trump told the Wall Street Jour­nal that he would not la­bel China as a ma­nip­u­la­tor af­ter all. His ex­pla­na­tion: “They’re not cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tors.”

This was only one of five sep­a­rate re­ver­sals on a day that was dizzy­ing even by Trump-era dizzi­ness stan­dards.

Over the course of two in­ter­views and a news con­fer­ence, the pres­i­dent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion man­aged to dis­card his pre­vi­ous views on China, NATO, in­ter­est rates, the na­tional debt and the Ex­portIm­port Bank.

His flip-flops came six days af­ter he re­versed his vo­cal op­po­si­tion to mil­i­tary ac­tion against the Syr­ian regime. On the whole, the Wed­nes­day re­ver­sals of­fered more ev­i­dence for a con­clu­sion that has seemed ap­par­ent since the first month of his ten­ure: Trump has few po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tions, lit­tle com­mit­ment to many of his cam­paign prom­ises and a tendency to change his mind de­pend­ing on the tele­vi­sion show he has just watched or who he has last spo­ken with.

His re­ver­sal on Chi­nese cur­rency fol­lowed his first meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. He told the Jour­nal that Xi had also swayed him to dis­pose of an­other claim he had fre­quently re­peated: that China could eas­ily solve the prob­lem posed by North Korea. Why? “Af­ter lis­ten­ing for10 min­utes, I re­al­ized it’s not so easy,” he said.

As a can­di­date, he had crit­i­cized the Ex­port-Im­port Bank as “un­nec­es­sary.” It “turns out,” he told the Jour­nal, that the bank helps small com­pa­nies. “Ac­tu­ally, it’s a very good thing,” he said. Trump boasted last week of his “flex­i­bil­ity,” por­tray­ing him­self as some­one will- ing to adapt to change. His Wed­nes­day flip-flops, some ob­servers noted, all in­volved him mov­ing in the di­rec­tion of mod­er­ates and in­ter­na­tion­al­ists rather than right-wingers or na­tion­al­ists.

“Trump is re­vers­ing poli­cies on NATO, Rus­sia, China and other for­eign pol­icy po­si­tions. And all of these re­ver­sals are good for U.S. stand­ing,” MSNBC host Joe Scar­bor­ough said on Twit­ter.

But the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of Trump’s word and his ev­i­dent un­fa­mil­iar­ity with ba­sic pol­icy knowl­edge have caused deep dis­com­fort around the world as al­lies flail to dis­cern his in­ten­tions. In a Washington Post ar­ti­cle on Tues­day, for­eign am­bas­sadors anony­mously com­plained that the pres­i­dent was un­pre­pared, un­com­mu­nica­tive and in­co­her­ent.

“No­body can tell us on Rus­sia what the Amer­i­can pol­icy is, on Syria what the Amer­i­can pol­icy is, on China what the Amer­i­can pol­icy is,” one said. “I’m not sure there is a pol­icy.”

Trump said dur­ing his cam­paign that NATO was “ob­so­lete.” He later tip­toed away from that view, falsely claim­ing his crit­i­cism forced the al­liance into ad­dress­ing ter­ror­ism for the first time. At his news con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg, he said, “I said it was ob­so­lete. It’s no longer ob­so­lete.”

As a can­di­date, he said Fed­eral Re­serve chair Janet Yellen was keep­ing in­ter­est rates “ar­ti­fi­cially low” to help Barack Obama. Wed­nes­day, he said, “I do like a low-in­ter­est rate pol­icy” — re­vert­ing to his stance of ear­lier in the cam­paign.

EVAN VUCCI/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump deemed China a “cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor” dur­ing the elec­tion, but changed his tune af­ter meet­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump sued the Daily Mail over false al­le­ga­tions about her life as a model.

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