BEFORE PUTTING “AMERICA FIRST,” TRUMP FOLLOWS HIS GUT
Donald Trump appears to see the world as he saw the New York property market, a place of “screw or be screwed.” A deal in which the other guy walks away happy is one where you could have got more. He sees international relations as he saw reality television: unpredictability and absurdity raise the ratings, turnover in the characters keeps things fresh, and you should never let anyone forget who is the star of the show.
The nature of Trump’s goals hardly changes: you can expect him to try to press ahead with things mentioned on the campaign trail, to undo anything achieved by Barack Obama, and not to think hard, if at all, about the consequences. You can expect angry and fatuous tweeting and weird personal touches, as in the remarkable, cloying letter to Kim Jong-un on May 24th. You can expect everything to be transactional. At every point, Trump wants to get something for himself—something which will look good.
The five major policy moves of the past three months—scrapping the Iran deal, offering a summit to Kim, setting the scene for a trade war with China, slapping steel tariffs on his allies, and having bipolar thoughts on the Putin summit—all reflect who Trump is and how he works. It’s unlikely that any other recent president would have undertaken these moves, let alone all five at the same time. To his undoubted pleasure, they have scandalized much of the US foreign policy establishment.
Trump came to power arguing that the world was a mess and American foreign policy an abject failure. Central to his “America First” view was that it was no longer the job of the US government to clean up the mess, but to pursue its own interests. It was time for America’s enemies to fear her, for her allies to pay their fair share, and for the country to be more selfish in pursuing what it wanted. Yet the growing sense is that Trump puts his own gut feeling before the country.