Dec 28, 2017

How foreign leaders have angered, and impressed, Trump

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump has injected turmoil into traditional U.S. partnerships while strengthening ties with less likely allies, including authoritarian leaders, the NY Times' Mark Landler notes in a reflection on year one of Trump's foreign policy.

Why it matters, per Landler: "Mr. Trump's feuds with Ms. May and other British officials have left him in a strange position: feted in Beijing and Riyadh but barely welcome in London."

Rifts with allies

  • Germany: Landler reports that White House aides called Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this year to complain that she had been condescending toward Trump when they discussed Ukraine over the phone. When they met in person, Trump told Merkel he wanted a bilateral trade deal with Germany — an impossibility, given Germany's membership in the E.U. — and Merkel was careful to "get through the exchange without embarrassing the president or appearing to lecture him" (she told him Europe and the U.S. could strike a bilateral deal).
  • U.K.: Trump scolded Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter after she said it was a mistake for him to share anti-Muslim videos from a far-right hate group.
  • NATO: Landler reports that Trump was fixated on the expensive new NATO headquarters in Brussels during his tense visit there, telling his fellow leaders sarcastically, "I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost."

How foreign leaders have impressed Trump

  • France: "Mr. Macron figured out early how to appeal to the president: He invited him to a military parade."
  • Saudi Arabia: "The Saudi monarch projected his image on the side of a hotel."
  • China: "Mr. Xi reopened a long-dormant theater inside the Forbidden City to present Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, an evening of Chinese opera."

Other takeaways

  • "During the Bastille Day visit, officials recalled, Mr. Trump told Mr. Macron he was rethinking his decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord. That prompted French diplomats to make a flurry of excited calls to the White House for clarification the following week, only to find out that American policy had not changed… the exchange captures Mr. Trump's lack of nuance or detail, which leaves him open to being misunderstood in complex international talks."
  • H.R. McMaster told Landler Trump had "moved a lot of us out of our comfort zone, me included," but that his approach has merit: "The consensus view has been that engagement overseas is an unmitigated good, regardless of the circumstances. But there are problems that are maybe both intractable and of marginal interest to the American people, that do not justify investments of blood and treasure."
  • Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "Most foreign leaders are still trying to get a handle on him. Everywhere I go, I'm still getting asked, 'Help us understand this president, help us navigate this situation.'"
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