Stories by Richard Fontaine

Expert Voices

Trump's sudden Syria decision undermines his own foreign policy team

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room
Defense Secretary Mattis with President Trump during a meeting with military leaders in the Cabinet Room on Oct. 23, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

President Trump has decided to quickly withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, against the advice of his most senior national security advisers. The move prompted the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and sparked widespread concerns about an ISIS revival.

The big picture: Aside from the results of the decision, the manner in which Trump made it was deeply problematic. By upending the public and private messages his own officials send, Trump disempowers and alienates his own diplomatic team. He also creates incentives that make his foreign policy agenda more difficult to attain.

Expert Voices

Trump deepens Russia contradictions at Helsinki summit

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki.
President Trump and President Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump's warm embrace of Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki has rightly drawn sharp criticism from across the political spectrum. Though Trump leads the far stronger country, it often seemed as if he was on the defensive while Putin set the tone and agenda.

Why it matters: Following Trump's rhetorical attacks on NATO allies in Brussels last week, the summit will be remembered for normalizing an adversary while weakening transatlantic solidarity. And it stands to deepen the administration's highly contradictory approach to Russia.

Expert Voices

Rhetoric aside, NATO's strategic logic remains sound

NATO heads of state pose for group photo outside summit in Brussels
NATO heads of state in Brussels at the 2018 NATO summit. Photo: Julien Mattia/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Transatlantic solidarity appeared strained on day one of the NATO summit, as leaders parried rhetorical blows from President Trump, including his charge that U.S. allies "owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back."

Trump criticized countries spending less than 2% of GDP on defense, before making an unexpected call to boost the figure to 4%. He also said Germany was "totally controlled" by Russia, denouncing a planned gas pipeline that would link the two countries and yet speaking little about the Russian threats across Europe.

Yes, but: There have been meaningful policy and security agreements that risk getting lost amid the rhetoric.

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