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Trump's White House address on Iran. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump has shrunk America's global presence in many ways, but he has also at times placed high-risk bets on its superpower status.

Driving the news: Trump didn't want war with Iran, yet he ordered the killing of Iran's top commander. That requires enormous faith in the shield of American military superiority.

  • Engaging China in a trade war requires a belief that the world’s second-largest economy will blink first in a showdown with the largest.
  • The “maximum pressure” campaigns — first on North Korea and then on Iran — were testaments to American economic might and to Trump’s confidence that countries and companies would fall in line, even when reluctant to do so.

The results of Trump’s geopolitical muscle-flexing are uneven. 

  • China has not made anywhere near the model-shifting concessions Trump has demanded.
  • North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are more formidable than before “fire and fury.” 
  • Crippling sanctions on Iran have led not to a tougher deal, but to a series of escalations. Asymmetric retaliation for Soleimani’s death remains likely. 
  • Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is still in power after a year of American insistence that his days were numbered.

Closer to home, Trump’s threats yielded significant tweaks to NAFTA and a pledge from Mexico to hold tens of thousands of U.S.-bound asylum-seekers.

  • Holding NATO hostage over defense spending infuriated allies, but budgets have nonetheless increased.
  • And Iran’s military retaliation to Trump’s audacious strike in Baghdad came with an early warning and was clearly designed to avoid a showdown with the world’s most powerful military. 

The bottom line: Trump's America isn't much liked, and it certainly isn't trusted, as new Pew data shows. But it can't be ignored.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.