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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

President Trump's public order to Secretary of State Tillerson to stop seeking dialogue with North Korea — just a day after Tillerson confirmed talks were taking place — follows a pattern noted by Tony Blinken, a top State Dept. official under Barack Obama, in a NY Times op-ed one month ago.

The bottom line: A series of highly significant foreign policy pronouncements have been almost instantaneously undermined as Trump and his top officials contradict one another.

Blinken writes...

  • "Mr. Trump threatens to make South Korea pay for missile defense and seems to invite Seoul and Tokyo to build their own nuclear arsenals; Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis jumps in to say never mind.
  • "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seeks to calm the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar; Mr. Trump's tweets embolden the Saudis to double down in the feud.
  • "Mr. Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Mr. Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., advocate preserving the nuclear agreement with Iran; Mr. Trump scolds, 'If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.'
  • "Mr. Trump calls for banning transgender people from the military; an array of senior Pentagon officials, including General Dunford, say the policy remains unchanged. When Mr. Trump finally issues a formal order weeks later, Mr. Mattis says it will require further study to implement.
  • "Mr. Pence, in the Baltics, praises tough new congressionally mandated sanctions; Mr. Trump tweets that the sanctions will send United States-Russia relations to 'an all-time & very dangerous low.'
  • "Thomas Bossert, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser, and other senior national security advisers back the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia sought to influence the election in Mr. Trump's favor. Mr. Trump equivocates: 'Well I think it was Russia, and I think it could have been other people and other countries.'

Blinken's conclusion: "Some read into these disconnects an elaborate good-cop, bad-cop routine. But the evidence suggests that Mr. Trump is actually a rogue cop, ignoring or remaining ignorant of his administration's policies. "

Our thought bubble: Trump's tweets were extraordinary for more than just their tone ("save your energy Rex") — allies and adversaries alike will soon have no idea who or what to believe.

Go Deeper: For an idea of how such comments will play in Pyongyang, check out Evan Osnos' excellent dispatch in the New Yorker.

Go deeper

12 mins ago - World

China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.

Ina Fried, author of Login
22 mins ago - Technology

Report: China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few year's lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.

Americans agree about more issues than they realize

Data: Populace Inc.; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Many Americans assume the rest of the country doesn't share their political and policy priorities — but they're often wrong, according to new polling by Populace, first seen by Axios.

Why it matters: The polling reveals that despite growing political polarization, Americans share similar long-term goals and priorities for the country.