The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy


July 29, 2018

The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy

 

The first hint of a turbulent day in U.S. foreign policy appeared in a one-sentence statement distributed by e-mail on Wednesday afternoon. Just a week after President Trump invited the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to a second summit, in Washington, this fall, the White House announced that the meeting was being postponed.

“The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” the national-security adviser, John Bolton, said in a statement.

The Administration had faced scathing criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the invitation, especially when details are still scant over what happened at the first summit, in Helsinki, on July 16th. The proposed Putin visit to the Oval Office would also have been on the eve of the high-stakes U.S. midterm elections, in which the Russians are reportedly meddling again. Last week, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned of “ongoing, pervasive efforts” by the Russians “to undermine our democracy.”

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Messy Trump at work

More broadly, questions have grown since Helsinki—and other recent Trump summits with North Korea, the G-7 economic allies, and the twenty-eight other NATO nations—about Trump’s unruly U.S. foreign policy. The optics in Washington are not good.

Minutes after the Bolton statement, Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chastised President Trump during a hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The President had “appeared submissive and deferential” alongside Putin, Corker said. He has deliberately “used false information to turn public opinion” against the NATO military alliance, a cornerstone of U.S. security. In meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Corker said the President had legitimized “one of the most ruthless leaders on the planet.” He had also taken to issuing “off-the-cuff” challenges to basic principles of the global order. For months, Trump has been “antagonizing our friends and placating those who clearly wish us ill.” The Helsinki summit is “perhaps the most troubling example of this emerging reality,” he said.

“From where we sit,” Corker, who is retiring, added, “it appears that, in a ready-fire-aim fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go.” America’s top lawmakers, he warned, “are filled with serious doubts” about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. He appealed to Pompeo, saying, “Help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing,” and “I can’t say it more forcefully. We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on.”

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Senator Bob Menendez

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee, chimed in that—ten days after the Helsinki summit—U.S. lawmakers had heard more about what happened in the private session between Trump and Putin from Russian statements than from White House briefings. “We don’t know what the truth is, because nobody else was in the room where it happened,” the New Jersey Democrat said. In three hours of grilling, Pompeo repeatedly claimed that the President had fully briefed him. But he offered few insights and sidestepped straightforward questions about exactly what Trump and Putin discussed.

The White House appears to be scrambling to prove it has a coherent foreign policy. An hour before Pompeo testified on the Hill, the State Department issued the “Crimea Declaration.” The United States, it pronounced, will not recognize Russia’s strategic annexation of Crimea, in 2014, after its invasion of Ukraine. Citing the United Nations charter, dating back seven decades, the State Department noted, “No country can change the borders of another by force.”

That statement contradicts what Trump has repeatedly suggested since his first run for public office, in 2016. At the G-7 summit last month, in Canada, he reportedly said the majority of Crimea’s residents “would rather be with Russia.”

The Administration is also gyrating on Russian election interference in the United States. On Sunday night, the President tweeted that claims of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election are “all a big hoax”—dismissing the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and Coats’s statement last week. On Wednesday, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo insisted that Trump fully accepts intelligence reports of Russian interference in 2016. He has “a complete and proper understanding of what happened,” Pompeo said. “I know—I briefed him on it for over a year,” when he headed the C.I.A.

Now America’s top diplomat, Pompeo claimed that the Administration had taken a “staggering” array of punitive actions against Russia, including the expulsion of sixty Russian spies, closing Russian consulates, and the sale of defensive military material to Ukraine. The President is “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” today, Pompeo said. (Neither the Secretary nor the State Department speechwriters caught the erroneous reference in his opening statement to more than two hundred U.S. sanctions imposed “on Russian entities and individuals in the Trump Administration.”)

The Administration’s attempt to appear tougher on Putin may, in fact, be a response to Russian reticence. On Tuesday, the Kremlin showed tepid interest in the invitation to a second summit. “It seems to me that, for now, it would be right to wait for the dust to settle before having a businesslike discussion of all issues,” Putin’s foreign-policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, told the news agency Interfax. “But not now.”

Russia is not the only Trump foreign-policy issue facing questions. On Wednesday, Pompeo engaged in testy exchanges with several senators on issues ranging from Syria to arms-control treaties. The Administration is struggling, in particular, to prove that its bold decision to meet with the North Korean leader in Singapore last month is leading to progress. So far, there is still no formal agreement on what “denuclearization” actually means. Pressed on whether North Korea is still advancing its nuclear capabilities, Pompeo refused to answer the question—or say publicly that Pyongyang has at least frozen its weapons program. The Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey charged that that there is “no verifiable evidence” that North Korea is keeping its promise.

“I am afraid that, at this point, the United States, the Trump Administration, is being taken for a ride,” Markey said. Pompeo, who has travelled to Pyongyang three times since Easter to take the lead on diplomacy, shot back, “Fear not, senator.” But he offered little detail to counter reports of White House frustration with North Korea’s stalling tactics.

“After nearly three hours, here is my takeaway,” Menendez said at the end of the session. “This Administration is increasingly not transparent. It’s not transparent as to what takes place at these summits . . . I really don’t believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the President’s two-plus-hour conversation with President Putin. And I really don’t know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before.”

The Administration did make tentative progress on Wednesday to avert a trade war with America’s closest allies in Europe. In a surprise development, Trump and the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced new negotiations on trade barriers and a pledge, for now, to defer new tariffs. “While we are working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement unless either party terminates the negotiation,” Trump said at a hastily organized appearance with Juncker.

Like the nuclear talks with North Korea and the summitry with Putin, however, the agreement with the European Commission on tariffs contains a big idea but is still short on details—with tough negotiations ahead. The Administration has yet to ink a final deal to resolve any major issue.

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8 thoughts on “The Trump Administration Struggles to Defend Its Unruly Foreign Policy

  1. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked if he was told what Trump and Putin talked about in their private meeting, and the Secretary of State fell apart:

    Senator Bob Menendez asked the first question of the Senate committee hearing. It was a very simple question. Does Pompeo know what Trump and Putin talked about in their private meeting? The fact that Pompeo couldn’t or wouldn’t give a simple yes or no answer should set off alarm bells for the American people. It speaks volumes about what the Trump administration is trying to hide from the American people.

    Asked at the same Senate committee hearing whether North Korea is continuing to produce fissile material for nuclear bombs in spite of its pledge to denuclearize, Mike Pompeo responded to Democratic Senator Ed Markey by saying: “Yes, that’s correct … Yes, they continue to produce fissile material.”

    However, Pompeo declined to respond when asked whether North Korea was continuing to pursue submarine-launched ballistic missiles or whether North Korea’s nuclear program was advancing generally. Pompeo said he would be happy to answer the latter question if necessary in a classified setting but suggested public statements on the issue would not help “a complex negotiation with a difficult adversary.”

    Things are so bad for Trump that he ran away from reporters asking questions after a White House event with the president of the European Commission. Here is Trump fleeing as reporters shout questions:

    Prior to fleeing, Trump desperately tried to change the subject to trade:

    Donald Trump has never met a camera that he doesn’t like, so for Trump to turn tail and flee back to the White House, things are bad. Trump tried to change the subject, and he failed. No one really believes that Trump has a trade deal with the European Commission. The “deal” announcement sounded a lot like Trump’s “deal” with North Korea in that Trump hears what he wants to hear and then touts as a deal which is followed by whining when no one gives him credit for his imaginary deal.

    The news in America today is still dominated by his betrayal of his country to Putin and the tape that his fixer Michael Cohen released. Cohen is now collaborating with Robert Mueller. We are watching a president sink into the abyss before our eyes.

    • Dangerous times — may start a foreign war, to distract attention, and to whip up mindless patriotism.

  2. Donald Trump is under so much pressure from his betrayal of the country to Putin and the Mueller Russia investigation, he is becoming more and more delusional. He is trying to distract and divert the attention to the trade war with China.

    On Wednesday morning amid escalating trade tensions, he tweeted to accuse China of “being vicious” by targeting American farmers, but insisted that negotiations with Beijing were “going really well”. The US and China officials ask: “What negotiations?” Diplomatic sources say no high-level discussions to defuse the growing trade war have taken place since June.

    In postings on Twitter, Trump indicated that he’s still looking for a deal with China, but that Beijing’s retaliatory moves in response to Washington’s decision to impose tariffs will make it more difficult. (Translation: Stand still, man, let me hit you but don’t you hit back!) He tweeted: “China is targeting our farmers, who they know I love & respect, as a way of getting me to continue allowing them to take advantage of the U.S. They are being vicious in what will be their failed attempt. We were being nice – until now! China made $517 Billion on us last year.”

    And he continued: “When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity. Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!”

    His remarks effectively contradicted what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on July 12: that negotiations with Beijing had “broken down”. Does Trump actually know what is going on? The Chinese diplomats in the US were apparently caught off guard by Trump’s latest remarks. “We have no idea what he is talking about and you may have to direct the question to him,” a representative at the Chinese embassy in Washington said.

    It’s obvious that the trade war is not going well with Trump. The Trump trade team is desperate to get the Chinese back to the negotiating table. During an interview at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference in New York, Larry Kudlow blamed President Xi for stalling talks that could end the US-China trade war, and referred to local Chinese government officials as “mafioso dons”. “I do not think President Xi, at the moment, has any intention of following through on the discussions we made … I think Xi is holding the game up,” Kudlow said.

    What an idiot! How did a dropout from Princeton master’s degree program in economics become top economic adviser to Donald Trump? I believe that the Chinese broke off the negotiation is true. But calling the Chinese Officials mafioso dons? This has to be the funniest remark from Washington! The gangster-like Trump administration is calling other people gangsters. It takes a Don Trump to know a don! Trump has surrounded himself with shady cliche gangster suit wearing tools his whole life. They operate through back doors and threaten the competition. Remember his gangster “fixer” Michael Cohen who is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller? The Trump administration simply distort all facts and data to their advantage, and calling people names to intimidate them. Even North Korea knows that and openly calling the Trump administration “gangster-like”.

    Trump and his American trade team, including Kudlow, have themselves to blame, because they have violated the basic principle of agreement, i.e. credit worthiness. They signed a memorandum of understanding with China not to wage trade war as a precondition to have further trade talk, but they did not honor the memorandum. How do you expect China to trust you to continue with negotiations?

    During negotiations in May and June, China offered to import more US soybeans and other products to draw down its trade surplus. A deal was agreed. But Trump backtracked and made a U-turn on the agreed upon deal by following advice from Navarro and Lighthizer to insist on better access to Chinese markets for US companies and an end to what the White House calls forced technology transfers. Bloomberg reported this back on May 23, 2018, in its article titled: “Trump Backs Away From China Deal Under Pressure by Trade Hawks”. Trump breached the memorandum of understanding and started the trade war. He has the US Navy to frequent the South China Sea and sent two Navy destroyers to cross the Taiwan Strait to intimidate China into concession.

    Trump is applying his gangster-like tactics to force China to overhaul its economy and to stop its Made in China 2025 industrial plan. And China is certainly no marshmallow push-over like US lackeys South Korea and Japan. And now the truth is coming out from Kudlow — it’s Xi who “delays” on trade negotiation. Maybe Xi recognizes that Trump is not sincere and sees no point to negotiate any further. Maybe Xi recognizes that Trump will be impeached and removed from office before his expected 2nd Inaugural State of the Union Address to the American People. Though, there will be short-term pain to Chinese exporters and economy, Xi can easily wait out Trump and negotiate in earnest with his successor. Regardless of what deal Xi can secure with Trump, he would have to renegotiate with a new US Administration within 9 months. So why waste time with a moronic chump now!

    I don’t blame the US for worrying about China’s threat to American preeminence. But Trump administration is going about it the wrong way, and its gangster-like bullying approach will produce results very different from what Trump expects or wants. Trump and his gangsters do not know China. Their knowledge of China is at least 10 years old. Today, China’s export dependence on the US is shrinking, not growing. Most of China’s exports are directed towards Asia. And Asia is providing the biggest growth margin in China’s exports. Where are you going to impose tariffs on US imports from China? Americans don’t want to pay higher prices for smartphones, or computers, or display screens, or the other cheap consumer electronics that make the tech boom in American equities possible in the first place.

    The vast majority of China’s exports to the US are consumer goods, especially electronics. Most of these goods are assembled in China from imported components. China adds only a third or so the value added to these goods. China has a chronic labor shortage and is shifting low-paid assembly to lower-wage countries in Asia. If you tax consumer goods from China, American consumers will pay more, and the Chinese will accelerate the shift of low-wage employment to the new economic zone they are building in Asia through the $1 trillion One Belt One Road program. This transition has been underway for years. The Trump administration is ten years late and $1 trillion short.

    Trump and his gangsters can shout all they want about China cheats, China plays dirty, China steals technology, China muscles American companies in joint venture, China does every manner of bad thing…. But that’s not going to help in any problem. Don’t worry about the “crown jewels” of American technology, as Kudlow said on CNBC. Those are the old crown jewels. The new crown jewels are coming out of Chinese laboratories. In 2002, China’s biggest telecom equipment company, Huawei, was caught red-handed with Cisco code, bugs and all. Now Huawei spends more on R&D than Microsoft. It employs thousands of European engineers as well as tens of thousands of Chinese.

    Trump wants to stop admitting Chinese students to American colleges so that the crown jewels would not be stolen. This is the most laughable thing I have ever heard. American graduate programs in math and physics are in trouble because Chinese (and other foreign students) have stopped applying (foreign students now comprise about four-fifths of the graduate students in key STEM faculties). The Chinese aren’t coming to the US anymore because they don’t have to: They can get as good an education in cutting-edge technology at home. If we have lost our edge at the university level, how long will our edge last at the corporate level? There’s virtually no venture capital money going into anything to do with physics. It’s all software. Limit Chinese foreign students and to restrict Chinese access to US technology will just buys the US a little more time. We need to worry less about what technology China may have “stolen” in the past, and more about what kind of technology it may invent in the future. If China leaps ahead of us in quantum computing — which it is trying hard to do — they will secure an advantage as big as America’s advantage in semiconductors during the 1970s and 1980s. That will be game over.

    There’s a bigger issue here, and that’s the failure of American observers to anticipate China’s emergence as the world’s most powerful economy. We couldn’t believe that a state-run economy directed by a Communist Party could succeed. Since 2001 there were many, many articles and books published on the “collapse of China”. But per capital GDP in China has quintupled. In 2015 the whole economics profession thought that China was entering a financial crisis as its reserves fell by $1 trillion — except for the Bank for International Settlements, which explained that Chinese companies repaid $1 trillion of foreign debt with those reserves. China is still growing at 6%-7% a year, which means that its economy doubles in size every decade.

    Under Trump’s “America First”, The world isn’t lining up with us. It’s lining up against US. China and its One Belt One Road economic sphere represents the world’s fastest-growing consumer market. China will open its market selectively. It might take a minor hit to growth (between 0.5% and 1% of GDP growth per year, according to most estimates), but it will survive a trade war with the US with an expanded Asian market. What Trump and his gangsters cannot see is that America is at a turning point. Instead of working with the world to revive the country’s industrial preeminence, their “America First” of isolationism is leading the country to decline.

  3. I’ve just read the news that Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen has dropped an atomic bomb on the White House tonight, claiming that Donald Trump knew in advance about the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. The Trump presidency may be coming to its end.

    According to CNN, not only did Trump know about the meeting, but he signed off on it and apparently couldn’t wait to get his hands on the Hillary Clinton dirt that the Russians promised his campaign. It’s a jaw-dropping revelation, and Cohen reportedly plans to share the information with special counsel Robert Mueller. The Russia scandal just went from bad to treasonous for Trump.

    With his back to the wall as he looks to save himself from more legal trouble, Michael Cohen is wrecking Donald Trump’s world. The revelation that Trump gave the green light to a meeting between his campaign and the Russians meant to get dirt on Hillary Clinton is bad for the president on multiple levels.

    First, it’s proof that Trump lied when he said he didn’t know anything about the meeting. As CNN pointed out, the administration previously said that Trump only found out about it last summer when The New York Times brought it to his attention. Second and more importantly, Cohen’s assertion is further evidence not just that Trump’s campaign was colluding with Russia to take down Hillary Clinton, but that the president himself was directly involved.

    If Trump approved the meeting with the Russians, then yes, there was collusion, but more importantly, there was also a criminal conspiracy. Cohen has the ability to confirms to Mueller what Trump knew and when he knew it. Trump’s defense on the Russia scandal just took a brutal hit from Cohen. If Michael Cohen’s story checks out and given the amount of evidence that the FBI seized, there is a good chance that it will, it is not a matter of if Trump will be impeached, but will he face criminal charges after he leaves office.

    It’s clear that Michael Cohen has flipped on the president. The man who was once his fixer is now prepared to bring the entire Trump presidency crashing down. Be prepared for more erratic and deranged behaviors from Trump.

  4. Every time i saw the news about dump trump, i thought i am reading jokes.
    He is a master of self contradiction and keep changing his mind. He constantly accused media as fake news and labeling reporters as ‘enemy of people’ will contributes to higher violence in us and challenges democracy value of free speech.

    Besides, how can anyone negotiate and make deal with him when he is using such an inflammatory language on people.
    From nato, nafta, korea to china deal, nothing are really done and reach agreement. Not even begin to negotiate. just tweeting.
    Everything is his delusion that he thought he made a great deal.

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