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Trump's frightful foreign flip-flops

This article is more than 12 months old

US president's tendency to react to global events according to his moods makes the world more dangerous

Mr Donald Trump doesn't practise traditional diplomacy. As in domestic policy, but with a thicker fog of ignorance, he treats each issue of foreign policy or engagement as a separate event, and reacts to it according to his mood.

This behaviour is unlikely to change.

If it does not and Mr Trump's presidency continues, the world - including the part of it he governs - will become more dangerous.

The considerable good that Americans do abroad will shrink. And the rule-based systems which the US seeks to police will decay and be replaced with more regional and national confrontations, and more failed states.

Mr Trump's shifting moods have produced several notable flip-flops.


He had repeatedly praised President Vladimir Putin from mid-2013 to February this year.

That admiration stopped after the Syrian government's chemical weapons attack earlier this month. Mr Trump promised retaliation and switched to distrusting Russia, Syria's main ally.

He ordered a missile strike on the base from which the Syrian planes staged their attack. He had previously vowed not to intervene in foreign quarrels, and had appeared indifferent about Mr Assad remaining in power.


After criticising China for manipulating its currency and destroying US industry with cheap imports for much of his campaign, Mr Trump changed his tone after a weekend with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mr Trump's Florida resort.

He had warned before meeting Mr Xi that relations between the two countries had to be radically adjusted.

But after the meeting, Mr Trump shifted again, asking why would he be rude to China on currency manipulation when it was helping him on North Korea.


In his first White House meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he pressed her to meet Nato's military spending target, and repeated his debunked claim that he had been wiretapped by the Obama administration.


He cut off his call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after Mr Turnbull asked him to honour the Obama-era commitment to take over 1,000 migrants from an Australian detention camp. Mr Trump later honoured the migrant deal.


Mr Trump received Canadian PM Justin Trudeau politely, but a few weeks later blamed Canada for trade violations.


He held British Prime Minister Theresa May's hand as they walked through the White House Colonnade, but soon after criticised her secret services - with no proof - for spying on him.


Mr Trump appeared to relish the first round success of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, whose political lineage is racist, anti-Semitic, contemptuous of Muslims and intent on isolating France from both the European Union and the global economy.


He congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his narrow, and possibly manipulated, victory in a referendum on increasing his power - which will likely lead to Mr Erdogan arresting and detaining even more government officials, military officers, journalists and academics.


Mr Trump's attitude - and his insistence on building a border wall - to his southern neighbour, Mexico, has alienated the country's political class.

President Enrique Pena Nieto cancelled a visit to Washington as Mr Trump repeated campaign promises to build the wall and deport millions of immigrants deemed to be illegal.

This is not mainstream diplomacy. It is

lamestream diplomacy: lamed by lack of strategy, experience and often, common politeness, Mr Trump's preferences proceeding from a worldview which prizes displays of strength and is contemptuous of liberal allies.

Will this change? Of course - and in every which way. Flip-flops, switches and change make up the one unchanging theme of his diplomacy. - REUTERS

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