Trump’s weekend was a sign of how American foreign policy has now mostly become an expression of his unrestrained character, personal hunches, non-strategic instincts and sudden changes of mind. It revealed as never before how the new US approach to the world is often confusing and lacks internal coherence.
And it again showcased the President’s open admiration of global strongmen who squelch democracy, as he boasted of his great friendships with men such as Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump appeared highly satisfied with his work abroad, which showed how he has turned the US away from its traditional role as a force for global stability into an agent of unpredictability — a transformation Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016.
While foreign policy traditionalists and Trump’s critics are horrified about how he handles national security, the President’s behavior is often interpreted by supporters as evidence that someone is standing up for US interests overseas and that conventional approaches, which they blame for disadvantaging America, are being shattered.
Many foreign policy experts believe the President cannot afford to go into the election with tariffs still causing pain for US consumers — and with Chinese retaliation targeting farmers into Midwestern states that form his political power base.
Trump’s personal diplomatic blitzkrieg is also an indication of how the President plans to use his position and huge global influence to boost his 2020 hopes by creating powerful political imagery that is quickly embraced by the conservative media machine at home as evidence of great strength and statesmanship.
He hinted at his main motivation — making a media splash — in a tweet on Monday morning.
“It was great to call on Chairman Kim of North Korea to have our very well covered meeting. Good things can happen for all!” Trump wrote.
Putin’s crooked grin said everything about a man who has made damaging the West’s reputation and democratic institutions his life’s work after becoming embittered at the fall of the Soviet Union while a KGB officer in East Germany.
The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump caused one of the biggest stirs of the President’s trip. Despite having no official diplomatic role beyond her efforts to elevate women in business, Trump nudged into photo ops and conversations with world leaders.
In one of the most startling episodes of the weekend, Ivanka Trump appeared in an official White House video to offer a readout of talks between the President and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Last week, Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner, who also has no previous foreign policy experience, was in Bahrain trying to sell the administration’s new peace plan — part of his vast and often mysterious foreign policy portfolio.
Both of them have been heavily criticized given that their foreign policy roles open them to accusations of blatant conflicts of interests given their wide business interests in the Middle East and Asia.
While Ivanka Trump was stealing the spotlight, some of Trump’s official aides took a back seat over the weekend, none more so than national security adviser John Bolton, who was in Mongolia rather than the Korean peninsula when the President met Kim and other North Korean officials who have objected to his hawkish line on negotiations with the North.
Speculation is rising in Washington over Bolton’s position — since two weeks ago the President also repudiated another of his hardline positions — by pulling back from a strike on Iran to avenge the shooting down of a US drone.