Foreign Policy

Is Chaos the New World Order?

As Trump faces Russia, China and North Korea, his strategy is to shake things up quite a bit.

Michael Swartz · Apr. 6, 2018

Ever since President Donald Trump took office, our nation’s foreign policy has largely focused on its relationship with Russia. Notwithstanding the accusations regarding interference with our election, the Trump administration’s get-tough policy in recent weeks came about after the Russians were accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter last month in a botched assassination attempt. Part of the U.S. response was the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats last month, but a follow-up measure aimed at sanctioning certain Russian business leaders that back Russian leader Vladimir Putin is on tap as well.

While it’s a sad song that could be played on the world’s smallest violin, Russians now gripe about the “toxic atmosphere” President Trump has brought about in his first year. The president claimed earlier this week that “nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. apparently agrees. The “atmosphere in Washington in poison,” complained Anatoly Autonov. Obviously things are a little different with Trump in charge — for one thing, there are no ridiculous “reset” buttons to let Russia know that it can do as it wishes with former satellite nations like Ukraine and Georgia.

Yet the prospect remains of a White House meeting between Vladimir Putin and Trump, a summit that would carry both promise and pitfalls, according to the Washington Examiner’s Tom Rogan. It would allow Russia to save a little bit of face and perhaps cool off a growing ultra-nationalist movement among those who long to restore the old Soviet Union; on the other hand, one has to wonder how such a meeting would be perceived by our friends around the world and — more importantly — other rivals like China.

Speaking of China, it’s become worrisome to a few observers that the planned confab between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, which was announced almost a month ago, has not advanced to a point where dates and meeting topics are even proposed. National Review’s Jim Geraghty points out that a lot has changed since Trump made his shocking announcement, including his top leadership in the area of foreign affairs. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster are out, with erstwhile CIA Director Mike Pompeo tapped to replace Tillerson and former UN ambassador John Bolton now handling national security. We have a stronger crew now steering the ship of state.

Geraghty compares the freewheeling approach Trump seems to be taking with the measured, studied preparation Ronald Reagan undertook before meeting Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1985. (Part of the reason, joked Reagan, was that Soviet leaders “kept dying on me.”) As for Trump, “To the extent the president is thinking about the Koreas at all,” writes Geraghty, “he seems to be winging it with protectionist saber-rattling.”

Trade will certainly be part any talks with North Korea, because we’re in the midst of an escalating trade war with China, which happens to be practically the only trade partner and benefactor North Korea has. Yet by erratically pinning such things as a trade deal with South Korea on the result of discussions with their enemy across the DMZ, Trump is either promoting an image of inconsistency or playing the four-dimensional chess that his most ardent fans point to. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

If the predictability preferred by the striped-pants foreign affairs establishment has led us to an erosion of our status as a world leader, then a little bit of shaking things up isn’t so bad. Certainly the world has its hotspots, but things seem a little more peaceful under Trump because he’s striving to make America the leader again. Let’s just say his style is an acquired taste.

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