Trump upends the global order


After just a few months in office, President Trump has already upended America’s relationship with much of the world.

Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, the Philippines and Israel appear to be in the administration’s good graces.

Meanwhile, nearly all of Western Europe, Canada, Qatar, Iran, Cuba, Australia and Ukraine appear to be on the outs. 

{mosads}Some countries now clashing with the United States have been foes in the past, while others are longtime allies unaccustomed to tensions with Washington.

It’s the fraying of relations with allies that has lawmakers worried the most.

“Obviously, he’s weakened them,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said of U.S. alliances. “Duh.” 

Last week’s row over Qatar was illustrative of the way Trump has upended international diplomacy.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed all land, sea and air borders.

The United States is allies with all countries involved and in past disputes between the five had mostly stayed out of the fray. 

But Trump took sides Tuesday, supporting the Saudi-led bloc over Qatar and taking credit for causing the rift with his visit to the region last month.

Later in the week, Trump tried to move into the role of mediator but was back to bashing Qatar during a Friday press conference.

Experts say the incident is indicative of a larger trend. 

“There’s a global reshuffling going on in terms of how international relations work,” Andrew Bishop, deputy director of research for the Eurasia Group, said in an email.

“The Qatari spat falls squarely into this framework. Interestingly enough, the Saudis are replicating at a Gulf level the U.S. approach to global politics. Riyadh wants all [Gulf Cooperation Council] members to make a choice: You’re either with or against us on Iran. But Qatar likes the Russian and Chinese approach better: It wants to be able to work with everyone — Iran, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., China.”

Qatar is just the latest example of Trump’s shuffling of allies. Before the Qatar crisis, Trump criticized the mayor of London after a terrorist attack, prompting British Prime Minister Theresa May to say that Trump was “wrong.”

Allies were also visibly uncomfortable during Trump’s NATO speech last month in which he lectured them on defense spending and did not explicitly endorse the mutual defense clause of the alliance’s treaty. Trump finally endorsed Article 5 on Friday, in response to a question from a reporter.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement also upset U.S. allies. New French President Emmanuel Macron has been particularly vocal, taking the unusual step of releasing an English-language video statement criticizing the announcement.

The president’s willingness to shake up the old was apparent shortly after the inauguration, when he had a testy phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. During that call, he slammed an Obama-era agreement between the two countries on refugees. 

At the same time, Trump has improved relations with traditional U.S. allies who were often at odds with the Obama administration over human rights and other issues. Trump received a greeting fit for a king in Saudi Arabia, and he praised the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is carrying out a war on drugs with extrajudicial killings, for being tough on drugs.

Trump was the first and only Western leader to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergodan on winning a referendum vote that gives the Turkish leader sweeping new powers. And he’s had chummy visits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a rocky relationship with former President Barack Obama. 

Meanwhile, Trump has reversed the Obama administration’s warming with countries such as Iran, which he has repeatedly blasted for supporting terrorism, and Cuba, where the Trump administration is considering completely rolling back Obama’s “opening” to the island.

But Trump has also extended a hand to adversaries such as Russia, saying repeatedly he’d like to improve relations, and China, which he has zeroed in on as needing to deal with North Korea. 

“There’s no doubt President Trump has upended U.S. relationships across the world, but his has not been a one-size-fits-all approach,” Bishop said. “The president likes for his friends to be the clear enemy of his enemies.” 

But Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and no fan of Trump, said he “really wouldn’t” agree that Trump is upending relationships.

Trump may be “unnecessarily endangering” alliances with “unproductive” tension, O’Hanlon said, but the essence of the alliances, such as the welcomed U.S. military presence in various countries, remains the same. 

“He could still screw it up tomorrow,” O’Hanlon added.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who on Tuesday was stunned by Trump’s handling of the Qatar situation, defended Trump on Thursday, saying his largely successful overseas trip shows he is learning the art of statecraft. 

“They’re new at this,” Corker said. “But they are moving along. I thought the first part of the trip overseas — because I had been briefed as to what they were attempting to do — I thought the trip to Saudi Arabia was very successful. I thought the Israeli visit was very successful. I thought the Vatican visit was very successful.” 

Still, Corker acknowledged the rest of the trip, including the NATO meeting, could have gone better, particularly if Trump had endorsed Article 5.

But Trump’s critics say incidents such as the Qatar spat are emblematic of a larger problem. 

“We need to know how to deal with countries that don’t share our values, that don’t always agree with us,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “And you can’t just have a haphazard comment as part of our foreign policy.”

Tags Barack Obama Ben Cardin Bob Corker John McCain
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