April 20, 2017 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads – Foreign Policy in Reverse

The foreign policy of the Trump Administration has been marked by a series of dramatic reversals—not so much from the policies of his predecessor, but from President Trump’s own rhetoric and campaign promises. In many cases, the president’s willingness to change course has been a welcome sign. Yet, in so doing, he has raised an obvious question: which of his foreign policy positions is he willing to adjust and which will he hold firm?

Already, President Trump is changing his posture towards Russia. As Josh Lederman reminds us, Trump repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin along the campaign trail, calling him a “strong leader,” and urging for better US-Russia relations. But now, he says the United States is “not getting along with Russia at all”—adding that our relations “may be at an all-time low.”

President Trump also appears to have changed his tune on NATO. In January, he called the Atlantic Alliance “obsolete.” Now he says that because the alliance has “made a change” to begin fighting terrorism, it is “no longer obsolete.” (In fact, NATO has long focused on combating terrorism, and invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11).

Both reversals point in the direction of a more traditional American foreign policy. And yet, it is unlikely that Mr. Trump has suddenly become a committed Atlanticist overnight. Given his embrace of Brexit, as well as his championing of populist, anti-EU candidates, it is far from clear that European unity is anywhere near the top of his foreign policy agenda.. 

Another noteworthy change has been regarding China, where President Trump has noticeably softened the approach advocated by Candidate Trump. After the recent summit with President Xi Xinping earlier this month, the president backed down on his long-held promise to label China a currency manipulator. This came shortly after he conceded to honor America’s ‘one-China’ policy. According to President Trump, a big part of the rationale for his new approach to China is to enlist Beijing’s help in managing North Korea—which, as two pieces below note, is becoming an increasingly grave and direct national security threat.

This Week’s Reads discuss some of the foreign policy challenges emanating from Europe and Asia, and how President Trump’s views towards them are evolving. 

Five Big Players Steer Trump’s Foreign Policy Toward the Mainstream

Gerald F. Seib/The Wall Street Journal

Seeking to explain the return to normalcy of the Trump administration thus far, Gerald F. Seib lays credit squarely at the feet of five men: Jared Kushner, Wilbur Ross, H.R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, and Rex Tillerson. Between the five of them, they have seen radical, non-conformist advisors to the president expelled from power in the White House and have set the administration on a decidedly conventional, notably anti-Russian, course. Seib notes the disappointment many of Trump’s supporters feel as his administration falls in line with the establishment. The “establishment,” for its part, “is breathing a bit easier.” 

Harder on Russia and Softer on China, Trump's Views Evolving

Josh Lederman/Yahoo News

President Donald Trump has, in his short term thus far, displayed a willingness to shift his position to match changing conditions and a propensity to shock friends and enemies alike with unpredictable behavior. Nowhere is this trend more dramatic than his complete reversal in relations with China and Russia. While the strengthening of relations with China is mostly regarded as a positive for the administration, there are concerns among US allies in Asia that stronger ties between the superpowers may mean China’s assertive policies against its immediate neighbors may go unchastised by the White House.

Trump's Plan to End Europe

David Frum/The Atlantic

An indictment of Trump’s past anti-European Union rhetoric, this article points to the historical necessities and American interests which have motivated the unbroken support the United States has given Europe since the Truman era. Between praise for Brexit and on-the-record support for populist candidates in numerous European nations, Trump’s administration seemed dedicated to shattering a united Europe. In light of recent events, however, the article now begins with a brief reassessment of the topic based on Trump’s change of heart on NATO and, by extension, the European Union. Still, Frum urges caution, as European leaders are unlikely to forget Trump’s initial platform.

Will London Fall?

Sarah Lyall/The New York Times

With Brexit on the horizon and the future of Britain as a whole in flux, London as we know it may be coming to an end. A former resident of the 2,000 year old city, writer Sarah Lyall reflects on the haven of multiplicity she loved and the fearful place she believes the city is becoming. Interspersed with striking black-and-white photography by Sergei Ponomarev, “Will London Fall?” is an emotional piece, describing vignettes of the British capital with punctuated interviews of melancholic residents spread out among a larger condemnation of the return of a more insular Britain.

Win or Lose, Le Pen Could Change the Political Landscape

Joël Gombin/Financial Times

While polling suggests that Marine Le Pen is unlikely to emerge from this election cycle as France’s new president, her campaign may result in a serious shift in French politics, win or lose. By placing the debate on whether the country should continue to embrace globalist policies at the center of French politics, Le Pen's National Front party stands to make its primary agenda the focus of political debate in the coming years. While a short-term loss remains likely, this sort of realignment could very well lead to long-term changes in French international policy down the road.

France in the End of Days

Roger Cohen/The New York Times

After the last two years, apocalyptic visions of the future have become a staple of speculative reporting. In this article Roger Cohen discusses how a deep, national self-loathing coincided with the rise of the extreme right in France, culminating in Le Pen’s viability as a candidate. Citing the recent unpredictability of politics as proof to expect the worst, Cohen paints a grave portrait of what a diminishing capacity for political dialogue could mean for France's future; “…an economic and political rupture so violent that even Donald Trump’s victory and Britain’s vote to leave the union would pale beside it.”

The EU Should Plan for a Marine Le Pen Presidency  

The Economist

Beginning with the disastrous results of a hypothetical meeting between Angela Merkel and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, this article takes a stab at the various methods Le Pen might use to further divide her country from the rest of Europe. Comparing her potential presidency to a meteor strike, “a low-probability, high-impact event,” the author foresees a president who will test the boundaries of the union by violating their economic regulations that run in opposition of her party’s agenda. Regardless of their reaction, “…Ms. Le Pen’s victory alone would deprive the European Union of the oxygen of French support.”

Is Russia Testing Trump?

Michael J. Morell and Evelyn Farkas/The New York Times

With Russia and the United States at odds once again over the Assad regime in Syria, attention must be brought to the broad array of international interests that Russia is currently, aggressively, pursuing. From Ukraine, to Afghanistan, to Libya, Mr. Putin has put significant backing behind forces in opposition of American interests, testing President Trump’s “infatuation” with Russia. While other White House officials have responded with condemnation, the president has taken no action against increased Russian aggression. The article calls for a definitive statement from Trump, something to set the record straight and put a hard cap on continued Russian expansion.

A ‘Cuban Missile Crisis in Slow Motion’ in North Korea

David E. Sanger and William J. Broad/The New York Times

As Washington’s stand-off with Pyongyang hangs unresolved, the situation grows tenser by the day. Drawing comparisons to the Cuban Missile Crises of the Kennedy presidency, this article points to the common ground that the two incidents share: “national ambitions, personal ego, and deadly weapons.” Emphasizing the middle point, the authors paint portraits of the opposing leaders. While President Trump has reached several new conclusions about the situation during his recent meeting with Xi Jinping, Mr. Kim seems to see his nuclear arsenal as his primary lifeline and, reflecting on the fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, he might be right.

Trump’s North Korea Policy is ‘Maximum Pressure’ but not ‘Regime Change’

Josh Rogin/The Washington Post

While the Trump Administration’s stance against North Korea has been highly provocative, open conflict with Pyongyang is not their intention. According to a report by a senior White House official, Trump’s strategy calls for “maximum pressure” to be applied to the rogue state. Rather than undermining or curtailing the current regime, the White House’s aim is to force the North Koreans back to the negotiating table for full denuclearization. Now, the pressure is on China to fall in line with Trump’s call for new, aggressive sanctions, despite uncertainty as to when negotiations with North Korea will be seen as “viable.”

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