Democracy Dies in Darkness

| Opinion

Trump is Wile E. Coyote

By David Ignatius

March 8, 2018 at 8:11 PM

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS

“Beep beep” was the subject line of an email message I received a few weeks ago from former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, as Kim Jong Un was accelerating his diplomatic charm offensive. “So typical,” wrote Carlin in his brief text. “The North Koreans as Road Runner, the U.S. as Wile E. Coyote.”

Carlin makes a point that applies to many foreign policy problems around the world. When it comes to global diplomacy, America under President Trump has become something of a hapless cartoon villain, detonating bombs on itself and running into walls — while our nimbler adversaries dart away in a blur of dust.

“Heavy-handed” is one word for Trump’s foreign policy. “Unsuccessful” is another. His strategy, if you can call it that, has been to disrupt America’s traditional economic and security relationships and commitments. He must imagine that this gives him new leverage, but mostly the result has been a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Trade is the most obvious example of Trump’s clumsiness. While our economic competitors in China move to seize the commanding heights of technology, in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics, Trump is trying to protect jobs in steel, coal and other industries that have been in decline for nearly 50 years. He seems determined to transform the United States into a lagging indicator, rather than a leading one.

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Trade tariffs will hurt more American workers than they will help, say Post opinion writers Molly Roberts, Megan McArdle, Ruth Marcus and Charles Lane on the weekly Opinions roundtable, "It's Only Thursday." (The Washington Post)

In the Korea drama, a slow-footed America will soon be paired with the diplomatic speedster. Certainly, Thursday night’s announcement of Trump-Kim direct talks is promising, and perhaps evidence that the president’s braggadocio and belligerence have produced results. But what I see is a North Korea that has become a nuclear-weapons state and now, from a position of strength, wants negotiations with America.

Trump thinks Kim is “sincere” in his offer to discuss denuclearization, but few colleagues share that hope. We’ll probably be chasing Kim around a negotiating table for a while, which is better than “duck and cover.” But as Carlin says, “Beep beep.”

Trump’s most untidy mess is the Middle East. He proclaims his willingness to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. But strangely, he’s leaving the heavy lifting to European allies, which are drafting tougher provisions on Iranian ballistic missiles, on inspections of Iranian military sites and on the “sunset” of the agreement. Oh yes, they’re also lobbying Congress to support these moves.

A tougher agreement would be better, certainly, but to achieve it, Trump seems willing to risk having no agreement, which would be much worse. Here, as in other areas, he engages in the diplomatic version of “magical thinking,” imagining that by wishing something to be true, he can make it so.

Trump’s Syria policy is so puzzling that some senior officials don’t even try to explain it. U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces control about one-third of the country, but they’ve become so mistrustful of America’s commitment that they’re walking away from the final, cleanup phase of the war against the Islamic State. U.S. Special Operations forces are risking their lives on the ground, while their commanders wait for policy guidance.

On the Israeli-Palestinian front, Trump probably botched his hopes of the “ultimate deal” by breaking long- ­standing U.S. policy and ordering a quick transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. This dissuaded Palestinians from joining his peace process and, perhaps more important, it made it impossible for Trump’s new best friends in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to openly support negotiations when Jerusalem was off the table.

Trump rightly values his close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But rather than counseling MBS to choose his reform battles carefully, so that he will succeed, the White House lets him fight, Trump-style, on every front. That’s unwise.

President Trump speaks during a visit to San Diego to review border wall prototypes.
Trump speaks during a tour of border wall prototypes.
Trump speaks in front of a prototype as Rodney Scott, a Border Patrol sector chief, listens.
Trump speaks to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
Trump gestures after speaking at the Marine Corps installation.
Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House as he walks to board Marine One for California.
The Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick presents Trump with a jersey during a ceremony honoring the World Series champions at the White House.
Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews to travel to Pennsylvania for a campaign event for Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone.
Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation in Moon Township, Pa.
Trump talks with Republican Rick Saccone during a campaign rally in Moon Township, Pa. Saccone is running against Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election for the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District vacated by Republican Tim Murphy.
President Trump, flanked by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
Trump speaks before signing the Section 232 proclamations on steel and aluminum importsas with Vice President Mike Pence, center, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin look on.
Trump signs the proclamations on steel and aluminum imports during a ceremony at the White House.
Trump listens during a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Lofven in the East Room of the White House.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, at the White House.
Trump addresses attendees during an opioid summit at the White House.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), left, speaks about gun control as Trump meets with members of Congress, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
Trump speaks as he meets with members of Congress to discuss gun control and school and community safety at the White House.
Trump makes an announcement about an initiative for historically black colleges and universities in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump arrives to speak during a meeting with the members of the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
Trump speaks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as his wife Lucy Turnbull, right, speaks with first lady Melania Trump while walking to the Oval Office.
Turnbull and Trump participate in a joint news conference at the White House.
Trump talks with state and local officials on school safety during a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
Trump greets Samuel Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, before delivering remarks during a listening session with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room of the White House.
Trump holds his prepared questions during a listening session at the White House.
Samuel Zeif, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, left, weeps after recounting his story of the shooting incident at his high school as other students, teachers and Trump listen.
Trump delivers remarks regarding “bump stocks” before taking part in the Public Safety Medal of Valor awards ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
Trump presents Lt. William Buchanan, of the Avery County (N.C.) Sheriff's Office, with a Medal of Valor during the awards ceremony. Buchanan was off-duty when he helped pull a man from a burning car.
Trump accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, waves to reporters while visiting with medical staff at Broward Health North in Pompano Beach, Fla. following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Trump speaks with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, left, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) while visiting first responders at Broward County sheriff's office in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Trump departs after speaking at the White House on the mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Trump speaks at the White House on the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school.
Trump, flanked by Rockwall County, Tex., Sheriff Harold Eavenson, left, and St. Charles Parish, La., Sheriff Greg Champagne, speaks during a roundtable discussion with members the National Sheriffs’ Association and others at the White House.
Trump shakes hands with Surgeon General Jerome Adams as first lady Melania Trump looks on during a Black History Month reception in the White House’s East Room.
Trump talks about infrastructure during a meeting with state and local officials at the White House.
Trump shakes hands with campaign volunteer and supporter Shane Bouvet during a meeting in the Oval Office.
Trump speaks during a White House meeting with law enforcement officials about the street gang MS-13 and border security.
Trump discusses tax policy during a visit to Sheffer Corporation in Blue Ash, Ohio.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk from the Oval Office to their helicopter as they depart from the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office.
Trump is reflected on a tabletop in the Oval Office as he listens during a meeting with North Korean defectors.
Trump walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One.
Trump, accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, left, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan, right, speaks at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Reston, Va.
Trump walks to board Marine One as he travels to the House and Senate Republicans’ annual legislative planning conference in West Virginia.
Trump takes the stage to address the Republican congressional retreat at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Trump speaks during a lunch at the Republican congressional retreat House in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Trump speaks during a meeting with workers in the Oval Office about the impact of the new tax bill.
Trump, joined by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaks during a lunch with the U.N. Security Council in the State Dining Room at the White House.
Trump waves before boarding Air Force One at Zurich Airport after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders converse aboard Marine One as it lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
Trump holds up a copy of the Swiss newspaper Blick as he arrives at the last day of the 48th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump looks on as the Landwehr Fribourg band leaves the stage during the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump addresses a plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Trump disembarks from Marine One in Davos.
Trump arrives at the Congress Center with Klaus Schwab, right, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, for the annual meeting in Davos.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, third from left, listen to a question from a reporter during a meeting at the World Economic Forum.
Trump shakes hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May during the World Economic Forum.
Trump speaks to a group of mayors in the East Room of the White House.
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: President Donald Trump signs Section 201 actions in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Trump delivers a video message to the March for Life participants from the Rose Garden at the White House.
Trump waves as he walks back to the Oval Office after speaking to the March for Life participants from the White House.
Trump, joined by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, Vice President Pence, center, and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, right, speaks to the media as he arrives at the Pentagon.
Trump welcomes employee Ken Wilson while promoting his tax and economic plan at H&K Equipment Co. in Coraopolis, Pa.
Trump shakes hands with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Abishuly Nazarbayev in the Oval Office.
Trump greets Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, center, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway before speaking at the “Women of America” panel in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.
Photo Gallery: The president embarks on year 2 in the White House.

Meanwhile, as Trump’s bond with Gulf monarchies deepens, America’s traditional alliances with Europe are fraying. At a conference here sponsored by the German Marshall Fund (of which I’m a trustee), Bruce Stokes presented a Pew Research Center survey showing that transatlantic leaders believe U.S. relations with Europe are even worse than they feared a year ago — with 60 percent seeing discord on economic issues, 84 percent on diplomacy and 66 percent on security.

As for Russia and China, the United States’ two great power rivals, what strategy has Trump adopted? With Moscow, he has mostly sat on his hands; with Beijing, he’s been the biggest cheerleader for “president for life” Xi Jinping. He accompanies these weak policies with his usual tough talk.

Like Wile E. Coyote, Trump doesn’t seem to understand why the dynamite stick keeps blowing up in his hand.

Twitter: @IgnatiusPost

Read more from David Ignatius’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more here:

David Ignatius: America ignores Russia at its peril

Eugene Robinson: What happens when you replace the president with a clown?

Max Boot: After the State of the Union, Trump’s foreign policy is still a mystery

Eugene Robinson: Mr. Trump: They’re laughing at you, not with you

Jennifer Rubin: A year of Trump foreign policy: More is broken than the State Department


David Ignatius writes a twice-a-week foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.

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| Opinion

Trump is Wile E. Coyote

By David Ignatius

March 8, 2018 at 8:11 PM

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS

“Beep beep” was the subject line of an email message I received a few weeks ago from former CIA analyst Robert Carlin, as Kim Jong Un was accelerating his diplomatic charm offensive. “So typical,” wrote Carlin in his brief text. “The North Koreans as Road Runner, the U.S. as Wile E. Coyote.”

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