— Presidential candidate Donald Trump, May 2016
"We don't have any wins on the board yet."
— Secretary of State
Rex Tillerson, Dec. 5, 2017
We are losing, losing, losing.
We are losing with North Korea, getting closer to nuclear war. We are losing with Russia and China, which are expanding their power unchecked. We are losing in trade as imports from China and Mexico hit records. We are losing with longtime allies that condemn us. We are losing with our secretary of state, undercut by his own boss. We are losing with our former national security adviser, now a felon.
I say to President Trump: "I am so tired of losing. I don't want to lose any more." And Trump says: "I'm sorry, but we're going to keep losing. Now we are going to lose in the Middle East."
Earlier this year, Trump proclaimed that a deal in the region is "maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years." As recently as two months ago he said this of his administration's peace plan: "I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem."
So much for giving peace a "shot." With Wednesday's announcement that he's recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there, he's effectively throwing in the towel on Mideast peace. He's inflaming Arab allies, denying the United States legitimacy as a broker and putting already remote hopes of a peace deal into the category of pipe dreams.
Not only did he announce the embassy move, but he also softened the longtime American commitment to a two-state solution (embraced by George W. Bush in 2002), saying the United States would support two states "if agreed to by both sides."
Trump, squinting into the camera and chopping the air with his hands, was both sloppy ("open our hearts and minds to possible and possibilities") and historically wrong. He claimed Jerusalem has been Israel's capital "ever since" independence in May 1948. In fact, it wasn't until December 1949, as the United Nations was preparing to put Jerusalem under international control, that David Ben-Gurion defied the world body by making Jerusalem the capital.
I think the embassy should be in Jerusalem, in principle. But Trump could have used the move as a leverage for peace. Instead, he used it to smash crockery in the region.
In fact, that pretty well summarizes the Trump Doctrine: crockery smashing. The "wins" in foreign policy have been things Trump has undone (the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership) or is in the process of undoing (the Iran nuclear deal, NAFTA). Relations have soured with Britain, continental Europe and countries from Mexico to Australia. He has accelerated gains against the Islamic State, though at the cost of giving more power to Russia — and the terrorist threat is decentralizing rather than dissipating.
And what do we have to show for this? Well, the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. trade deficit in October widened to a nine-month high. Oh, and the Treasury Department reported that, as of the end of September, foreign holdings of U.S. debt were $6.23 trillion, up from $5.95 trillion when Trump took over. China has regained its spot as the United States' biggest creditor.
At home, too, Trump's "wins" have been things he has undone. He's sabotaged Obamacare, called an end to the DACA program for child immigrants, shrunk national monuments and canceled regulations. But while destruction is easy, creation has eluded Trump. The promised jobs have yet to return: A mere 1,900 coal jobs and 126,000 manufacturing jobs, a tiny sliver of the nearly 1.5 million jobs added under Trump (those a continuation of seven years of job growth). Trump has crowed about the stock market setting records, but it also did in each of the past four years, and about 15-year highs in consumer confidence, but that has been trending upward since 2011.
Tillerson, acknowledging in Europe this week to U.S. diplomats that "we don't have any wins on the board yet," said he would announce "quick wins" in the coming weeks — but these are items such as updating IT systems and streamlining the department.
Substantive "wins" are getting further from the administration's grasp. Trump had it right two months ago when he said he wanted to give peace a chance before moving the embassy to Jerusalem. Now, he's blowing things up by rewarding Israeli hard-liners, empowering Islamist hard-liners and setting back hopes for peace. Doesn't he ever get tired of losing?