The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s foreign policy: His biggest failure yet?

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at an airport south of Paris on July 13. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)
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Some Republicans who were less than enamored of President Trump nevertheless imagined at the start of his term that his foreign policy would be an improvement over President Barack Obama’s. After all, Iran, China and Russia seemed to have been empowered during the past eight years. The Middle East was in far more disarray in 2016 than in 2009, when Obama took office. The war in Afghanistan in 2016 was going poorly. And of course, relations with Israel reached a low point. Things had to improve, right?

Unfortunately, those of us who knew Trump was a far more dangerous and far less competent figure than Hillary Clinton braced ourselves for disaster; sure enough on most counts Trump’s foreign policy is infinitely worse than the Obama foreign policy he ran against. Voters agree that he’s losing and making America weaker and less safe.

In the latest Post-ABC News poll, voters by a 63 percent to 36 percent margin do not trust Trump to handle the North Korea threat. Asked, “How concerned are you about the possibility of the United States getting involved in a full-scale war with North Korea – are you very concerned about this, somewhat concerned, not so concerned or not concerned at all?” 74 percent say they are very or somewhat concerned. By a margin of 48 percent to 27 percent, voters think Trump has made U.S. leadership in the world weaker. Asked if they trust Trump to negotiate with world leaders (not just Russia), 66 percent say they don’t trust him at all or only somewhat, while only 34 percent trust him a great or good amount. An astounding 48 percent say they do not trust him at all. (His numbers are only slightly worse — 66 percent to 32 percent — when it comes to negotiating with Russia.)

Bloomberg’s poll has similar results:

Americans are more pessimistic about foreign policy than they were in December. Fifty-five percent now say they expect dealings with Germany to get worse during the next four years, up 22 points. The share of poll respondents who anticipate worsening relations with the U.K., Mexico, Cuba and Russia also increased by double digits.
The public is also wary of Trump’s motives in his negotiations with other countries. Just 24 percent said they were “very confident” that Trump puts the nation’s interests ahead of his businesses or family when dealing with foreign leaders.
Americans have plenty of other worries about the world. Majorities believe it’s realistic that terrorists will launch a major attack on U.S. soil (68 percent) and that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon aimed at the U.S. (55 percent). … Meanwhile, most Americans don’t share the president’s apparent soft spot for Vladimir Putin: 65 percent view the Russian president negatively — and 53 percent say it’s realistic to think Russian hacking will disrupt future U.S. elections.

None of this should be surprising given how unpopular his major international initiatives (e.g., pulling out of the Paris climate deal, building a wall on the southern border, issuing a Muslim travel ban) have been. It doesn’t help matters when the news is filled with reports that Trump and family members benefit from deals in countries Trump is giving favorable treatment.

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Now, with the Russia debacle, and his most recent defense of the meeting his son took with Russian officials whom Donald Trump Jr. was told would help his father in the campaign against Clinton, voters have every reason to be concerned that Trump is willfully placing Russian interests — specifically Russian interests in having him in power so as to deal leniently with their international aggression — over U.S. interests.

John Dickerson writes:

While on the one hand he says a meeting with someone advertised as a “Russian government attorney” bringing “sensitive information as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” should be considered simple politics, the president and his lawyer insist that President Trump knew nothing of the meeting. The effort to create distance from the meeting makes it hard to accept that the thing at the end of the ten foot poll is a nothingburger.
Would most politicians have gone to a meeting with someone advertised as being an agent of the Russian government? It’s unlikely that many of the president’s supporters who hold public office are now going to admit they’d seek to collude with an American enemy that interfered with an election. But even at the time of Trump Jr.’s meeting in the summer of 2016 there would have been a good reason for caution. It was GOP doctrine that Russia was an American enemy. Mitt Romney had named Russia America’s number one geopolitical foe.

But Trump and his team never adopted that view. He insists, still, that Russian meddling in our election is not factually certain. He overlooks Russian war crimes in Syria and hands over highly confidential intelligence obtained from Israel. Russia’s willingness to benefit Team Trump remains all that matters; it is Russia’s conduct toward Trump, not toward America, that drives Trump’s thinking.

In sum, voters are right to distrust the president’s handling of American foreign policy — and not simply because he remains ignorant, inept, boorish, impulsive and unprincipled. For the first time in our history, you see, voters rightfully question whether the president is on our side in dealing with foreign threats. That’s horrifying — and a horrifying statement as to the refusal by the party that selected him and stands by him to put country above party.