President Trump leaves little doubt about what he thinks of his predecessor’s top domestic and international legacies. The health care program enacted by President Barack Obama is “outrageous” and “absolutely destroying everything in its wake.” The nuclear deal with Iran is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”Yet as much as he has set his sights on them, Mr. Trump after nearly nine months in office has not actually gotten rid of either. Instead, in the past few days, he took partial steps to undercut both initiatives and then left it to Congress to figure out what to do next. Whether either will ultimately survive in some form has become a central suspense of Mr. Trump’s first year in office.In the case of health care, Mr. Trump is making a virtue of necessity. Having failed to push through legislation replacing the Affordable Care Act, he is taking more limited measures on his own authority aimed at chipping away at the law. On the other hand, when it comes to the Iran deal, he has the authority to walk away without anyone else’s consent but has been talked out of going that far by his national security team. Instead, by refusing to recertify the deal, he rhetorically disavows the pact without directly pulling out.These are not the only instances in which Mr. Trump’s expansive language has not been matched by his actions during this opening phase of his presidency. On immigration, diplomatic relations with Cuba and international accords like the North American Free Trade Agreement and a separate trade pact with South Korea, he has denounced decisions made by Mr. Obama or other previous presidents without fully reversing them.
To be sure, there are conservatives who defend Trump’s actions as a means to reverse executive-branch power grabs by prior administrations. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York offers the best case for this interpretation. Even York, however, concedes that, “Trump’s actions might not work. After all, he is pressuring Congress to act, but that doesn’t mean Congress will act, especially when the president is feuding with some key members.” If the best spin of Trump’s actions relies on Congress acting like a mature political organization, that is a thin reed.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is more concerned about the international ramifications, because it’s a jungle out there. It is certainly possible that Trump will walk away from NAFTA or KORUS. The Trump administration’s style is gleefully aggressive enough to alienate countries that want closer ties with the United States. The data are already starting to come in on how loyal allies are reacting to Trump’s disruptive style, and that data is not encouraging. Politico’s Adam Beshudi chronicles how the Trump administration has successfully annoyed Japan:
Japanese officials are expressing growing frustration with the Trump administration’s economic policies, vowing to continue striking trade deals with other countries that undercut U.S. agricultural exports rather than seek a new trade agreement with the United States.The frustration comes both from President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on trade and from his pullout from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Japan still hopes can provide a bulwark against China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region. …In interviews with POLITICO, more than half a dozen senior Japanese officials said they were uneasy with a so-called bilateral — two-nation — deal to replace the TPP, arguing that the goal of the multinational agreement was to create a wide international playing field. They said they are dismayed by Trump’s seeming inability to understand the importance of a multinational pact to establish U.S. leadership in the region and set the trade rules for nations on both sides of the Pacific Ocean as a counterweight to China’s rising influence.
Meanwhile, my Post colleague Karen DeYoung offers an excellent account of how little Trump’s foreign policy approach has accomplished to date:
Instead of leading, Trump’s “my way or the highway” approach has been a detour from the multilateral road the United States has traveled since World War II. And as Trump has left behind, or threatened to, the premier international agreements of this century, from the Paris climate accord to global trade alliances and now the Iran nuclear deal, he has not had many willing followers. …Even those who have proclaimed him as a leader have sometimes not felt bound by his demands.
Read the whole thing to see the entire list of examples. The tl;dr version: from Israel to the Persian Gulf, to Kurdistan to Turkey to NATO to East Asia, even Trump’s few allies have been perfectly happy to ignore him.
TPM’s Josh Marshall has a pretty good summary of where this latest spasm of destruction leaves the Trump administration in world politics. It’s not pretty:
Peer nation-states make agreements with the US in part because we tend to stick to our agreements, even through the change of administrations. The entirety of Trump’s vision of ‘deal-making’ is one in which you bully and cajole and threaten the other party until you get a deal that works for you and not them. That may make sense in the highly shystery world of New York real estate. But in the global order we’re going to be dealing with Germany and France and China and Mexico … well, we’re going to be dealing with them forever. Not everything is Kumbaya in international relations. Far from it. But except in war, and not even always them, it’s not zero sum. …Both abroad and with Congress we can see clearly what should have been clear in advance: President Trump has no idea how to negotiate international accords or treaties or how to pass laws. These require building coalitions and trust because you’ll need to work with the same actors again in the future. You also need to build coalitions of people or nations each of whom think they have something to gain from the effort. … Trump’s idea of business is basically cheating. That doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the law, though Trump does plenty of that. It means making money by trickery and hard dealing in which the other party usually ends up screwed. Those just aren’t the skills that end up being effective for a President. But that’s all Trump knows. That’s why we currently have what amounts to governance via chaos and outburst. Trump doesn’t know how to be President.
Legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn once said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.” Simply put, Trump is about as far from being a good carpenter as one can be in the world of politics.