The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that President Trump's post-inauguration phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took a turn for the confrontational.
Trump bragged about the size of his election win and cut the call short after berating Turnbull about the Obama administration's deal to take more than 1,000 refugees from a detention center in Australia, which is one of the United States' biggest allies.
By Thursday morning, Trump was tangling with another foreign country — this one a long-standing adversary, Iran — over a deal it cut with the Obama administration, and again doing so in an in-your-face and apparently less-than-diplomatic fashion. Trump put Iran “on notice” for its recent ballistic missile test.
Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile.Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Iran was on its last legs and ready to collapse until the U.S. came along and gave it a life-line in the form of the Iran Deal: $150 billion
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
Trump's ability to handle foreign policy with the delicacy it often requires has long topped Americans' list of concerns about him. And less than two weeks into his presidency, he's done little to allay those critics' concerns.
At this point, Trump has tangled with and done things that risk alienating a number of key allies and adversaries — a number arguably stretching well into the double digits now.
Trump's supporters may cheer this in-your-face approach, especially when it comes to America's adversaries. But the fact remains that his style is unprecedented -- and unprecedentedly at risk of causing international disputes.
Below, a quick recap:
Trump has long made plain his skepticism about the Iran nuclear deal. But putting an adversarial foreign power “on notice” is a provocative move for any U.S. president — and especially given Iran's expressed interest in a nuclear program. Trump was echoing his national security adviser, former general Michael Flynn, who said the same thing Wednesday.
“Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened,” Flynn said. “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.”
Iran responded Thursday by dismissing Trump's “ranting” and saying it will “vigorously” continue testing missiles. We haven't heard the last of this.
Trump has now signed an executive order to begin construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and continues to promise to force Mexico to pay for it. And for a moment there, the Trump team was saying its mechanism for making that dubious goal a reality was to put a 20 percent tariff on imported goods from Mexico. That's what White House press secretary Sean Spicer said before clarifying that it was just one option.
Amid all that, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose appearance with Trump during the 2016 campaign in Mexico was a domestic nightmare and ended in a he-said, she-said dispute over whether they discussed the border wall, canceled a planned trip to Washington.
Trump then held a phone call with Pena Nieto on Wednesday in which he reportedly mentioned the possibility of sending U.S. troops to Mexico to deal with the “bad hombres” there. That's hugely provocative, from a superpower with whom you share a border.
For more on the refugee deal Trump objected to — which he errantly said involved “illegal immigrants” — here's WorldViews' Amanda Erickson:
According to the agreement, which took months of negotiation, America would accept about 1,200 refugees (not, as Trump called them, “illegal immigrants”) from Australia. The United States would prioritize families and children, and all candidates would be subjected to a thorough vetting process. America's Department of Homeland Security would conduct two rounds of interviews with each candidate.
Australia is playing down the possibility of a rift — but saying Trump must follow through on the deal. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday morning offered this striking comment:
This is stunning from McCain: "I called Australia’s Ambassador to the United States this morning to express my unwavering support ..."
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) February 2, 2017
Trump's post-election phone call with the president of Taiwan ran afoul of long-standing protocol with China. As I explained at the time:
China considers Taiwan a province, and the United States has pursued a “One China” policy since the 1970s. To that end, the leaders of the United States and Taiwan haven't spoken, that we know of, in decades, given such a dialogue generally symbolizes government recognition.
After news broke of the call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and the backlash began, Trump explained that it was Taiwan who initiated the conversation, and he downplayed it as a “congratulatory call.”
But sources at the White House later explained that the call was deliberately provocative. And now those lingering tensions have spilled over into Trump's presidency, with China objecting to Taiwan having sent a delegation featuring its former premier to Trump's inauguration and responding by warning Trump about the United States abiding by its “One China” policy.
These are the seven countries from which Trump has barred entrants for a period of four months due to concerns about them exporting terrorists through the immigration and refugees processes.
Peter Navarro, the head of the new National Trade Council, said this week that Germany is using its currency to “exploit” its European neighbors and the United States — comments that basically echo what Trump said a few days prior. Trump said in an interview with the Times and the German newspaper Bild that “you look at the European Union, and it’s Germany — basically a vehicle for Germany.”
Trump has long been critical of the E.U.'s usefulness and praised Britain's vote to leave it, but the new comments particularly target Germany as the wizard behind the curtain.
Germany's foreign minister, who has called Trump a “threat,” is now headed to Washington.
These are the countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal spearheaded by Republicans and President Barack Obama, which Trump withdrew from with his first executive order. Japan, in particular, now fears a trade war.
Trump has long professed a desire for better relations with Russia, despite its incursion into Crimea having raised concerns across the Western world. And in recent days, as Russian-backed forced have stepped up the fight, Trump has been conspicuously silent to some. During his campaign, Trump assured that Russia wouldn't go further into Ukraine.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered only this at Wednesday's press briefing:
QUESTION: Russia and Russian-backed rebels are moving the lines forward. And I'm wondering if the president feels that Russia is testing him because this is coming so early in his administration before he got a chance to fully assemble his team. And what he plans to do about it.
SPICER: The president's been kept aware of through his National Security Council and his national security team as a whole what's been going on in the Ukraine. And we'll have further updates as we go on.