The embassy move is a historic — and potentially explosive — act with plenty of regional ramifications. But it also offers an insight into what may be the guiding principle of President Trump's foreign policy: making splashy foreign-policy decisions that deliver for Trump's domestic base but seem to be causing massive diplomatic headaches and long-term problems.
Call it "buy now, pay later" — a phrase that can apply both literally and figuratively. In the case of the Jerusalem embassy, Trump has insisted he could build a new embassy on the cheap with his business acumen. For example, at a campaign rally in Elkhart, Ind., on Thursday he repeated his story about slashing the cost of the move from $1 billion down to about $400,000.
That's only true if you look at the short term: The Post's Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash reported earlier this month that the $400,000 accounted for only the first phase of moving the embassy to an existing consular building in Jerusalem, but that's likely to be a temporary home. Building a much larger permanent embassy — and spending as much as $1 billion to do so — could take another 10 years, by which time Trump's time in office will have ended.
Trump's erroneous boast is a telling indicator of how he views the literal costs of his foreign-policy decisions. But, more important, he appears to have underestimated their long-term political costs as well.
Trump, like many presidents before him, came into office pledging hard work and a fresh approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — "the toughest deal of all," as he called it — that would finally lead to peace. Instead, the administration has yet to unveil its peace plan, and Palestinian officials have refused to talk to their U.S. counterparts since Trump announced his embassy decision in December.
Monday's opening comes just before Palestinians mark the anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” a name used to refer to the founding of Israel in 1948. Violent protests have taken place in Gaza for weeks, and the Israel Defense Forces have warned that they expect the largest demonstrations yet this week to protest both the embassy move and Israel's birthday.
It's another sign that the United States may finally be discredited as a neutral party in any agreements on Middle East peace, making it all the more difficult for any long-lasting solution to be found. But that's a problem that may last years and be dealt with by other administrations. For now, Trump has the plaudits at home and in Israel that he wants.
Trump's short-termism isn't confined to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran rather than renegotiate left many observers — including other critics of the agreement — feeling there was no "Plan B." The Trump administration, they argued, has mostly set up more problems for the future.
Bruno Tertrais, an influential French political scientist, suggested as much on Twitter last week after meeting a number of senior Trump administration officials.
Trump's push for peace talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may also betray the same kind of thinking. Trump is due to meet with his counterpart on June 12 in Singapore, an event that will give Trump much of the rolling television coverage he favors.
But the actual deal with North Korea will likely wind up being a messy affair. It will have to deal not only with the denuclearization of North Korea, but also potential economic support for North Korea, regional security guarantees and other issues.
As many have noted, a deal with Kim may end up looking similar to not only prior failed agreements with North Korea — but also the Iran agreement that Trump so loathed.
Indeed, there is a worry it could be much worse than the latter. It took years of painful negotiations to reach the Iran deal, but Trump has shown neither much inclination to be patient nor interest in long, intricate diplomatic wrangling. A hastily crafted deal with Pyongyang may only create more problems in the years down the line.
In making these moves, Trump's decision-making seems to hinge on the concerns of his domestic audience, hoping to stoke his base, get positive headlines and differentiate himself from his political predecessors. He's also not alone in thinking that way. Academics such as Paul Musgrave and Dan Nexon have noted that the foreign-policy community in the United States has become politically polarized in recent years. It's become far harder to create a consensus about any international agreements, which in turn leads to a far greater risk that major decisions and agreements will be overturned by a subsequent administration.
Of course, there's probably an argument that President Barack Obama worried too much about the long-term impact of his decisions, trying to find consensus where there was never likely to be any. But a rushed, short-term approach seems even riskier, potentially sending U.S. foreign policy down the same road of tit-for-tat gridlock that's currently the norm in Washington. If "buy now, pay later" really is Trump's plan, the eventual price tag may be far bigger than we know.