Full disclosure: the hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts was completely distracted by infrastructure week. Every day last week, I could not stop thinking about making America’s roads, railways, airports, seaports, bus stations, hovercraft, hoverboards and WiFi access great again. Absolutely no other news event of the past week could hold the attention that the White House’s infrastructure week festivities held. It’s like nothing else really happened.
I am sure I am not the only Washington Post reader who was so dazzled by how smoothly the infrastructure week rollout went that they forgot what else happened. So I thought it might be useful to recap a few small news stories to appreciate exactly how much President Trump is making America foreign policy great again. Here are the highlights!
1) We learned a little more about Trump’s visit to NATO. Some of you may be aware that Trump’s visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels was a bit rocky. Just as Trump ostensible committed to Article 5 in a press conference, Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer revealed some details from that trip that don’t cast Trump in a terribly good light. It would seem that the president acted even more boorishly at the private diner following his not-well-received public speech:
During the dinner, Trump went off-script to criticize allies again for not spending enough on defense. (The United States is one of only five members that meets NATO members’ pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.)
Several sources briefed extensively on the dinner say he said 2 percent wasn’t enough and allies should spend 3 percent of GDP on defense, and he even threatened to cut back U.S. defense spending and have Europeans dole out “back pay” to make up for their low defense spending if they didn’t pony up quickly enough. Two sources say Trump didn’t mention Russia once during the dinner.
“Oh, it was like a total s‑‑‑show,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to discuss the closed-door dinner.
“The dinner was far worse than the speech,” said a former senior U.S. government official briefed on dinner. “It was a train wreck. It was awful.”
2) The Trump administration cannot get on the same page on Qatar. A week ago Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Gulf states imposed sanctions on fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member Qatar. The reasons for the embargo are at turns murky and bizarre, but that’s not important right now. What’s important is the evolution of the U.S. response to it. Initially, Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backed the Saudis. By the latter part of last week, however, the Pentagon was sounding more supportive of Qatar and the president received some very important information:
MSNBC reporting White House sources says Trump "may not have known" the US has troops based in Qatar.
— Simon Marks (@SimonMarksFSN) June 8, 2017
The Atlantic’s Krishnadev Calamur recaps what happened last Friday:
Tillerson, in a televised statement, once again urged the countries involve to resolve their differences. He called on “Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt to ease the blockade against Qatar” and urged Doha to be “responsive to the concerns of its neighbors.” He said Qatar’s emir had made progress on the issues raised by his neighbors, “but he must do more and must do it more quickly.” He also urged other countries in the region to drop their support of terrorist groups — but did not name any of them.
Less than an hour later, Trump addressed the issue during a joint news conference with the Romanian president.
“The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” he said, adding Arab leaders had spoken to him during his visit “about confronting Qatar over its behavior.” Those remarks would suggest the U.S. was aware of the impending action by the Arab states against a country that is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East. Qatar’s emir was among the Arab leaders who met with Trump in Riyadh. …
And once again, in attempting to explain U.S. policy, the U.S. president had made it even less clear.
Hey, remember last week, when I suggested that the president had successfully managed to erode the credibility of his principal foreign policy advisers? This makes it worse. It’s also interesting that even the most successful leg of Trump’s foreign policy trip ended up with little to show for it except fake arms deals, GCC divisions, and more cleaning up after the White House.
3) Canada is trying to distance itself from the United States. Yes, I said Canada. Canada is a rich country that borders the most powerful country in the world. As such, an awful lot of Canadian foreign policy is devoted to maintaining good relations with the United States. Sure, Canada’s constrained strategic options occasionally lead to passive-aggressive rhetoric, but them’s the geopolitical breaks.
Last Tuesday, however, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland stopped being passive-aggressive and started getting real. The Toronto Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife and Michelle Zilio reported on her latest foreign policy speech:
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa will forge its own path on the world stage because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.
In a major speech setting the stage for Wednesday’s release of a new multibillion-dollar blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces, Ms. Freeland rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and its dismissal of free trade, global warming and the value of Western alliances in countering Russian adventurism and the Islamic State.
While she did not mention the U.S. president by name, Ms. Freeland expressed deep concern about the desire of many American voters to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”
“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts in sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” she told the House of Commons on Tuesday. “To say this is not controversial: It is a fact.”
Friend of Spoiler Alerts and Canadian national security scholar Stephanie Carvin summed up the theme of Freeland’s speech pretty accurately: “If Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland had one message for Canada in her speech to the House of Commons on Tuesday, it is that the world is now entering a post-American phase and Canada needs to figure out how to navigate it — and fast.”
Let’s pause for a second and consider that Canada is now trying to distance its foreign policy from the United States. Sure, Ottawa and Washington have had differences in the past, but Canada has never accused the United States of being a foreign policy slacker before.
It’s almost like America’s ability to lead has been crippled under president Trump or something.
4) China is treating governors with more respect than Trump administration officials. Remember China? Remember how I suggested that the Trump administration was going to get played there? I bring this up because it would appear that China is displeased by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accord. They are not being subtle about it either, as the Wall Street Journal’s Brian Spegele reports:
China rolled out the red carpet for California Gov. Jerry Brown, a critic of Mr. Trump’s decision who arrived in China last weekend to take part in an international clean-energy forum and meet provincial officials. It was Mr. Brown that President Xi Jinping later welcomed to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People; U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, also in town for the forum, was received by a vice premier.
Chinese officials expressed dismay with Mr. Trump’s decision. “I am so deeply disappointed,” said Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy for climate change, during a gathering with Mr. Brown. …
Mr. Perry’s arrival in China early in the week was preceded by the surprise announcement on Monday by the top U.S. diplomat in China, David Rank, that he was quitting to protest against Mr. Trump’s climate position. Mr. Rank, who was chargé d’affairs, had been expected to accompany Mr. Perry in meetings with Chinese officials.
So, to sum up: Over the past week America’s key NATO allies, and particularly Canada, are furious with the Trump administration. So is China. And it’s not obvious at all what American foreign policy is toward Qatar.
It’s a good thing that infrastructure week was such a raging success.