Those of us who appreciate the unconventional have to have second thoughts after watching Donald J Trump in action. All the more so when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs, in which Mr. Trump is a novice. Defying convention, which calls for the president or president-elect to call on the State Department for advice and talking points, and on the intelligence community for daily briefings, Trump at any time might decide to pick up the phone and chat with a foreign leader, might Tweet an opinion, or might make an off-the-cuff remark about a controversial issue. Trouble is, any of these acts might run directly counter to ongoing US foreign policy. You can’t flatter a dictator, interject comments about another country’s domestic affairs, praise one country at the expense of another, or bring family into high-level meetings without consequences. Trump has done all these, and more, and as president seems determined to continue the practice.
Such practices only make sense when understood in terms of Trump’s “art of the deal” approach to diplomacy. And “the deal” must be taken literally, since Trump clearly sees doing the nation’s business as being equivalent to doing his personal business. Protecting the environment, promoting human rights and social justice, and strengthening international law have no place in the deal.
Trump Organization hotels and golf courses outside the US and Trump’s financial portfolio spell conflicts of interest in capital(ist) letters. Given Trump’s lack of transparency on his taxes and business dealings, his refusal to establish a blind trust or divest his financial holdings, and his absolutist belief that “the president cannot have a conflict of interest,” we may never know whether or not he is using his position to further “the brand” and his personal fortune.
Trump’s phone call with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif showed total disregard for the sensitive issues that mark US relations with his government. According to the Pakistani government, Trump told Sharif that he was “a terrific guy” who made him feel as though “I’m talking to a person I have known for long.” He described Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people.” When Sharif invited Trump to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would “love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.” Trump’s team would not confirm or deny Pakistan’s account.
Let’s remember one thing about all these forays into foreign policy: Trump has still not been inaugurated. Thus, he is trying to make policy while still a private citizen and, in all the cases above, without a secretary of state or defense. His recent pronouncements on nuclear weapons, Russia, Israel, China, and the United Nations – all via Twitter or telephone, and thus without benefit of expert advice or questions from the press corps – not only reveal a preparedness to make significant, high-risk departures from longstanding US policy. They also subvert the country’s leadership, making it appear that Trump is already in charge. President Obama is fighting back by executive action.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The Diplomacy of Donald J Trump’.