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Trump’s Unsuccessful Asia Trip

Harry Kazianis previewed [1] Trump’s Asia trip two weeks ago and was cautiously optimistic that it could be successful. I assumed [2] it would be closer to a repeat of his first trip abroad. He returns [3] today with a much grimmer assessment:

But the leader of the free world should have at least some idea of what is happening across the globe, and some policy strategy to match. Instead, what we saw during Trump’s tour of Asia was a series of incoherent rants, no vision or grand strategy for the future, and a strange bromance-style of foreign policy.

The notable thing about Trump’s “bromance-style” approach to foreign leaders is that he seems to think they are as impressed by his flattery as he is by theirs. The president’s chumminess with Xi, Duterte, or anyone else isn’t going to persuade them to make more concessions to the U.S., but foreign leaders have learned that it is fairly easy to buy Trump’s affection by putting on big displays and catering to his tastes when he visits. Obama was often faulted by pundits for not cultivating close personal relationships with foreign leaders, but Trump has gone to the opposite extreme by doing almost nothing but that. That causes him to be weirdly deferential to foreign leaders in a way that goes far beyond trying to maintain good relations.

I said last week [4] that Trump’s North Korea policy is divorced from reality because of the insistence on denuclearization, and it is. Another problem is the president’s random personal jabs at Kim. His strange tweet near the end of the trip combined a gratuitous insult and an odd wish to be friends. Kazianis comments:

Fat? Friend? What? If you are confused by all that, you certainly aren’t alone. Every time I read it I get an instant headache.

But once again, Trump tried to walk it back, and only made matters worse, saying, “That might be a strange thing to happen [being friends with Kim] but it’s a possibility.” He continued, explaining: “If it did happen it could be a good thing I can tell you for North Korea, but it could also be good for a lot of other places and be good for the rest the world.”

Something like friendship shouldn’t even be a possibility when it comes to Kim Jong Un.

One problem with his exchanges with Kim is that Trump can’t ever let a personal slight go, so he always feels compelled to respond in kind. If the North Koreans make some disparaging remark about him, he can’t help but say something demeaning about Kim. Then he tries to limit the damage by talking about how he wants to be Kim’s “friend,” as if the main obstacle in dealing with Pyongyang was the lack of personal chemistry between the two leaders. Based on these remarks, one can almost imagine that Trump thinks that he, Kim, and Dennis Rodman could hammer out a peace treaty after spending a weekend together. The combination of the administration’s official position that denuclearization is the only option with Trump’s erratic messages to Kim naturally creates confusion among both allies and adversaries, and that increases the risk that one or more governments could misinterpret what the U.S. is doing.

Like his first trip abroad, Trump’s Asia trip was unsuccessful and marred by some significant mistakes. The president returns home this week with nothing to show for his effort.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Trump’s Unsuccessful Asia Trip"

#1 Comment By collin On November 14, 2017 @ 11:30 am

TBH, I don’t think Trump’s visit to China was a failure although it does seem President Xi knows how to flatter Trump to a “T”. He made modest gains on investment and was unlikely to get anything on NK from China. (Let us say Obama would have received the same investment concessions.) Long term the trip had modest gains with little loss. So I don’t see a failure in his China visit.

On the other hand Trumps twitter bickering is beyond stupid and his flattering Duerte is really wrong in the long run.

#2 Comment By GregR On November 14, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Collin,

What exactly did Trump get from China? A few nebulous promises to open up some trade, release of a couple of basketball players, an invitation to export dual use technology to China as a first move in resolving the complexities of our trader imbalance…

Basically we got nothing, except Trump now thinks he has pull with the President of China (he got the basketball players released after all), and an agreement from China that we should, in due course, eventually sit down to begin the process of negotiating the very complicated and difficult trade issues.

So we get bupkis, China agrees to slow down negotiations, and Trump looks like a fool to world leaders.

It wasn’t an unproductive trip, it was a disastrous one. Not because Trump did anything actually harmful, which was a pleasant surprise, but because it showed the world that Trump can be led around by his ego.

#3 Comment By grumpy realist On November 14, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

I read a remark somewhere from someone who had been doing business deals with China for donkey’s years. His take was that Trump had been led around by the nose and was nothing more than a gullible idiot.

My own feel is that the Chinese will be able to get Trump to sell out Taiwan for a basket of KFC.

#4 Comment By Tony D. On November 14, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

“…he seems to think they are as impressed by his flattery as he is by theirs.”

And that’s about as good a summary of our current President as you’re likely to hear anywhere, folks.

#5 Comment By bt On November 14, 2017 @ 10:49 pm

It doesn’t matter what happened on his trip.

Trump will say it was the greatest foreign policy achievement in history. Sean Hannity will tell the people watching the TV’s that Trump is the greatest president in our history.

Next, we’ll pass those tax cuts that will add a few Trillion dollars to deficit and we will be told that the magic growth will fix everything.

Again.

This is how we make America Great Again. We pretend.