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Trump’s Woeful Lack of Preparedness on Foreign Policy

Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly included this exchange [1]:

He said they hit it off during their first discussion. Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted [bold mine-DL]. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

In fact, Trump was one of the few to believe that China “had a tremendous power” over North Korea to get them to do whatever Beijing wanted. That he “felt pretty strongly” that this was the case shows how little he understood about the issue. While it is good that Trump can be made to understand that his simplistic, uninformed views on foreign policy issues are deficient, it’s also true that we don’t want the president to be in a position where he is learning (possibly for the first time) about complicated subjects from the head of another government.

This anecdote points to Trump’s own woeful lack of preparedness on this and other foreign policy issues, and it also shows how susceptible he is to being manipulated by other leaders who are far more practiced and proficient in discussing these things. The trouble isn’t just that Trump doesn’t seem to be adequately briefed in advance, but that any briefings he may have received have no effect [2]:

Several diplomats said that early Trump meetings with Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and British Prime Minister Theresa May also raised concerns over Trump’s unorthodox style of working largely without detailed notes and speaking off the cuff.

“He doesn’t have a paper in front of him. . . . It’s up to the visitor to declare the agenda,” one said. “He just sits there. It’s like you are in a bar, and you just start talking to him.”

Whatever else one wants to say about this, it suggests that most meetings between Trump and foreign leaders are not going to be very productive, or insofar as they are productive the agenda is going to be shaped to a large degree by the foreign leader.

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Trump’s Woeful Lack of Preparedness on Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By Kevin On April 12, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

I wonder how the Trump fans are going to spin this one.

#2 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On April 12, 2017 @ 7:46 pm

We now have a moron as POTUS – the greatest ever example of White privilege. From Reagan to Bush 2 (Bush 1 was a mistake, I guess) to Trump. What’s next? A poorly trained collie? (Maybe that’s too insulting to dogs…..)

#3 Comment By SF Bay On April 12, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

“He doesn’t have a paper in front of him. . . . It’s up to the visitor to declare the agenda,” one said. “He just sits there. It’s like you are in a bar, and you just start talking to him.”

Trump is basically an empty vessel. And honestly, I don’t think anyone, not even the head of state from another country can put any real information into his brain.

Trump is a 70 year old man who is not going to change the way he operates. He’s gotten through life this far knowing basically nothing. I don’t see this changing. And it’s a real problem for our country.

Do we really think Trump’s opinion about North Korea has been changed? I don’t.

#4 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On April 12, 2017 @ 7:50 pm

And, of course, the focus here is foreign policy, but this grotesque stupidity is deployed w equal vigor in domestic affairs. Who, of course, ever knew health care could be so complicated……

The damage to our society, our culture, our environment, our universities, is incalculable. Can we survive 46 more months? It seems hard to imagine this continuing. The only hope is perhaps a complete rejection of the GOP at next year’s elections.

#5 Comment By Chris Chuba On April 12, 2017 @ 7:56 pm

Just be glad he didn’t launch 59 cruise missiles at Hong Kong to convince the Chinese to solve our N. Korea problem before finding this out. But Hey, it’s only Wed, maybe Mad Dog Mattis (I know he doesn’t like being called Mad Dog but he did want to bomb Iran) will mention it.

#6 Comment By root and branch On April 12, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

@Victory over Eurasia – ” Can we survive 46 more months? […] The damage to our society, our culture, our environment, our universities, is incalculable. ”

Setting aside the environment, our society, culture, and universities are doing a bang-up job of damaging themselves. In fact, we can thank them and their various pathologies for vomiting up Mr. Trump, who is a symptom, not a cause.

Trump’s ascension is unthinkable without the corruption, vulgarity, alienation, violence, and societal distrust fostered by the behavior, beliefs, and policies of our current establishment and elites.

So. 46 months of Trump? That’s the least of it. The worst will be if the urgent concerns of those who (in desperation) voted for Trump are swept under the rug as Trump “grows” to accommodate the establishment, and establishment corruption and rot continue.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 12, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

“The damage to our society, our culture, our environment, our universities, is incalculable. Can we survive 46 more months? It seems hard to imagine this continuing. The only hope is perhaps a complete rejection of the GOP at next year’s elections.”

Give me a break. As if the Democratic Party operatives, bagmen and bought pols had nothing to do with the damage that caused the unexpected election results. Or maybe you’re part of the unhinged contingent who think none of us voted for Trump and the election results were hacked by Russia.

Which in my view makes nobody in Washington I see any bit superior to Trump. Throwing darts at a map randomly couldn’t have been any more destructive than the last 16 years. If our civilization is rotten, the “incalculable” harm hasn’t occurred in less than three months.

So the Democrats who want to bomb and war, take over from the Republicans who do? So what is that to me, if nothing ever changes according to democratic accountability – and clearly it does not.

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 12, 2017 @ 9:04 pm

I only wish that however uninformed of Washington’s consensus war fever policy details, that the man had had the courage to stand by his campaign promises, come what may, of being less interventionist and against war.

But of course, the establishment has done everything in their power to dethrone him and it looks like they would have succeeded, had he not caved. He can rule in nme, as long as the policies are theirs.

Not too many people would have the integrity to do otherwise; Obama certainly didn’t and caved well before his election, as later disclosures revealed.

#9 Comment By blimbax On April 12, 2017 @ 9:18 pm

The only hope is perhaps a complete rejection of the GOP at next year’s elections. (Victory over Eurasia)

I think the only hope is a rejection of both main stream parties next year. The great danger is that the Democratic Party war hawks will come back with a vengeance. That could be just as bad, or worse, than where we find ourselves now.

We need a new politics, something that replaces the two wings of the war party. And maybe the best time that could start happening is in the 2018 elections.

I would like to see a movement that seeks to elect as many people as possible who are not beholden to the two current political machines. Perhaps this could be done via a temporary New Party with the following objectives and platform:

1. Non intervention
2. Challenge to trade deals, including those that were made by Bernie Sanders and some of Trump’s supporters
3. No other policy positions. Policy positions on other issues would return to the discussion when the current establishment parties are marginalized.
4. The goal is to push back against both “main stream” parties, to create a space for a new politics, for new parties.

The idea would be essentially to start over, clear the field of the two institutionalized machines, and make way for something new, for a new way of dealing with disagreements, with corruption in politics, etc.

I know it is all incredibly farfetched and maybe even fanciful, but the 2017 elections may present the only opportunity for something like this to happen for a long time, and the way things are going, with the hawks running both parties, time is of the essence.

To sum it up, this New Politics movement would draw from those who supported Bernie Sanders, especially young people, and from some of those who went for Trump. The common denominator would be an approach to foreign policy that rejects the current one, an emphasis on investing in our country instead of bombing others, and an interest in creating a political space that replaces the existing “bipartisan consensus” with a political structure that is truly designed for the good of the people.

#10 Comment By blimbax On April 12, 2017 @ 9:19 pm

Post Script: The “New Party,” I should add, would be a temporary feature, one that would be replaced by something new and more permanent. What we need right now is a bulldozer.

#11 Comment By Dan On April 12, 2017 @ 9:24 pm

This being a representative democracy, we should be equally concerned that campaigner Trump (with all his simplistic idiocy) was the one the country actually wanted. Sure, it’s great Trump is being informed by foreign leaders but what people want is not what he is becoming. Democrats (a crowd I usually swing with) will not likely fall in line behind Trump, ever. He will burn bridges with the white-nationalists who kept him afloat for months in the early primary. That leaves the neocons and business Republicans. It’s hard to imagine things getting any better as Trump turns on the rabid Trumpkins we’ve all come to adore.

The social rifts within our society will likely be exacerbated. Things will probably get worse from here

#12 Comment By Cassie On April 12, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

This being a representative democracy, we should be equally concerned that campaigner Trump (with all his simplistic idiocy) was the one the country actually wanted.

No. Not true. Hillary got 3 million more votes than Trump.

Plus, Jill Stein got a million or so votes as well – particularly in places like WI, PA and MI, where she helped elect Trump.

Trump did win more electoral votes. But he did not win the popular vote. The country did NOT “want Trump.”

#13 Comment By Aegis On April 12, 2017 @ 11:06 pm

Nice concise article. It brings to like some serious issues facing this nation.

#14 Comment By Rich On April 13, 2017 @ 12:41 am

“I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

My take is that he’s playing the old persuasion game on China. As in, oh I thought they were a powerful nation that could influence poor little old north korea, but I guess they aren’t so powerful afterall.

Or maybe he’s stupid, I don’t know.

My problem re Korea is that his goal seems to be stop the nukes, even if it means keeping the north Korean regime. The goal should be reunification of Korea. With Trump’s oft-stated admiration of Douglas McArthur, I would think that is what he would want. So hopefully he can convince the Chinese not to invade north Korea if the US topples Kim Jong Eun. Maybe make a deal where we promise not to send troops above the 38th parallel so long as no other foreign nation enters Korea, let the ROK keep care of policing the north.

#15 Comment By Laurelhurst On April 13, 2017 @ 1:02 am

People were joking on Twitter that it must have been REALLY GOOD cake. Seriously, Xi could probably rule the world as long as he keeps meeting and eating cake with Trump and making him feel good about things.

#16 Comment By Whine Merchant On April 13, 2017 @ 2:42 am

He offered the voters the man he is, and they voted for him with eyes wide shut about: sexual predation, sharp practice with contractors, smoke & mirrors finances, and ‘trust me – I’m a TV star’ bravado. The TV evangelist crowd punished HRC for not leaving her unfaithful husband, and the alt-right thought that he would repeal civil rights.
He was actually honest the whole way through the campaign [no, not about that silly America First / non-interventionist stuff, nor about replacing the ACA]. He said that he would bring his [self-proclaimed] business mojo to the White House and “fix everything”. This is exactly the approach he is taking – everything is on the table, life is all a negotiation, briefings are for dummies, and what do history or context have to do with tomorrow’s slick new deal?
That this is not the way government and diplomacy work never registered with him because he believes his own propaganda about being the smartest guy in the room.
This stance was never hidden during the campaign and now he is who we get. As he keeps saying, “We won!”

#17 Comment By liberal On April 13, 2017 @ 8:48 am

Rich wrote,

My problem re Korea is that his goal seems to be stop the nukes, even if it means keeping the north Korean regime. The goal should be reunification of Korea.

No, the goal should be reunification of Korea without getting lots of people killed.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 13, 2017 @ 9:58 am

“So hopefully he can convince the Chinese not to invade north Korea if the US topples Kim Jong Eun … Maybe make a deal where we promise not to send troops above the 38th parallel”

Dream on. They’d rather the status quo than an expanding American empire satrapy right up against their border. Legally, the Korean War hasn’t actually ended, there’s just been a long ceasefire between belligerents in a standoff. It can resume any time without any declarations of war by anyone.

Russia was promised by the U.S. that there would be no NATO expansion with U.S. troops and nukes at their border. No one now believes that the U.S. is capable of keeping to any such agreements, or will stop intervening in other countries, unless compelled not to by force.

#19 Comment By Uncle Billy On April 13, 2017 @ 10:13 am

Trump does not appear to have an overall or grand strategy. He seems to shoot from the hip and is prone to flattery by foreign officials. His trashing of the US Intelligence Community has not helped either.

Yes, Trump is a “smart guy” but he does not know everything and operating on instinct is not a substitute for being prepared and having a plan.

#20 Comment By rayray On April 13, 2017 @ 11:52 am

@Fran Macadam
“I only wish that however uninformed of Washington’s consensus war fever policy details, that the man had had the courage to stand by his campaign promises, come what may, of being less interventionist and against war.”

This is where I guess I part ways with much of the commentary on this message board. I don’t remember this Trump, the Trump that had some sort of coherent message on much of anything, much less on Foreign Policy. As many have pointed out, he would quite literally contradict himself WITHIN THE SAME SENTENCE. This was partly because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, it’s also because he completely doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And this was never a mystery to anyone, ever, during this campaign. That said, he was consistent on not liking foreigners or other ethnic groups. And no, the taco salad was not a sign of inconsistency, it is an American culinary invention.

But people who are this empty are useful politically because everyone can project their hopes and dreams on them. And I do believe the toxic political environment of DC does play into this, particularly with the anti-science, anti-knowledge GOP which, as many have predicted, makes it okay to be stupid. Don’t worry! You can be ignorant and still have an opinion!

But even more than a creation of DC, Trump is specifically a conservative media creation. Fox, Breitbart, et al had been tilling the soil on this for a long time.

#21 Comment By liberal On April 13, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

What rayray said.

I’m also reminded of what [3] tweeted:

Hey folks: it is ok to think #HillaryClinton’s views on foreign policy are wrong/dangerous & also believe @realDonaldTrump would be worse.

#22 Comment By Scales In The Wind On April 13, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

@liberal “[via Walt] ok to think #HillaryClinton’s views on foreign policy are wrong/dangerous & also believe @realDonaldTrump would be worse.”

Except that Trump hit one of Assad’s air fields. Earlier that day Hillary said she would have hit them all.

Which is “worse”?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether Trump takes Hillary’s advice …

#23 Comment By Hyperion On April 13, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

I call BS. No way Trump could listen to someone for 10 minutes. Pictures (video) or it didn’t happen.

#24 Comment By SFBay On April 13, 2017 @ 2:42 pm

Hyperion, even if Trump did manage to listen for 10 minutes, it’s only good until the next person speaks.

Watching him make 180 degree turns on positions over the last few days, I wonder who he has been listening to.

#25 Comment By Loose Change On April 13, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

“Yes, Trump is a “smart guy” but he does not know everything and operating on instinct is not a substitute for being prepared and having a plan.”

This raises an interesting thing about him

You would think that the bad or sloppy judgment of someone so patently vain would be aggravated by the typical reflex of the vain to defend and double down on their statements or decisions. But in at least some ways Trump isn’t doing this. He has forthrightly abandoned previous positions explicitly and almost blithely. It’s fascinating, in a way. It suggests the perhaps too hopeful possibility that he may abandon bad positions he’s taken over the past few months if they don’t work out, as he used to abandon failed businesses.

Who knows? Might work. It’s better than falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy and doubling down, as Bush II and Obama did.

#26 Comment By EarlyBird On April 13, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

“It’s like you are in a bar, and you just start talking to him.”

That’s been the basis for his entire campaign or “movement,” if you will. He’s that know-it-all blowhard at the bar who has a strong opinion about everything, who says things like, “Oh, the president could fix X overnight. All he has to do is…” It’s all very simple and straight forward on a bar stool.

This sort of confident, cranky complaining sounds like a take charge, get it done kind of competence to the uninformed.

#27 Comment By Xenia Grant On April 13, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

We are now more dangerous than North Korea. And unlike Idi Amin of Uganda of the late 70s, who invaded Tanzania, our bombing of Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan can lead to WW III if we are not careful.

Christ our True God who was lead to His Voluntary Passion on the Cross, save us!

#28 Comment By liberal On April 14, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

Scales in the wind wrote,

Except that Trump hit one of Assad’s air fields. Earlier that day Hillary said she would have hit them all.

I’m no big fan of HRC on foreign policy. My feeling, though, is that the danger of starting a war on the Korean peninsula is much higher with Trump; and more generally, that there’s a large, inherent danger present in Trump due to his obvious mental instability that is absent or negligible in HRC, her abominable hawkishness notwithstanding.

#29 Comment By rayray On April 15, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

HRC had her positives and negatives. She was certainly smart as hell; an experienced and a mature person. She had spent most of her adult life fighting for the rights of women and families with intelligence and integrity. But sadly, she was also enamored of the foreign policy and military establishment and the present strategy of using American power as a “force for order” in the modern world. Which, I think everyone would agree, is more often than not a force for disorder.

But I’m done with her, she didn’t win, and thus moving on.

Right now the force on the ground in the White House is President Trump. Trump is an ignorant, disorganized jackass on pretty much any matter he gets involved in, foreign or domestic. Not much else to say.

The best we can hope for is either such a power collapse in the White House such that his power is neutered; or accomplishing the same in congressional elections; or that someone close to him helps him to re-staff those around him with folks who have what he doesn’t, a mature temperament, a working knowledge of reality, and a genuine desire to make America great.