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The President’s Vanity Kills Diplomacy

Ankit Panda connects [1] Trump’s Afghanistan debacle [1] to the president’s need for flattery and affirmation in international negotiations:

When the history of the Trump administration is written, there will be many tragedies that will need documentation, but this may be one of the greatest: his inability to embrace a lifesaving peace agreement if its adoption doesn’t follow his desired adulation narrative.

The president desperately craves praise and enjoys putting on a spectacle, and when he is deprived of both he reacts very badly. The negotiations with the Taliban had produced a real agreement, and Trump’s envoy had made significant progress until the entire process was blown up in a fit of pique. It should be enough that the U.S. secures an agreement that serves our country’s interests, but the president would rather lose the agreement than miss out on the pomp of a summit. If he cannot be seen personally as the great deal-maker, he would prefer failure. For that matter, he tolerates policy failure as long as he gets to play the part of the high-stakes negotiator. Results are irrelevant. All that matters to him are the ratings and the images.

The administration’s North Korea policy is a flop with respect to substance, but when it comes to superficial showmanship it has provided Trump with some of his most important opportunities to pretend to be a statesman. The president remains favorably disposed towards Kim because the dictator butters him up and because he has been willing to play along with the photo op summits. The Iranian government has so far refused to indulge Trump in these empty displays, and so he remains as hostile to them as ever. It is important to understand that Trump’s “diplomacy” isn’t likely to work even now that Bolton isn’t there to sabotage it because the president is preoccupied with making himself look good instead of focusing on getting a sound agreement that serves U.S. interests. The funny thing is that Trump would get far more credit for successfully completed negotiations that produced meaningful agreements if he allowed U.S. diplomats to do their job and make the necessary compromises, but he inserts himself into the process to make everything about him and so ends up with nothing.

Panda puts it this way:

His ascension to the presidency opened up new, unthinkable possibilities in international relations, like a thawing of relations with Kim and a truce with the Taliban. But his desire to be the star of every story line tragically quashes all those possibilities.

Getting rid of Bolton was a good start, but unless the president can suddenly stop being the self-centered, vainglorious person he has always been the administration’s foreign policy will remain a failure.

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