The beginning of each presidency represents a new chapter in the international relations of the United States. Every world leader wants a phone call from the President or an invitation to visit the White House. The first few weeks of a new administration must focus on making new relationships and reaffirming historic bonds with allies. However, Donald Trump has shown that he won’t be a normal president. A snapshot of interactions with a few different countries and world leaders shows the ways in which Donald Trump is establishing a new normal in American diplomacy.
The United States and the United Kingdom have always had a “special relationship” so it should come to no one’s surprise that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, was the first world leader to visit Trump’s White House. While the joint press conference between the two leaders was pretty tame, the reaction in the UK to May’s invitation for Trump to have a state visit was quite the opposite. While the Anti-Trump protests in the streets were similar to those happening almost daily in the US, the British Parliament’s reaction was shocking. There was a heated three-hour long debate in the House of Commons about whether the UK should rescind their offer of a State Visit, and 1.8 million people signed a petition to cancel the state visit because it would be “embarrassing for the Queen.” This type of negative British reaction to a US president so early in their first term is unprecedented and shows that Trump has his work cut out for him in order to win over the British people and their elected representatives.
On January 26, Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, cancelled a planned meeting with President Trump after the American President’s signing of an executive order to begin the process for constructing a border wall along the Mexican-American border. This meeting was supposed to be Trump’s second face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader and the first meeting between Trump and another North American leader. This executive order seemed to be the final straw for the Mexican President who faced internal criticism for inviting Trump to visit Mexico City during the campaign. Although a fight with Mexico may please Trump’s voters, it may actually hurt Trump’s chances of following through with campaign promises like renegotiating NAFTA which may need Mexico’s involvement and support.
In a scheduled phone call between President Trump and Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Turnbull asked Trump about his intentions to follow through with an agreement by President Obama to accept 1,250 refugees currently being held in an Australian detention center. President Trump accused Australia of trying to export terrorists to the United States. The President then informed the Prime Minister that this had been the worst phone call of his day and hung up almost 30 minutes before the scheduled end time. Although Trump is known for his off-hand comments and hasty decisions, it seems odd for Trump to makes these comments to the leader of one of America’s oldest allies. Trump soon needs to realize that in the ever-more-polarizing world, we may need our allies more than ever.
Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, to the White House and, more significantly, to Mar-A-Lago, Trump’s golf course in Palm Beach, Florida. However, in the middle of the trip, the administration received news that North Korea had launched a test missile. Instead of quickly returning to D.C. and the White House Situation Room, Trump stayed at Mar-A-Lago and was even photographed by other club members, receiving updates on North Korea in the club’s dining room. The optics for this visit do not look good for a President that has repeated stated that security is his highest priority.
After a wild two weeks of foreign relations that included the abrupt ending of a phone call with the Australian Prime Minister and taking intelligence updates in a golf club dining room, Trump’s advisors knew that he needed an easy and peaceful meeting with another friendly leader to show the press. Their wishes where granted when Prime Minister Trudeau came to Washington. Trudeau refused to directly criticize Trump’s Immigration Executive Order (although he reminded the press, in both French and English, that refugees remain welcome in Canada). There might have been a twitter spree about Trump and Trudeau’s handshake and a lack of diversity among the women business leaders at the launch of the United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs; however, there was little else to cover so the Trump Administration thought they were finally going to have a good day. At least until Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had to resign because of his involvement Trump’s growing Russian scandal.
All in all, Trump’s presentation style with foreign leaders should not shock anyone because it’s the same style he used during the campaign. He would either relentlessly criticize those he saw to be his political opponents, like Malcolm Turnbull, or wine-and-dine others, like Shinzō Abe. In Trump’s worldview, there are always winners and losers and he plans on being the ultimate winner. That idea may work when running for President of the United States, but it cannot work when dealing with America’s allies. Hopefully President Trump realizes this fact sooner rather than later and before our allies give us the cold shoulder for years to come.
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