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April 16, 2021

Is Trump confused or prudent?

Only one month has passed since January 21, the day the new Trump administration was inaugurated. Considering the torrent of articles and studies on this period in the history of international relations, this interval seems extremely brief. Similarly, the general tone of these media productions seems just as strange. One of the biggest mistakes would be to draw definitive conclusions from this unusual picture, just as, for instance, the well-known American expert Ian Bremmer did by announcing the end of Pax Americana. On February 12, he wrote that “even if Hillary had won, Pax Americana was coming to an end soon.” And a reader immediately commented: “Pax Americana linked to but not solely determined by US being largest economy & US still leads per capita GNP & military power.; Military power will decline in correlation with economy ; Until 2030 EU will be number 2, with TTIP, US/EU could even claim the top spot, but complex systems are not for the poor minded” (pic.twitter.com/V0Qeq39nMr).

While the said reader was referring to ample economic issues, but also to simple solutions for upholding Pax Americana, Bremmer was probably referring to the noted fact of the coherence deficiency of overall American foreign policy since the new administration took office. It could be said that this lack of coherence was due to the erratic behaviour of the president who, lacking experience or being determined to change certain foreign policy lines, made astounding moves in the first days following his inauguration. While President Trump had shown signs even before his inauguration – by having a phone conversation with the president of Taiwan – that the U.S. would give up its traditional “one China policy,” and then repeated that intention from the White House, in early February he changed the orientation which had seemed already assumed and which had instilled a state of nervousness between the two great powers. In a conversation with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, D. Trump stated that he remains faithful to Washington’s traditional policy in bilateral relations, his interlocutor responding by saying that “I believe that the United States and China are cooperative partners, and through joint efforts we can push bilateral relations to a historic new high.”

The Chinese dossier was not the only one in which a radical overnight transformation occurred. If we are talking about the accompanying circumstances, then we will have to note that this was taking place against the backdrop in which Japanese Premier S. Abe was scheduled to visit Washington, and especially against the backdrop outlined by the resignation of M. Flynn two days later. The latter, national security advisor for several weeks, was under the scrutiny of intelligence services, which put forward the thesis that he had legally impermissible phone conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington and represented a vulnerability for the whole administration (he was vulnerable to Russian blackmail). In a famous press conference that was confusing and inconclusive alike, D. Trump expressed his appreciation for Flynn, and reproached him solely with the fact that he fragmentarily reported on the talks he had, talks blamed on Vice President Pence.

It is true however that the media, which Trump accuses of being “un-American” or “failing” – NYT and WP are mentioned – immediately accused the president of having ties with Moscow, starting off from the presumption that in his links with Russian officials Flynn acted with the consent of his boss. From this to demanding the impeachment of the president was but a step, and the decisive threshold was crossed especially in the comments posted by the readers of the various articles blaming the White House’s “Russian connection.” As Anne Applebaum – true, a frequent WP contributor – noted on Twitter: “Ironically, a great ‘Deal’ with Putin has been on the table for months: He withdraws from East Ukraine, and Crimea, we lift the sanctions. – February 15, 2017.” On that same day, D. Trump saw fit to post on Twitter that “This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign.” Hence, what was a mere suspicion among experts here in Eastern Europe, an almost unspoken one, is now openly stated by one of H. Clinton’s supporters (A. Applebaum) and was called “nonsense” by D. Trump on February 15, two days after Flynn resigned. And on the same day, D. Trump projected a different meaning of the Flynn case, when he wrote on Twitter that “information is illegally given to the failing nytimes & washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.” Could this mean, when the president is accusing the main U.S. intelligence services (NSA and FBI) of illegally leaking classified information to two important American dailies, that we are talking about the declassification of an ample dossier on the deal with Russia? Or that the negotiation of this “deal” is not yet finalised? Which is the truth?

What happened on the day that followed General Flynn’s resignation (February 14) did not clarify anything in what concerns D. Trump’s current foreign policy. The American president received remarkable support through the already mentioned visit paid by Japanese Premier S. Abe, who enhanced his credibility at international level. The same can also be said following the visit that Israeli Premier B. Netanyahu almost immediately paid, a visit Trump labelled as very good. In a February 16 interview with Fox News, the Israeli Premier said, following his meeting with Trump: “I feel we have now, as the @POTUS says, an even stronger alliance. ‘A new day,’ he called it. Maybe a new age.” Netanyahu’s note is what was considered, in a recent Financial Times editorial (February 21), proof of the process called the “normalisation” of the new American president. Here is what its author, G. Rachman says: “when in the chaotic first weeks of Mr Trump’s presidency/…/ there have been some encouraging signs that normalization of Mr. Trump’s approach to the world is possible. Early suggestions that the US might recognize Taiwan or impose a naval blockade in the South China Sea – both policies that could have led to a war with China- have been quietly jettisoned. The idea that Trump administration will swiftly move the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem is also fading away.

And the author continues by referring to other signs of “normalisation,” such as in the issue of Russian-occupied Crimea, or the lifting of American (Western) sanctions on Moscow for the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine, or in what concerns NATO (at the Security Conference in Munich, February 17-19, Vice President Pence assured allies that NATO remains the “bedrock” of U.S. and European security). But Rachman concludes his editorial in a pessimistic note, pointing out that “Like many critics of the US president, I am torn by the idea of the ‘normalization’ of the Trump administration. A political career based on lies and bullying does not deserve to be sanctified by success. Indeed, if Trump-style politics takes hold in the US, then American democracy will have been permanently debased.”

In our opinion, even if there are signs that can justifiably challenge it, it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions about the new administration’s foreign policy. The American custom is to make a first assessment of the administration sworn in, but not a definitive assessment of the positions the White House is taking. And the thorough studying of the difficult dossiers of U.S. foreign policy – the most powerful state on the planet and one involved in all systemic problems – naturally calls for time, being known that the great initiatives are taken only after one year or more. All American administrations bear witness to this timetable, which also includes one year before the end of the first term in office, in order to prepare for victory in the second. If this victory slips through, another year or more after the elections would have to be allowed for a new administration to launch its great directions meant to give it its own historical identity.

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