Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.
Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

How to lose friends and alienate people: Trump clashes with allies

As Donald Trump settles into his presidential duties, it’s not surprising to learn he’s beginning to forge relationships with foreign leaders. What’s notable, however, is how spectacularly he’s managing to screw up this relatively straightforward part of his job.

The Associated Press reported yesterday, for example, that the amateur president “warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop ‘bad hombres down there’ unless the Mexican military does more to control them.” As a rule, American leaders don’t threaten to deploy troops into allied countries without permission.

As the Washington Post reported, Trump’s call with Australia’s prime minister was an even bigger disaster.
It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief…. Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin – and that “this was the worst call by far.”
Turnbull insisted after the call that the agreement with the United States is still on – the prime minister was less eager to publicly discuss the nature of his conversation with Trump – though the U.S. president turned to Twitter last night to declare, “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

Putting aside the fact that Trump may not fully understand what “illegal immigrants” means, it’s worth pausing to emphasize that Australia is one of our closest allies. NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell noted overnight that someone should tell the White House that Australia “has more troops fighting ISIS in Iraq than any other ally [and] has fought at our side since” World War II.

That’s not a rhetorical aside. Someone really should let Team Trump know about this, because there’s reason to believe they’re unaware of it.

CNN, quoting an unnamed source close to Trump, reported the U.S. president had spoken with three other world leaders earlier in the day, each of which lasted close to an hour. The report added, “Trump, this source said, was feeling some fatigue” by the time he spoke to Turnbull.

Oh, I see. Trump clashed with a close U.S. ally because he was tired.

If he lacks the stamina to do the job, perhaps Trump shouldn’t have sought the job.

There’s an ironic context to all of this. As we discussed last week, Republicans spent years investing enormous energy into the idea that President Obama hurt the United States’ international standing. The opposite was true, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world.

During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump had a chat about “how poorly” the United States is now “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”

It wasn’t true then; it is true now. Indeed, the problems aren’t limited to Australia and Mexico: people in allied countries have held large rallies in each of Trump’s first two weeks to protest the American president’s agenda and policies. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza added last week, in reference to Trump’s antagonism towards Mexico, this “showed that with his impulsive use of Twitter to make foreign-policy statements, Trump is turning American diplomacy into a series of personal relationships unguided by strategy or forethought.”

On the other hand, Trump is strengthening bonds in at least one country: the American president is quite popular in Moscow.


Diplomacy, Donald Trump and Foreign Policy

How to lose friends and alienate people: Trump clashes with allies