After Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) offered some pointed criticism of Donald Trump last week, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a reaction. This exchange from last Friday’s press briefing was especially memorable:
REPORTER: I asked you about Senator Corker and some of the comments he made a few weeks back. Earlier this week, he said that Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and General Kelly are basically what’s keeping the country separated from chaos. And he said there are other people in the White House that aren’t putting forth policies in a coherent fashion. Do you have any response to Senator Corker’s statement?
SANDERS: Look, I think that the president is the one that’s keeping the world from chaos.
I really wish that were true. It’s not.Today, to the exasperation of American allies, Trump is putting the future of an international nuclear agreement with Iran at great risk – which has the effect of creating more “chaos,” not less. It comes on the heels of the American president withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), threatening the future of NAFTA, balking at implementing congressional approved Russia sanctions, and rejecting diplomatic solutions with North Korea.
The New Republic’s Jeet Heer explained yesterday, “America’s longtime allies and negotiating partners are facing a new status quo – one in which they can never be certain where the United States stands on international agreements.”
This chaotic environment isn’t speculative. The Washington Post reported this week that some foreign diplomats now see the United States as an unreliable mystery.
After nearly nine months of the Trump administration, many of America’s closest allies have concluded that a hoped-for “learning curve” they thought would make President Trump a reliable partner is not going to happen.
“The idea that he would inform himself, and things would change, that is no longer operative,” said a top diplomat here.
Instead, they see an administration in which lines of authority and decision-making are unclear, where tweets become policy and hard-won international accords on trade and climate are discarded. The result has been a special kind of challenge for those whose jobs are to advocate for their countries and explain the president and his unconventional ways at home.
The article added that senior diplomats and officials from nearly a dozen countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia have come to accept the fact that Trump is so far gone, “the situation is unlikely to improve.”
David Ignatius added a day later that the American president and his team have been overcome by “policy paralysis,” adding, “Trump’s slurs and insults may be distracting us from a more basic foreign policy problem: On some key issues, when it comes to actual policy plans, the cupboard is bare.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland this week was careful not to criticize Trump directly, but when asked specifically about criticism of the American president, she replied, “I think this is probably the most uncertain moment in international relations since the end of the Second World War.”
If Sarah Huckabee Sanders believes Donald Trump – having effectively abandoned the mantle of Leader of the Free World – is a source of international stability, “keeping the world from chaos,” she’s mistaken.