How (un)ready is President Trump for his foreign trip?

1. President Donald Trump is on his first foreign trip. He visits Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican, will attend NATO, G7 summit. After few, let’s say, a bit turbulent months in the White House how (un)ready is he for this? And do you think there is something specific, maybe something unusual US partners should be ready for when dealing with Trump? Read few comments.

Paul Miller, Associate Director, Clements Center for History, Strategy & Statecraft, University of Texas at Austin.

At this point I have to assume that President Trump is and will continue to be unready and unqualified for all aspects of his office, including his upcoming foreign trip. He has so far done little during his presidency, or during his campaign beforehand, to demonstrate his readiness to execute the requirements of the presidency. I do not foresee that changing.

For the past 70 years the United States has led the world in upholding the liberal international order. Under the Trump presidency, US allies must step up and assume a greater share of the burden. The US government is led by a chief executive who is disinterested and unprepared to continue America’s historic role, and he is surrounded by officials who will be too preoccupied mitigating the damage he does to compensate for his absence on the international stage. The rank-and-file in the US government—and the American people—desire to sustain our partnerships and alliances, but we need the allies to step in and take the baton for a few years while we work out our internal challenges.

Kurk Dorsey, Professor of History, University of New Hampshire

The key to Trump’s foreign policy is how much he listens to his foreign policy team, especially NSC director H. R. McMaster and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.  Secretary of State Tillerson seems to be largely a non-entity so far, although it may be that he is playing a bigger role behind the scenes than we know (but there have been so many leaks that I think we have a pretty good sense of who is influential).

At times, it does seem as if Trump is listening to McMaster and Mattis, who have long been involved in maintaining the standard goals of US foreign policy over the last few decades–support for global institutions and maintenance, however flawed, of international norms.  So at times we have seen a President Trump acting counter to candidate Trump’s positions (attacking Syria, going slow on trade deal renegotiation, cooling toward Russia, etc.).  I have assumed that those acts show the impact of McMaster and other people who are fundamentally committed to the Bretton Woods/Truman Doctrine order.

But, to get to your second question, Trump is so completely unpredictable that I believe that he did in fact share classified information with the Russians in the White House.  President Obama took plenty of criticism for undermining U.S. credibility for not attacking Syria in defense of his red-line regarding chemical weapons.  Now we see a president who is really attacking the idea that US foreign policy should be predictable; so in that sense, I expect him to keep talking about how he can solve anything, but I have no idea what he will actually do at any of these meetings.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Trump will find and listen to his own George Shultz, who succeeded in becoming indispensable to Ronald Reagan and reining in the people who wanted to derail his various internal opponents.  Of course, the key difference is that Trump is his own internal opponent, whereas Reagan was pretty consistent in his positions.  Trump will need to find that person (McMaster I hope) and focus, which is clearly his weakest suit.

Jack GoldstoneProfessor of Public Policy, George Mason University

What foreign leaders should be ready for is: anything! Trump has shown he is completely unpredictable and uncontrollable. He may be willing to agree to any deal that he thinks furthers the fight against terrorism, or supports trade/jobs in the U.S. So Trump might be bold and surprising, but might also be manipulated into sharing information or making deals that no one expects.

James Goldgeier, Dean, School of International Service, American University

Foreign leaders must prepare for his unpredictability and his short attention span.  Most challenging for them is that even when he seemingly makes a commitment, he doesn’t have any problem changing his mind later.


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