On matters semantic and significant, the president and his team have left America’s allies and adversaries suffering through the world’s highest-stakes involuntary guessing game, struggling to decipher just what it is this government actually means.
The pressing question is not only whether anyone who is not Trump can accurately speak for Trump. It is which Trump words are the magic Trump words.
The confusion may not exclusively be evidence of inexperience and inevitable first-month disorganization, although that seems part of it.
“In the foreign policy world, predictability is a very significant currency. And yet we have in the president someone who prides himself on being unpredictable, even impulsive,” Crowley said. “Whether this is a permanent feature of the Trump administration, or just a phase as the president learns the nature of the job, that’s a question I’m not sure we have an answer for yet.”
Trump’s volatility has miffed not only America’s enemies but its friends.
Trump began a mini-feud with Australia last week over an Obama pact to accept 1,250 refugees detained in camps off the country’s coast. But the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. embassy in Australia, announced that Trump would honour the arrangement.
Australian news outlets publicized the news. A few hours later, Trump wrote on Twitter, “Why? I will study this dumb deal!
The embassy was left to tell Australians, “I refer you to the White House.” Australia’s prime minister had no clearer explanation.
“Well, that is his tweet. I’m telling you what has been said to us, and said by his spokesman, and said by the embassy,” Malcolm Turnbull said.
The administration offered up another policy muddle on a matter of considerably more strategic importance.
Asked two weeks ago about disputed territory in the South China Sea, Spicer said the U.S. would “make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country” — words that represented a severe escalation of the U.S. approach to China’s claims to the land.
Then Secretary of Defence James Mattis tamped down the rhetoric. Speaking in Japan, he rejected “dramatic military moves” and said the U.S. would “exhaust all efforts, diplomatic efforts, to try and resolve this properly.”
Mattis spoke in Japan during an Asia trip meant to reassure American allies worried by Trump’s campaign rhetoric. The visit, informally dubbed a “reassurance tour,” was of limited comfort.
In some cases, the bewilderment appears to be a result of a divide between Trump and the traditional politicians, generals and diplomats working for him. His top allies sometimes appear to be attempting to conduct traditional Republican foreign policy without him.
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