Late on Monday evening, the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, started making calls to European allies. A few hours earlier, they had got word from sources inside the Trump Administration that the President was poised to impose costly steel and aluminum tariffs by the midnight deadline. No one knew for sure (“The decision lies with the President,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said on Friday, standing next to Trump, after flying to Washington to lobby him personally), but it seemed like there could be a trade war between the United States and its closest partners within hours. Then Ross called the British Trade Minister, Liam Fox, with a reprieve: Trump had finally decided that there would be another month-long extension. The word came less than two hours before the White House publicly released the news. It was already approaching midnight in Europe. L’état, c’est Trump.
Little more than fifteen months into his Presidency, the attention-seeking President has the rest of the world right where he wants it: hanging on his every word, clamoring for personal meetings, beating its way to the Oval Office. He is the indispensable man. Soon he will meet Kim Jong Un, of North Korea, in an unprecedented nuclear summit. Next week, in advance of a May 12th deadline, he may single-handedly decide whether to blow up the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the United States with the world’s five other major powers. The smart betting is that he will, but he may not. Nobody knows, and that’s the point: all roads now lead through Trump.
Indeed, Trump has set up the next month as an extraordinary display of high-stakes summitry and deadline brinkmanship, with himself right in the middle of it all. One way or another, we are likely to learn much more about his approach to the world in the coming weeks: Will he finally release his long-promised plan to bring Middle East peace to coincide with the May 14th opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, which he ordered moved from Tel Aviv and is seen as an affront by millions of Palestinians who consider Jerusalem their capital? Will he personally show up, as he recently hinted he might? Will he successfully rewrite the nafta pact with Canada and Mexico, or carry out his threat to withdraw from it as the latest round of negotiations comes to an end? What about actually pulling out of the Iran deal and the next deadline for steel and aluminum tariffs, now set for June 1st? Or, for that matter, the North Korea summit he agreed to impulsively, despite cautioning by his advisers; will he really go through with it in late May or early June?
With almost every decision, Trump risks alienating close allies of the United States in Asia, North America, and Europe, who are already feeling beleaguered by a President who treats them more like followers than partners. Twice in recent days, senior European officials told me variations on the following: Trump’s pledge of a foreign policy based on “America First” really may turn out to mean America Alone.
There is one nation conspicuously missing from Trump’s long list of upcoming deadlines and deals, but it has proved to be the most divisive one of all: Russia. [Continue reading…]