Carl P. Leubsdorf, Tribune News Service
As a presidential candidate in 2016, Donald Trump promised to pursue an “unpredictable” foreign policy to keep the nation’s enemies off balance. But in recent weeks, his unpredictability seems to be keeping his own administration off balance.
Whether the issue is Venezuela, Korea or Iran, his administration has displayed contradictory positions that have created doubt about its true intent, both abroad and at home. They’ve been marked by barely concealed public dissension between Trump and his third national security adviser, veteran hardliner John Bolton.
“The president is a weapon of mass confusion,” mocked former Obama official Jeremy Bash with some justification this week on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
There has been one constant: the failure of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign to produce his desired results in world trouble spots. And with that has come a sense that his bark is worse than his bite, and that he is reluctant to follow up threats with strong actions, lest he become enmeshed in the kind of overseas wars he vowed to end.
The pattern in each case has been roughly similar.
For weeks, Trump and other top US officials denounced Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as a danger to Western Hemisphere security. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned “military action is possible” if the socialist leader failed to step down.
But Maduro, bolstered by support from his allies in Russia and Cuba, hasn’t budged, and an ouster attempt fizzled earlier this month. The Washington Post reported that Trump complained his advisers had misled him into thinking how easy this would be and that Bolton wanted to get him “into a war.”
But Trump ruled out any direct US intervention, tweeting that the United States “stands with the GREAT PEOPLE of Venezuela for however long it takes!”
About that time, the focus of administration concerns shifted to Iran. Reports surfaced the administration was increasingly concerned about unspecified threats to US forces in the Middle East, apparently in Iraq and Syria. The New York Times reported the administration was considering sending up to 120,000 troops to the region, and the State Department withdrew “non-emergency” personnel from Iraq. Trump has vacillated between threatening Iran with destruction if it attacks Americans in the region and saying he “hopes” there won’t be a war. “Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything,” he said Monday. “But we have no indication that they will.”
Left unsaid in all this is that Trump has created some of the regional tension by withdrawing from the multi-nation nuclear treaty designed to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions and tightening economic sanctions in hopes of forcing the collapse of Iran’s government.
Those pressures have proved no more successful against Iran than similar moves against Venezuela. Once again, it appears the driving force is Bolton, who has long favored attacking Iran. “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran” was the title of a 2015 Bolton op-ed in The New York Times that warned against the nuclear arms deal championed by former President Barack Obama.
The current episode smacks uncomfortably of those warnings against weapons of mass destruction that Bolton and his fellow hawks used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus, in an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” said the difference between Trump’s approach and Bolton’s is that the president is seeking a “regime behavior change” in Iran’s regional efforts and Bolton favors flat-out “regime change.”
The same Trump-Bolton conflict has been evident in Trump’s now stalemated efforts to convince North Korea to scrap its nuclear programme. After months of escalating threats, Trump ignored the inherent hypocrisy in pursuing a deal with one rogue nation while rejecting the one already negotiated with another.
Seizing on signs of interest from Kim Jong Un, he met last July in Singapore with high expectations but without the usual preparations. Afterward, the White House claimed Kim had expressed his “firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But little concrete happened, and, after months of showering praise on Kim and hailing their “love affair,” Trump met the North Korean leader again in Hanoi in February. Progress there proved elusive, a result some analysts blamed on the way Bolton devised the specific conditions for any potential agreement.
Still, Trump has continued to talk optimistically, dismissing North Korea’s resumption of short-range missile tests as not violating its pledge to stop nuclear testing and long-range missile tests. Meanwhile, US economic sanctions remain and the state of play between the two countries seems hardly changed -- except perhaps in its decibel level. That situation is pretty clear-cut compared with the impasse between the United States and Iran. In recent weeks, Trump repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, threatened destruction while saying he wants to avoid a war, and offered to hold talks, though he unilaterally broke the pact from the last negotiation. No wonder not only US enemies are confused.
A snarling warning from US President Donald Trump ahead of trade talks with China rattled stock markets on Tuesday, as brewing no-deal Brexit worries also roughed up the pound and Irish bonds again.
For the first time since the Great Recession a decade ago, the US Federal Reserve is poised to cut interest rates, shoring up America’s defenses as the global economy weakens.
European and US stocks climbed on Friday as investors kept a watch on developments at a G20 summit in Japan, where US President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are due to hold key trade talks.
A host of US consumer companies have warned that costs related to tariffs on goods imported from China would weigh on their results. The United States increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25% from 10% in May.
When children were attending school in the UAE in 2019, little did they know that their whole world would be turned upside down the following year. No more classroom interaction, either with teachers or their peers. No more games in the school grounds.
Barbara and Christine Colucci long to remove their masks and kiss their 102-year-old mother, who has dementia and is in a nursing home in Rochester, New York. They would love to have more than two people in her room at a time so that relatives can be there too.
It was “Ask Me Anything” with Dominic Cummings over on Substack this afternoon, which, even in these unpredictable times, is not a sentence I imagined myself writing a year ago. People do keep pointing out the rank hypocrisy of it all. One such person was told,
Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily has been hit by a wave of resignations as authorities push to silence the outspoken tabloid and staff mull whether to leave or stay until the bitter end. On late Monday afternoon, Apple Daily’s 1,000-odd staff