Trump’s trip to Europe was a complete disaster, and not because he acted like a boorish bully

On his recent visit to Europe, he managed to convey once again his contempt for America’s European allies, and to demonstrate that he places more value on his own personal comfort than on the sacrifices that US soldiers have made in the past.

The trip itself cost millions of taxpayer dollars, yet Trump chose to skip a key ceremony honoring US war dead at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery because it was raining.

The White House offered up a cloud of unconvincing excuses for Trump’s absence, but other world leaders were not deterred by the fear of a few raindrops, and neither were past presidents ObamaClinton, Bush, or Kennedy back in their day.

By choosing to stay warm and dry in his hotel room while other world leaders acknowledged the heroism of those who fought and died for freedom, Trump gave the concept of “American exceptionalism” a whole new meaning.

Overall, Trump seemed intent on proving that while the obligations of being president might force him to go on such trips, he doesn’t have to behave himself while he’s there.

For example, Trump is correct to accuse China of engaging in a variety of predatory trade practices and of failing to live up to its World Trade Organization commitments. He is also right when he complains that Europe has neglected its own defenses and relies too much on American protection (though he still seems to think NATO is a club with membership dues)..

He is hardly the first US official to criticize European defense preparations but being unoriginal doesn’t make it wrong.

Trump is also correct in his belief that Europe, Russia, and the United States would be better off if the divisions that presently divide them could be bridged or at least alleviated.

It would be better for Europe if Russia withdrew from Ukraine, stopped trying to intimidate the Baltic states, and stopped murdering former spies in foreign countries.

It would be good for Russia if Western sanctions were lifted and it no longer had to worry about open-ended NATO expansion. And it would be good for the United States if Russia could be pulled away from its increasingly close partnership with China.

For that matter, Trump wasn’t wrong to see North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile programs as a serious problem that called for creative diplomacy.

The real problem is that Trump has no idea what to do about any of these issues, and he seems incapable of formulating a coherent approach to any of them. To the extent that he does have an actual policy toward Europe, for example, it is the exact opposite of what the United States ought to be doing.

Trump’s broad approach to Europe is one of “divide and rule.” He’s called the European Union a “foe” of the United States, and he has backed a number of the political forces that are now roiling the Continent and threatening the EU’s long-term future.

He endorsed Brexit, expressed his support for Marine Le Pen in France, and thinks well of illiberal leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary and Andrzej Duda of Poland. Why? Because he thinks dividing Europe into contending national states will allow the larger and more powerful United States to bargain with each European state separately rather than face all of them together, and thus secure better deals for itself.

This approach might be termed “Neanderthal realism.” Playing “divide and rule” is a good idea when dealing with real enemies, but it makes no sense to sow division among countries with whom one has generally friendly relations and close economic ties, and when their collective support might be needed in other contexts.

This approach also runs counter to Trump’s stated desire to reduce US security commitments to Europe and to get Europe to take on greater responsibility for its own defense.

If you really want the United States to get out of the business of protecting Europe, you should also want Europe to be tranquil, capable, prosperous, and united after the United States withdraws. Why? So that Washington doesn’t have to worry about developments there and can focus its attention on other regions, such as Asia.

A Europe roiled by xenophobia, resurgent hyper-nationalism, and persistent internal wrangling wouldn’t be to America’s advantage; it would be just another problem area we’d have to keep an eye on.

Nor would a divided Europe be of much use in addressing any of the other problems on America’s foreign-policy agenda.

Why doesn’t Trump see this? Possibly because he is reflexively relying on the same tactics that brought him to the White House.

It has worked tolerably well here in the United States, because a lot of Americans are still angry or fearful and Trump is both shameless and adept at fueling those emotions. This same instinct leads him to behave abominably abroad: Insulting British Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, deriding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada as “Very dishonest & weak” or derisively tossing Starburst candies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of G-7 leaders.

.. The problem, of course, is that the boorish behavior and conflict-stoking policies tend to backfire on the world stage.

.. Trump’s bullying bluster didn’t win big trade concessions from Canada, Mexico, or South Korea; the shiny “new” trade deals Trump negotiated with them were nearly identical to the old arrangements and in some ways inferior to them.

And given how Trump has treated America’s allies, why would May, Merkel, Macron, Abe, or Trudeau do him (or the United States) any favors? The declining US image abroad compounds this problem, as foreign leaders know their own popularity will suffer if they help Trump in any way.

.. Trump’s personal conduct is not even the biggest problem. Arguably, an even bigger issue is the strategic incoherence of his entire transactional approach. His overarching objective is to try to screw the best possible deal out of every interaction, but this approach instead makes it more difficult for the United States to achieve its most important foreign-policy goals.

.. Threatening trade wars with allies in Europe or Canada makes little sense from a purely economic perspective, for example, and it has made it harder for the United States to address the more serious challenge of China’s trade policies.

If Trump were as worried about China’s trade infractions as he claims to be, he would have lined up Europe, Japan, and other major economic actors and confronted China with a united front. Similarly, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and threatening allies with secondary sanctions not only raises doubts about America’s judgment (because the deal was working, and the Europeans know it); it just fuels further resentment at America’s shortsighted bullying.

.. It is increasingly clear that Trump was never the brilliant businessman he claimed to be; he got most of his wealth from his father using various shady tax dodges, and the Trump Organization may have been heavily dependent on illegal activities like money laundering.

.. We should focus less on his personal antics and inadequacies and focus more on his inability to formulate effective policies, even on issues where his instincts are in fact mostly correct.

.. Sadly, the 45th US president possesses a world-class ability to get things wrong, even when he’s right.

Donald Trump and the fish food dump: How early reports got it wrong

It was a story that seemed to reinforce stereotypes of President Donald Trump: On a visit to Japan, he was handed a box of food for a ritual feeding of carp, and after doling out a few spoons’ worth, he got impatient and dumped the rest of the box all at once.

Initial reports of the food dump — like this early video from CNN — suggested that Trump acted on his own. This pushed the late-night Twitterverse and blogosphere into a tizzy. The website Jezebel posted a story headlined, “Big Stupid Baby Dumps Load Of Fish Food On Japanese Koi Pond.”

U.S. allies see Trump’s steel tariffs as an insult

No world leader has tried harder to get on President Trump’s good side than Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Whether racing to New York the day after the 2016 election and presenting Trump with a $3,755 gold-plated golf driver, or taking him out on the golf course and serving hamburgers for lunch, Abe has cultivated a close personal relationship with his American counterpart.

.. But now, Japan, which is not just led by a friendly politician but also is a key security ally of the United States, looks likely to be slapped with tariffs on its steel exports to the United States. And to add insult to injury, the reason, Trump says, is rooted in national security.

“The U.S. is suddenly treating Japan as a target,” said Tsuyoshi Kawase, a professor of international trade policy at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The Japanese side is bewildered and confused.”

.. countries that figured, no matter the bumps in relations with Washington, they would wind up on the same side against China in any dispute over steel or unfair trade practices. And yet suddenly there is talk of a trade war between the United States and its supposed friends.

.. Even those leaders who have grown accustomed to the zigs and zags of the Trump White House say this could be different. The consequences of Trump’s targeting other priorities — the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal chief among them — have not had an immediate, concrete effect. But the tariffs could soon put citizens in ally nations out of work, and if a trade war escalates, all sides could feel the pain, officials from Brasília to Brussels to Seoul say.“The impulsiveness of the decision caught us by surprise,” said Diego Bonomo, the head of foreign trade at the National Trade Association of Brazil. His country is the second-largest exporter of steel to the United States.

“It’s an economic shot in the foot,” he said. “When they impose tariffs to hurt Brazilian steel, they hurt their own coal exports and exports of products that use steel.”

.. Trump’s order came hours after Japan and 10 other countries formalized a new Pacific free-trade agreement

.. The announcement also upended a Saturday meeting of the top U.S., E.U. and Japanese trade negotiators, who were originally scheduled to convene to talk about how to take on what they say is China’s unfair support for its steel industry. Instead, officials say, the meeting may turn out to be the first salvo in an unfolding and escalating trade skirmish.

.. The frustration is compounded by Trump’s national security rationale. In fact, say U.S. allies, there is no national security risk to importing steel and aluminum from one’s closest military partners. And any move that damages their own industries also hits at overall NATO readiness and hurts trust among allies, they say.

.. But that response could backfire, some analysts say. If the WTO rules against the White House, and Trump chooses to ignore the ruling, that could effectively spell the end of the organization.

.. “To be honest, everyone kind of agrees with us,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door European efforts. “I haven’t found anyone who says, ‘No no, the president is right.’ ”

.. The prospect of steel tariffs follows on the heels of similar levies on solar panels and washing machines. But it comes at a sensitive time on the front of North Korean diplomacy.

..  tariffs could have a “negative impact on South Korea-U.S. relations,”

.. Many in Japan worry that Trump’s effort may ultimately undermine global security, not bolster it.

“When trade friction grows between allies, the alliance is weakened,” Watanabe said. “But it’s unclear if Trump understands that.”