With Trump as President, the World Is Spiraling Into Chaos

Trump torched America’s foreign policy infrastructure. The results are becoming clear.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan, visited The New York Times editorial board, and I asked him about the threat of armed conflict between his country and India over Kashmir. India and Pakistan have already fought two wars over the Himalayan territory, which both countries claim, and which is mostly divided between them. India recently revoked the constitutionally guaranteed autonomy of the part of Kashmir it controls and put nearly seven million people there under virtual house arrest. Pakistan’s prime minister compared India’s leaders to Nazis and warned that they’ll target Pakistan next. It seems like there’s potential for humanitarian and geopolitical horror.

Khan’s answer was not comforting. “We are two big countries with very large militaries with nuclear capability and a history of conflict,” he said. “So I would not like to burden your imagination on that one, but obviously if things get worse, then things get worse.”

All over the world, things are getting worse. China appears to be weighing a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in Hong Kong. After I spoke to Khan, hostilities between India and Pakistan ratcheted up further; on Thursday, fighting across the border in Kashmir left three Pakistani soldiers dead. (Pakistan also claimed that five Indian soldiers were killed, but India denied it.) Turkey is threatening to invade Northeast Syria to go after America’s Kurdish allies there, and it’s not clear if an American agreement meant to prevent such an incursion will hold.

North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile testing continue apace. The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is more remote than it’s been in decades. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. A Pentagon report warns that ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria. The U.K. could see food shortages if the country’s Trumpish prime minister, Boris Johnson, follows through on his promise to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place for the aftermath. Oh, and the globe may be lurching towards recession.

To be sure, most of these crises have causes other than Trump. Even competent American administrations can’t dictate policy to other countries, particularly powerful ones like India and China. But in one flashpoint after another, the Trump administration has either failed to act appropriately, or acted in ways that have made things worse. “Almost everything they do is the wrong move,” said Susan Thornton, who until last year was the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, America’s top diplomat for Asia.

Consider Trump’s role in the Kashmir crisis. In July, during a White House visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump offered to mediate India and Pakistan’s long-running conflict over Kashmireven suggesting that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do so. Modi’s government quickly denied this, and Trump’s words reportedly alarmed India, which has long resisted outside involvement in Kashmir. Two weeks later, India sent troops to lock Kashmir down, then stripped it of its autonomy.

Americans have grown used to ignoring Trump’s casual lies and verbal incontinence, but people in other countries have not. Thornton thinks the president’s comments were a “precipitating factor” in Modi’s decision to annex Kashmir. By blundering into the conflict, she suggested, Trump put the Indian prime minister on the defensive before his Hindu nationalist constituency. “He might not have had to do that,” she said of Modi’s Kashmir takeover, “but he would have had to do something. And this was the thing he was looking to do anyway.”

At the same time, Modi can be confident that Trump, unlike previous American presidents, won’t even pretend to care about democratic backsliding or human rights abuses, particularly against Muslims. “There’s a cost-benefit analysis that any political leader makes,” said Ben Rhodes, a former top Obama national security aide. “If the leader of India felt like he was going to face public criticism, potential scrutiny at the United Nations,” or damage to the bilateral relationship with the United States, “that might affect his cost-benefit analysis.” Trump’s instinctive sympathy for authoritarian leaders empowers them diplomatically.

Obviously, India and Pakistan still have every interest in avoiding a nuclear holocaust. China may show restraint on Hong Kong. Wary of starting a war before the 2020 election, Trump might make a deal with Iran, though probably a worse one than the Obama agreement that he jettisoned. The global economy could slow down but not seize up. We could get through the next 17 months with a world that still looks basically recognizable.

Even then, America will emerge with a desiccated diplomatic corps, strained alliances, and a tattered reputation. It will never again play the same leadership role internationally that it did before Trump.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The most powerful country in the world is being run by a sundowning demagogue whose oceanic ignorance is matched only by his gargantuan ego. The United States has been lucky that things have hung together as much as they have, save the odd government shutdown or white nationalist terrorist attack. But now, in foreign affairs as in the economy, the consequences of not having a functioning American administration are coming into focus. “No U.S. leadership is leaving a vacuum,” said Thornton. We’ll see what gets sucked into it.

Trump to America: Who’s Going to Stop Me?

An unbound president invites more foreign election interference.

In a new interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, parts of which were released on Wednesday evening, Donald Trump announced his willingness to betray and subvert American democracy, again. Asked what he would do if he were offered foreign dirt on an opponent in 2020, he said he’d take it, and pooh-poohed the idea of calling federal law enforcement.

“Oh, let me call the F.B.I.,” he said derisively. “Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.”

That Trump has no loyalty to his country, its institutions and the integrity of its elections is not surprising. That he feels no need to fake it is alarming. With the end of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, House Democrats’ craven fear of launching an impeachment inquiry, and the abject capitulation of Republicans to Trumpian authoritarianism, the president is reveling in his own impunity.

.. Just this week, the administration announced plans to move migrant children to an Oklahoma military base that formerly served as a Japanese internment camp. On Tuesday, responding to reports that the murdered half brother of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was a C.I.A. source, Trump sided with the totalitarian dictator. “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices,” he said, meaning, as best as anyone could make out, that he wouldn’t let American intelligence spy on his dear homicidal friend.

It’s all shocking and outrageous, but few can summon shock or outrage anymore. Many of us are struggling to ward off learned helplessness, the depressed, withdrawn state created when terrible things keep happening and you feel powerless to stop them.

But Trump’s opponents are not powerless. They helped halt at least the first iteration of Trump’s Muslim ban when they rushed to airports in protest. They saved the Affordable Care Act when they flooded congressional town halls. They flipped the House despite the advantage Republicans secured for themselves through gerrymandering. And they could demand, now, that their representatives shore up our democracy against a president determined to defile it.

Trump’s professed willingness to accept foreign intelligence on domestic political foes represents more than just another norm-eviscerating outburst. It’s an action in and of itself. On July 27, 2016, Trump publicly asked Russia for help obtaining Hillary Clinton’s emails: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. Thanks to Mueller, we now know that Russian intelligence started trying to hack Clinton’s server just hours later. Intelligence services in countries that benefit from the Trump presidency — including Russia, North Korea and Saudi Arabia — may take this latest invitation equally seriously.

The Trump of the Tropics: How Brazil’s President Came to Power

Jair Bolsonaro spent most of his career on the political fringe, until his message started to resonate with a country reeling from economic hardship and a widespread corruption scandal.

President Trump welcomed Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, to the White House on Tuesday. We look at the back story of Mr. Bolsonaro, whose campaign tactics, incendiary rhetoric and brash style have earned him the nickname “Trump of the tropics.”

After the Trump-Kim Failure

The president was right to walk rather than accept a bad deal, but look out ahead.

President Trump was right to walk away from his summit with Kim Jong-un rather than accept a bad nuclear agreement, but the outcome underscores that he was bamboozled last year at his first summit with Kim. Whatever genius Trump sees in the mirror, “the art of the deal” is not his thing.

At this meeting, Kim apparently sought a full end to sanctions on North Korea in exchange for closing only some nuclear sites. That was not a good deal, and Trump was right to walk rather than accept it.

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump said, adding: “Sometimes you have to walk.”

President Reagan famously marched out of a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, rather than accept an arms control agreement with Russia that he regarded as flawed. A year later the Russians returned with better terms and a deal was made — and we can all hope that something similar will happen this time.

Still, there are significant risks ahead. The most important is that North Korea may return to testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, for that would mark a huge escalation of tensions and renewed concerns about brinkmanship and war.

Unfortunately, North Korea is an otherwise unimportant country that gets attention only when it behaves provocatively. So its leaders have learned that their best leverage is to fire missiles, detonate warheads, or start up nuclear complexes.

While Trump was right to walk in this case, he also seems to have played his hand poorly in the run-up to the summit. In particular, he signaled that he eagerly wanted a deal and that “fantastic success” was likely, all of which probably led Kim to raise demands in the belief that Trump would fold.

With normal presidents, summit deals are largely agreed upon ahead of time. As one veteran diplomat put it, presidents pull rabbits out of hats, after diplomats have worked diligently ahead of time to stuff the rabbits into the hats. But Trump has never had much patience for that meticulous diplomatic process, instead placing excessive faith in breakthroughs arising from personal relationships — and his faith was clearly misplaced this time.

The North Korean side had refused to hash out the summit outcome in advance with the highly regarded U.S. special envoy, Stephen Biegun, presumably because Kim thought that he could outfox Trump in person in Hanoi the way he had in Singapore nine months ago.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

It is also distasteful to see Trump praising Kim and referring to him as “my friend” and a “great leader,” and, last year, asserting that Kim had sent him “beautiful letters” and that “we fell in love.” It’s perfectly appropriate to engage with ruthless dictators, but fawning over them is a betrayal of our values.

The Strengthening Case Against Trump

Two days earlier Trump had to sit alongside three past presidents through the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. With Bush lauded as almost his exact opposite in style and manner, Trump looked throughout as if he wished he were anywhere else. Meanwhile, the stock market’s entire gains for the year were wiped out as Trump’s supposed trade truce with China fell apart.

It also became clear just how badly Trump has lost control of Congress. The Democrats’ gain in the House of Representatives continued to rise (the latest number is a stunning 40 seats), as closely fought, undecided races in last month’s midterm election continued to fall the party’s way. And some Republican senators are finally breaking ranks with Trump over the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (a pet of both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner) in the grisly murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Unlike Trump, the senators refused to subordinate the moral and real-world implications of permitting a foreign government to murder a US-based journalist to the president’s exaggerated claims about the Kingdom’s future arms purchases and its supposed strategic role in curbing Iran’s regional ambitions.

.. At long last, we learned what embarrassing information Russian President Vladimir Putin had on Trump, after Cohen told prosecutorsthat Trump had long sought to build a grand, highly lucrative hotel in Moscow, permission for which had to come from the Kremlin. (Russia also stood to gain significant revenue from the project.)

.. Cohen’s testimony also highlighted the likelihood that various aspects of US foreign policy, including favorable statements about or treatment of certain autocratic leaders, have been influenced by Trump’s private business interests – existing or desired – in those countries, which include Turkey, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia. Meanwhile, Trump’s hotels, especially his expensive new one near the White House, received business from various countries. This is especially significant because, unlike his predecessors, Trump refused to detach himself from his private business when he took office

.. The corruption extends to Trump’s immediate circle. His daughter Ivanka was awarded trademarks from China for her clothing line (now defunct, though she has retained the trademarks and sought new ones). Her husband, Kushner, is believed to have used his position to try to find funds to pay off excessive debt incurred by his family’s real-estate business. And Cohen literally sold his supposed access to Trump to businesses for a reported $4 million (though how much, if anything, he delivered is open to question).

.. Trump’s ever-stranger behavior of late – including more frequent and more hysterical tweets – has been widely attributed to his growing realization of what the Democrats’ takeover of the House of Representatives means for his presidency.