Foreign policy: “Trump has done a lot of damage”

After exchanging jeers and threats for months, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, held in 2018 what was to be a historic summit between the two countries in Singapore.

Marc Thibodeau Marc Thibodeau

La Presse

The tete-a-tete, very widely publicized, led to a vague promise of denuclearization which did not materialize. The declarations of friendship between the two politicians are a distant memory and the impasse remains just a few months before the presidential election.

“It is a total failure,” said Tom Collina, an expert on nuclear proliferation issues from the Plowshares Fund who had enthusiastically welcomed the summit.

Donald Trump managed to get the conversation started, to get a meeting with Kim Jong-un, but he never developed a plan to be able to achieve real diplomatic results.

Tom Collina, expert on nuclear proliferation issues at the Plowshares Fund

The details were left, notes Mr. Collina, to members of his team, including the hawk in National Security, John Bolton, who wanted to hear nothing of concessions to the North Korean potentate, condemning the exercise.

From the point of view of the American president, says the specialist, the primary goal of the summit, and one that followed a year later, was to give himself the stature of a statesman.

“Donald Trump is not interested in details. Everything he does is thought of in terms of the American public, ”said Mr. Collina, noting that the people of the country pay relatively little attention to the details of foreign policy.

Fred Kaplan, American author and journalist covering issues of national security and foreign policy for Slate, makes a similar observation in the Iranian case.

The President loudly announced in 2018 that the United States was withdrawing from the multilateral nuclear deal negotiated under the leadership of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and then stepped up sanctions and hostile statements against Tehran before coming close to a major military clash in January following the targeted assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.

“But what does he want to achieve at the end of the day? If he wants to bring down the regime as some members of the administration have suggested, how does he plan to do it with what he has done? Says the analyst, who points to a likely strengthening of hardliners in Iran if the conflict escalates further.

The fight against the armed group Islamic State in Syria also testifies, he says, of a certain confusion, since the president then gave free rein to Turkey to strike the Kurdish allies who had carried the battle against the fundamentalists with American support.

Generally speaking, Donald Trump does not have a comprehensive view or clear appreciation of what the strategic interests of the United States are.

Fred Kaplan, American author and journalist

Mr. Kaplan worries about the impact of the president's isolationist leanings and his tendency to ignore the advice of qualified diplomats.

The American head of state, he says, seems to take pleasure in angering his allies, within NATO and elsewhere, and without embarrassment multiplies enthusiastic statements towards authoritarian leaders, undermining the country's ability to play its traditional role on the international scene.

American statements of principle on the importance of democracy and human rights have sometimes been used in a “hypocritical” way to justify “neocolonial” foreign interventions, notes Mr. Kaplan, but the absence under l The Trump administration's leadership in this area leaves a significant void.

“There is not really a country that is able to put on American shoes”, to ensure the stability of Western alliances and potentially prevent Chinese expansionism in Asia, he said.

Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China, notes that the Asian country is probably, with Russia, the main beneficiary of the orientations given to American foreign policy by Donald Trump, even if the latter adopts a aggressive posture with regard to trade.

The communist regime, said Mr. Saint-Jacques, is acting energetically under the leadership of President Xi Jinping to expand its foreign influence, in particular through the New Silk Road Initiative (Belt and Road Initiative), which drives billions of dollars in infrastructure investments in cash-strapped countries.

He also continues to carry out repression on his territory, both in Hong Kong and in Xinjiang, while threatening with sanctions the countries which dare to criticize his ways of doing things.

Building alliances is important to face threats of Chinese reprisals and prevent critical voices from being silent, but seems more difficult to articulate in a context where multilateral institutions are criticized by the United States, notes the ex-diplomat.

“Donald Trump has done a lot of damage and China has benefited from it, but it is not irremediable damage”, he thinks.

Tom Collina believes that a victory for ex-Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate in November, would turn the tide and gradually rebuild what has been destroyed.

“But if Donald Trump is here for four more years, I doubt that it will be recoverable,” he said.

In numbers


Median of the proportion of people in 133 countries who approved of the American leadership in 2017, or 11 points less than for the ex-President Barack Obama in his last year in office


Number of countries where the drop in the percentage of people approving of the American leadership in 1380, the first year of Donald Trump's mandate, was more than 10 points, including traditional allies of the United States like Canada, the Netherlands or Portugal where the decrease was greater than 33 points


Median value of the proportion of people in 17 countries who believe that China was playing in 2018 a more important role on the international scene than 08 years earlier

Sources: Pew Research Center, Gallup