WASHINGTON – President Trump has styled himself in foreign policy as the Great Disrupter. And for a time, this unpredictable approach served him reasonably well. Leaders from China, North Korea and Iran found themselves off balance, and they sometimes made what looked like concessions.
Trump’s problem is that, after two years, foreign nations seem to have figured him out. Rather than crafting quick deals that Trump could tout as wins, these adversaries have played a waiting game. They appear to sense in Trump an impatience and hunger for the spotlight that undermine his ability to negotiate.
Trump in recent weeks has moved toward confrontations with China, North Korea and Iran. In each case, the White House has maximum goals without a clearly discernible strategy for achieving them. Trump’s statements oscillate between hardline rhetoric and invitations to personal diplomacy. Sometimes he appears to contradict positions that his advisers have taken. Once, this back-and-forth might have produced leverage for Trump; now, it often just yields confusion.
Looking at the various global showdowns, you can see a common theme – of adversaries that appear more willing to take risks in resisting Trump’s demands. Trump’s response is often to double down. This dynamic carries a danger of miscalculation.