Two and a half months along, this new administration’s foreign policy remains a work in progress.
For example: On Tuesday, President Donald Trump told senators at the White House: “We are doing very well in Iraq. . . . Our soldiers are fighting, and fighting like never before.”
This prompted some to ask what Trump was talking about. Spokesman Sean Spicer said, “There has been some progress, particularly in Mosul,” and Iran has not gained control there.
The “like never before” part was left to the imagination.
In the fight against the Islamic State group, it was reported that an anticipated military escalation in northern Iraq would include up to 300 more U.S. troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
The president has asked to expand the military budget, but there are still broad questions as to where the new billions of dollars would be spent. The budget as filed included no specific mention of North Korea, Iran or China.
One partial change was reported Thursday, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notified Congress of his plans to waive human rights conditions tied to selling F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, which the Obama administration had imposed.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) agreed with the move, saying the Obama conditions would be “counterproductive” to “maintaining security cooperation and ultimately addressing human rights issues.”
Trump made statements before his election about taking a more detached approach to NATO, which his apparent ally Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, likely would applaud.
After meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said her country owed NATO “vast sums of money.”
But how that claim may proceed is anyone’s guess.
Both Germany and the U.S. denied an apparently erroneous London Times report that Trump gave Merkel a bill for $377 billion.
Earlier, key appointees issued statements during their Senate confirmation hearings more critical of Russia than their boss’.
Foreign trade is another area where Trump has set a different tone from his predecessor, but the details and impact have yet to play out.
A draft proposal circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative suggests the Trump administration will seek only modest changes to NAFTA, The Wall Street Journal reported.
This plan, if enacted, would keep some of the deal’s touchiest aspects, including an arbitration panel that lets investors get around local courts to work out disputes, according to the report.
But the plan would allow Mexico, Canada or the U.S. to reinstate tariffs if a flood of imports threatens to harm domestic industries.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is history, as Trump promised. The president has done photo ops with Harley-Davidson executives to tout an emphasis on improving trade and jobs.
But Mike Levatich, the company’s chief executive, had supported the TPP as a way to improve Harley-Davidson’s position in foreign markets.
Levatich said last month: “TPP was important to us, but now, of course, we are turning our attention to whatever bilateral trade agreements that could help level the playing field for Harley-Davidson.”
Here, too, the coherence and impact of the new policies remain to be seen.