Key US allies 'perplexed' as Trump treats friends like enemies

President Donald Trump's decision to cancel his historic meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un left South Korea's Pr...

Posted: May 27, 2018 7:46 AM
Updated: May 27, 2018 7:46 AM

President Donald Trump's decision to cancel his historic meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un left South Korea's President "perplexed" and sparked angry protests in Seoul. One sign read: "We condemn Trump."

Welcome to life these days as a close US ally.

Under the 45th President, long-standing US friends and partners have come in for surprises, some of them bruising. Trump has questioned enduring alliances, insulted neighbors, threatened tariffs against some of America's oldest friends and made clear he'll sanction their businesses if they don't toe his line.

Trump's allies say this is the President's "peace through strength" doctrine at work, where America flexes its military and economic muscles to shape the world it wants. It's a theme Trump warmed to Friday in Annapolis, telling US Naval Academy graduates that the world is "respecting us again," a theme he stressed in his first State of the Union address, declaring that "weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."

But there are other forces at work that are shifting the ground on US relationships around the world, including the President's personality, his campaign promises and the overwhelming weight he places on domestic politics.

'We're dragging you along'

"Trump's relationships with allies are preternaturally different than any other administration we've had," said Aaron David Miller, a senior vice president at the Wilson Center.

The threats to sanction allies aren't so much a case of "if you're not with us, you're against us," said Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. "This is the administration saying, 'You're with us, even if you don't want to be with us. We're dragging you along.' "

Critics have said Trump's mercurial decision-making on international issues and his treatment of allies are undermining US interests and trust in Washington.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed to Trump's decision Thursday to pull out of the North Korea summit and said the President has "alienated our friends, doubted the value of our alliances and undermined American credibility around the world."

He and others point to a January Gallup poll that found the image of US leadership is weaker and global approval of the US has sunk to a record low of 30%.

That is 18 percentage points lower than the last year of President Barack Obama's tenure and 4 points beneath the previous record low, during President George W. Bush's administration.

The Gallup pollsters said that "based on the trajectory of what the world thinks of the US, many of the US alliances and partnerships that the Trump administration considers a 'great strength' are potentially at risk."

Some missteps are hard to understand.

South Korean President Moon Jae-In was blindsided by Trump, learning about his summit decision only after the news broke. The White House hadn't given Seoul or Tokyo any warning and Moon had to gather his national security team at midnight to determine a response. His office released a statement chastising the US for its failure to communicate.

"When you have the South Korean President say he was embarrassed and perplexed by the announcement, and they had an emergency meeting to respond, it's not a good thing," said Bruce Klingner, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

But Miller points to other, more deliberate reasons why US alliances may be on shakier ground, one being the President's campaign promise of "America First," a move to pull back from global engagement and concentrate on US development.

Under that agenda, a more transactional approach becomes the norm and "allies become much less important unless they fundamentally address a goal that's important to Donald Trump," Miller said.

That means Trump can flatter Chinese President Xi Jinping because he needs his support on North Korea, and chastise Mexico for illegal immigration, but he doesn't have to cultivate the Europeans because the issues he would need them on, including the Iran nuclear deal and climate change, "he doesn't care about," Miller said.

Indeed, the US-Europe relationship is as strained as it's been in a long time, with the possibility of a trade war on the horizon. In the wake of Trump's decision to leave the Iran deal, the White House has made clear it will sanction European companies that continue to do business with Iran. By June 1, the administration will also decide whether to slap the European Union with aluminum and steel tariffs.

Tariff threats

On Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the US will look into tariffs on auto imports that could hit Germany hard, along with traditionally close allies Canada, Mexico and Japan.

Trump signaled early that he didn't see the alliances in quite the same light as previous presidents. He questioned the importance of the military structure with South Korea and Japan, suggesting they may need to defend themselves.

He repeatedly criticized and mischaracterized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's defense funding, blasting European allies who he says don't spend enough, an early harbinger of the tensions that have developed with Europe.

Since those early days, Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord and then the Iran nuclear deal -- despite personal lobbying by the leaders of France, Britain and Germany -- has left Europeans bristling.

"It's hard to overstate how angry and resentful the Europeans are," Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said during a discussion about the Iran deal.

Some European officials are making it clear enough. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, tweeted in the wake of Trump's decision to abandon the Iran deal that "looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies."

Domestic politics are another driving factor changing the dynamic between the US and its allies, Miller said. "This administration has allowed domestic politics to so unbelievably set the tone for the foreign policy agenda," he said.

Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel broke with international consensus, drew rebukes from allies, and sparked bloody protests and criticism that the US had abandoned its role as a neutral arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But it pleased groups that backed Trump, including evangelicals. The President isn't so concerned with calculating the impact of decisions on allies, Miller said. "The thinking is, 'These people don't vote and my base, my constituency, doesn't like them either, so there you have it.' "

A third and crucial factor, Miller said, is that the President likes to be liked. It's "one of the basic guidelines that drives Trump in relationships with allies," Miller said, pointing to the difference between the President's approach to Europe and the Middle East.

Trump's decision to make his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel was not, Miller said, because they're "the two most important countries on the planet. He knew he'd be feted and flattered."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 117450

Reported Deaths: 3580
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21403766
Lake10618323
Elkhart6667111
St. Joseph6576110
Allen6292203
Hamilton4909109
Vanderburgh371931
Hendricks2747123
Monroe262736
Tippecanoe252313
Johnson2338124
Clark223657
Porter217647
Delaware198562
Cass19549
Vigo184327
Madison168975
LaPorte147441
Floyd138963
Warrick134440
Howard131863
Kosciusko124817
Bartholomew117957
Marshall101224
Dubois99119
Boone98646
Grant93334
Hancock93243
Noble92532
Henry80926
Jackson7689
Wayne76814
Morgan72938
Daviess67728
Shelby67729
Dearborn66528
LaGrange63911
Clinton60914
Harrison58724
Putnam58112
Gibson5305
Knox5259
Lawrence51529
Montgomery51121
DeKalb48711
White48614
Decatur45839
Miami4383
Greene42735
Fayette42313
Jasper3992
Steuben3877
Scott38111
Posey3400
Sullivan33812
Jennings31612
Franklin31125
Ripley3038
Clay3025
Orange28824
Whitley2796
Carroll27713
Adams2743
Wabash2718
Washington2691
Starke2677
Wells2654
Spencer2593
Jefferson2483
Huntington2453
Fulton2412
Tipton22822
Perry22113
Randolph2207
Jay1880
Newton17311
Owen1711
Martin1680
Pike1621
Rush1574
Vermillion1300
Fountain1282
Blackford1203
Pulaski1131
Crawford1080
Brown1043
Parke1032
Benton870
Ohio797
Union790
Switzerland690
Warren401
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 150809

Reported Deaths: 4741
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26961607
Cuyahoga17490656
Hamilton13191315
Montgomery7883163
Lucas7322364
Butler6040111
Summit5332252
Marion310347
Warren309649
Mahoning3073281
Stark2883175
Pickaway267844
Lorain231786
Delaware228120
Fairfield211853
Licking193663
Columbiana193280
Wood190272
Trumbull1896132
Clark181040
Clermont173123
Lake163851
Medina147539
Greene146533
Miami145451
Allen144169
Portage115566
Mercer113218
Erie94647
Tuscarawas93620
Wayne93668
Richland90319
Ross89024
Madison83012
Darke80442
Geauga72349
Belmont72227
Hancock71210
Athens7072
Ashtabula65948
Lawrence65922
Shelby64910
Auglaize6089
Putnam60823
Sandusky57720
Huron5517
Union5452
Scioto5117
Seneca48514
Ottawa46930
Preble44015
Muskingum4213
Holmes3909
Jefferson3364
Defiance32511
Henry31814
Logan3123
Champaign3083
Clinton29913
Perry2989
Brown2902
Knox28615
Jackson2636
Morrow2612
Washington26123
Hardin25613
Fulton2461
Crawford2446
Ashland2424
Coshocton23411
Fayette2326
Highland2303
Williams2133
Wyandot21312
Pike2000
Gallia19113
Meigs17610
Guernsey1708
Hocking1669
Carroll1527
Adams1354
Van Wert1233
Monroe11018
Paulding1100
Harrison643
Morgan490
Vinton473
Noble330
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 55°
Angola
Broken Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 55°
Huntington
Overcast
56° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 56°
Decatur
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 55°
Van Wert
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 55°
Fall-like Tuesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events