The president’s unpredictability once worked to his advantage—but now, it is producing a mounting list of foreign-policy failures.
“Gradually and then suddenly.” That was how one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters described the process of going bankrupt. The phrase applies vividly to the accumulating failures of President Trump’s foreign-policy initiatives.
Donald Trump entered office with more scope for initiative in foreign policy than any of his recent predecessors.
In his campaign for president, Trump had disparaged almost every element of the past 70 years of U.S. global leadership: NATO, free trade, European integration, support for democracy, the Iraq War, the Iran deal, suspicion of Russia, outreach to China. Trump’s election jolted almost every government into a frantic effort to understand what to expect. Other countries’ uncertainty enhanced Trump’s relative power—and so, perversely, did Trump’s policy ignorance and obnoxious behavior. After eight years under the accommodating Barack Obama, the United States suddenly turned a menacing face to the world. In the short run, that menace frightened other states into attempted appeasement of this unpredictable new president.