When he ran for president, Donald Trump said he wasn’t going to telegraph his moves to America’s adversaries. He’s been doing just that. He said he wouldn’t draw “red lines” and then ignore them. That’s happening too. He vowed the United States on his watch would be a military colossus so feared that “nobody’s going to mess with us.” People are messing with us.
Trump leaves for Japan today for a series of meetings where he’ll try to make headway on foreign-policy goals at the core of his presidency: ending the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, dealing with Iran, and settling a persistent trade dispute with China. He’ll be talking privately with foreign leaders whose cooperation he sorely needs—China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe among them. (He later travels to Seoul to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.) But he’s walking into the Group of 20 summit in Osaka at a moment when his credibility has been shaken by a failure to make good on his threats and stick to his promises.
His counterparts have surely noticed that for all his bluster, Trump often folds. Understanding that the trade war has roiled the financial markets that Trump watches closely, Xi might try to extract concessions from the president in ongoing trade talks. Putin has already seen that Trump is amenable to his argument that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 elections. Trump plans to raise the issue of Russian interference, administration aides said, but Putin could use his meeting to once again convince Trump that Russia is blameless.