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Trump's disjointed foreign policy

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Apr 10, 2018 - 12:06:14 PM

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WASHINGTON—Amid widespread concerns that President Donald J. Trump’s ship of state is tossing without anyone competent at the helm, the president signaled that his foreign policy will be even more incendiary, more bellicose, even to the brink of war.

His sanctions against Russia; tit-for-tat tariff threats with China; uncertainty about the U.S. military commitment in Syria; and deeper involvement in Saudi Arabia’s intervention and humanitarian crisis in Yemen; along with the U.S. border with Mexico are all part of the list.

The Trump administration’s new sanctions on several top Russian government officials, for “malign activity,” including meddling in the 2016 elections, were announced April 6. In published reports, senior Trump administration figures describe theirs as a concerted effort to push back against Russian “aggression.”

Then, after first suggesting a swift withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, the president warned that a “big price” would be paid for what he said was a chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed dozens of Syrians. In a tweet April 8, Mr. Trump blamed the attack partly on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink Women for Peace, told The Final Call. “He thinks one thing one second, then he changes his mind right after, depending on who he’s talked to. So it’s chaos, out of nobody at the helm with some real judgment.”

As far as his detractors are concerned, reports from within Mr. Trump’s chaotic White House are evidence of the president’s unfitness to rule. To his core supporters, he is doing exactly what he promised he would do, even if it means a little pain caused by Chinese economic retaliation.

“China, which is a great economic power, is considered a Developing Nation within the World Trade Organization,” Mr. Trump tweeted April 6. “They therefore get tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the US. Does anybody think this is fair? We were badly represented. The WTO is unfair to US.”

In response to the U.S. threat, targeting $100 billion worth of U.S. imports for increased tariffs, China’s commerce ministry said it would respond commensurate to U.S. action—potentially triggering a trade war. Investors reacted with a customary panic, fleeing U.S. stocks after Mr. Trump threatened more tariffs against Chinese goods. The Dow Jones industrial average closed 572 points down April 6, around 2.3 percent.

“If he doubles down on this instead of letting up, I think a trade war is a no win for either the United States, American workers, or Donald Trump on this,” said Ms. Benjamin. “And it’s hard to get him to back down once he’s started something.”

In Syria and the Middle East, more chaos, aggravated by what may be a personal hostility toward U.S. adversaries there. Talking Points Memo reports that during a recent visit to the CIA, the president “got irked that agents paused to wait for a targeted terrorist to leave his house before launching the attack so that his family wouldn’t be killed.” Mr. Trump’s new national security team is pretty much on the same page as their boss.

Both John Bolton, the new National Security Adviser is a war hawk, as is Mr. Trump’s pick to be the new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, another hawk when it comes to the Middle East. “It is very dangerous and scary to see down the road that the new people coming into the White House want to take U.S. foreign policy,” said Ms. Benjamin.

“I thought it was very encouraging when he said, ‘It’s time to get out of Syria and let others take care of the issue;’ but then turns around and all of a sudden it’s not. Once again, we have an example of a president who has absolutely no strategy in Syria, from sending more troops there and becoming more involved in that quagmire, to saying ‘we’re outta here.’ It’s very hard for people in the region to understand what the U.S. wants to get out of this, or anyone else who want to push for a negotiated solution, to know where the U.S. stands,” she continued.

Meanwhile, North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States over potential denuclearization, despite the fact that Mr. Bolton once argued in public that there is legal justification for a U.S. preemptive military strike against North Korea, administration officials confirmed, according to published reports.

Around the threats of war with North Korea, Ms. Benjamin said, “It is great that there are talks that are scheduled for May, but now that you have John Bolton coming in as National Security Adviser, that’s going to put into question how serious he (Mr. Trump) is. John Bolton has talked about military intervention in North Korea.”

“I think that he is doing it all over the world. What’s really disconcerting is the policy toward Russia. It is totally incomprehensible to most of the world, where the United States is going, with the sanctions on Russia, and yet on the other hand, we see, Donald Trump inviting (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to the White House and being very complementary about him. So, there too, is an example that no one knows what the U.S. is doing,” Ms. Benjamin said.

The U.S. has chosen Saudi Arabia, in its regional, cultural, religious rivalry with Iran. “Well there we have nothing new, knowing that Donald Trump’s very first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia,” said Ms. Benjamin. “His embrace of the Crown Prince during his three-week visit here, rolling out the red carpet for him at the White House, announcing all of the new trade deals, specifically the ones selling more weapons to Saudi Arabia, knowing that they’re going to kill, maim, and create famine in neighboring Yemen, Donald Trump seems absolutely enamored with the repressive Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and there he knows no equivocation.”

When it comes to Iran, Ms. Benjamin pointed out: “We have a reinforcement of Donald Trump’s terrible policy saying he wants to get the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, even though the Secretary of Defense says it’s in the national interest of the United States.”

Mr. Trump may very well be leading the country to the brink of war.