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Better days: Paul Manafort on stage with Donald and Ivanka Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention (©Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)


A sense of gloom is descending over Washington. Once again, a president is under fire; once again the prospect of jail haunts denizens of the West Wing; once again impeachment looms as a real possibility. Unlike Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, however, Donald Trump has rattled his allies and partners since his first days in office, much as he did during his insurgent election campaign. The prospect of instability therefore compounds a development that many politicians and observers overseas, both friendly and hostile, have perceived since January 20: an America that is at war with itself and unable to maintain its long-standing role as leader of the free world.

Admittedly, the Trump Administration has backed away — somewhat — from the President’s unsettling campaign promises and his announcements during his early days in office. The United States has not declared China to be a currency manipulator. It has not taken any steps to move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has not renounced Nato, or backed away from Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Indeed, America has dispatched more troops to Europe, for longer exercises than was the case under President Obama. Nor has it terminated participation in the North Atlantic Free Trade Area, though it has initiated a process of renegotiating the agreement with its North American partners, Canada and Mexico.

On the other hand, Trump undermined America’s position in East Asia by terminating American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He further upset his Asian allies, notably Japan and South Korea — which he visited in early November — by engaging in dangerous schoolboy taunts with the unpredictable and trigger-happy young ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. He upset his European allies when he refused to certify that Iran was abiding by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal. And by pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accord he paved the way for China to present itself as a leader in global environmental policy.

Indeed, unlike Nixon, who resigned before he was impeached by the House of Representatives, or Clinton, who was impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate, Trump does not appear to be able to erect a wall between his foreign and national security policy and his domestic travails, in no small part because foreign — that is, Russian — machinations are at the heart of the ongoing investigation that has rocked Washington. Trump’s hands are tied with respect to Russo-American relations, even though a dialogue between the two states is critical to resolving the conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, and perhaps even Libya.

Trump’s “America First” policy not only underpins his opposition to free trade but also signals a weakening of America’s security commitments to her allies. Moreover, the President’s constant recourse to “tweet storms,” which are not necessarily consistent with one another, and which he continues to view as policy decisions, has confused allies, friends, and even adversaries as to what exactly America’s national security policy is. Not surprisingly, many states have to a greater or lesser extent chosen to go their own way, effectively sidelining Washington as they have done so.
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