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What an unburdened Trump means for the rest of the world

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Donald Trump remains the perfect U.S. president for China – he’s not going to fuss about human rights and democracy, and he isn’t an attractive alternative to Xi’s claim to world leadership in other areas.

Having apparently survived the Mueller report, President Trump appears to feel unchained — ready to “go full animal” in the words of Steve Bannon, particularly against his opponents. Should the rest of the world worry?

Domestically, Trump is going after the Affordable Care Act again. He’s threatened to close the  border with Mexico this week and says he’s pulling aid to Central American countries. But a lot else hasn’t changed, and one big reason is the dynamics within his own administration. In cases where his instinct is to accommodate strongmen, opposition from officials such as National Security Adviser John Bolton might help preserve a rough status quo. Where they’re in broad agreement on an aggressive policy, things could get dicey.  So you might think twice if you live in the Middle East – or Venezuela.

Plus, there is always the potential for a surprise; the Trump administration could be tested by a sudden crisis.

For now, though, Russia is particularly – and publicly — gleeful. While Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary makes clear that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 election, the finding of no collusion is a blow to Russia’s most bitter U.S. critics, which strengthens the guy who cannot bring himself to criticize Moscow.

Unless Russian President Vladimir Putin gambles on another Ukraine-like adventure, chances are that little will change. Few, aside from the most extreme wing of the Republican Party, have a positive view of Russia, so any rapprochement would create an outcry. Perhaps more to the point, Bolton is a hardliner when it comes to Russia. The U.S. is distancing itself in one area where it would be possible to reach some agreements – arms control – which Russia says is a mistake. Bolton hates the arms control deals the U.S. has signed with Russia.

He is also likely to temper Trump’s inclination to cozy up to Kim Jong Un. The North Korea leader is probably feeling quite pleased. You would, too, with a president who abruptly announces he’s canceling sanctions crafted by his own administration because he “likes” you — even though your last meeting was a flop. Bolton is one of the reasons the two sides walked away from the Hanoi summit last month. He fought hard against a splashy comprehensive deal, which probably would have been a big win for the North Koreans.

China has a better idea now of the U.S. political landscape, and that might make it easier to strike a trade deal. It would be wise for President Xi Jinping to get this issue off the table so he can focus on managing China’s economic slowdown. In other ways, Trump remains the perfect U.S. president for China – he’s not going to fuss about human rights and democracy, and he isn’t an attractive alternative to Xi’s claim to world leadership in other areas. Things could get tense, though, if Xi gets too aggressive on Taiwan or projecting China’s naval power.

It will be tougher for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela – where it appears the instinct of both Trump and Bolton is to be aggressive. A year and a half ago, Trump floated the idea that the U.S. had “military options” for Venezuela. Then, the U.S. conducted a series of secret meetings with rebellious military officers. The U.S. – and many other countries – have recognized the head of parliament as the legitimate president. It keeps piling on sanctions, and Bolton is keeping up the rhetorical pressure.

Everyone who matters in the Trump administration is a hardliner on Iran, and despite their vulnerabilities, the president still is tight with Iran’s two staunchest regional foes – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Netanyahu is awaiting a likely indictment on corruption charges that could imperil his re-election April 9. But Trump’s proclamation recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was an unsubtle message that Netanyahu’s close ties to Trump have value. The proclamation cited “aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, in southern Syria,” and was roundly condemned in the region – including by the Saudis.

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is still roiling U.S.-Saudi relations, but so far Trump has been able to shield Bin Salman from the worst of the blowback, and over Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen. That has to count for something, and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has been seeking Saudi diplomatic muscle – and cash – to grease Trump’s “deal of the century” peace plan for Israel and the Palestinian territories, likely to be released after the Israeli election.

Netanyahu stands a decent chance of gaining a new term despite his legal troubles and a strong challenge from an alliance led by several former generals. Trump’s move on the Golan Heights doesn’t change the military balance there, but may push Syria’s allies, Hezbollah and Iran, to respond. Bin Salman doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, or detest Iran any less.

The most likely scenario is that the U.S. will muddle along with Russia, North Korea and China. It might try to speed up the inevitable collapse of Maduro’s government in Venezuela. If Trump feels emboldened on Iran, there are plenty of people in his administration and the volatile Middle East only too happy to help.

Comments (39)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/01/2019 - 09:24 am.

    You people don’t seriously believe that Trump is now “unburdened” to you? The guy is an historically unpopular president pursuing multiple catastrophic policies all of which face popular, legislative, and legal opposition? And he still has a year to go.

    Trump has NEVER recognized any limits on his power or authority so the Mueller report changes nothing in that regard. The most obvious characteristic of the Mueller report to emerge thus far is it’s irrelevancy. For Trump, all the Mueller investigation ever was was a focal point for derision, how has that changed?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 04/01/2019 - 10:04 am.

    I’m not that concerned about what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do. I am concerned about America. I am concerned about the crisis at the border, yes even Jah Johnson (Obama Secretary) says it’s a crisis. I am happy that manufacturing jobs have increased 400% under Trump. I am concerned about our intervention in every skirmish in the world. I am concerned with our public schools failing our children. I am pleased that lower to middle class wages are finally starting to rise. I am concerned about our too huge bureaucracies (IRS, DOJ, FBI, EPA to name a few) are out of control and need to be cleaned out of career unelected officials. We have great healthcare but a broken health insurance system. We have a terrible crisis with Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare on the horizon but no one seems to care. We have 22 Trillion in debt with 10’s of Trillions in unfunded obligations, again very little concern.

    There are many concerns that Americans can have right here on our own soil, worrying about the worlds concerns can wait. I learned a long time ago that unless you help and educate yourself, you can’t help others. Time for some America first thinking, Globalism can wait until we fix ourselves.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/01/2019 - 11:07 am.

      Thank you, Mr. Smith for providing us with an excellent summation and illustration of what “head in the sand” looks like in practical terms. I might even (sort of) agree on a couple points, but overall, far too much of this is right wing fantasy based on talking points from who-knows-where.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 04/01/2019 - 11:36 am.

        Crisis at the border, fact. Intervention in multiple countries problems, fact. Public schools in decline, fact. Trillions in debt, fact. Bureaucracy corruption, fact. Middle class wages going up and manufacturing up 400%, fact.
        We have issues here to fix first, fact.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2019 - 01:23 pm.

          Other than that there is trillions in debt and corruption exists, none of those things (and especially how you couched them in your initial comment) is even close to factual. This is delusional.

          You understand that most of the things that come out of Trump’s mouth are made up, right?

        • Submitted by ian wade on 04/01/2019 - 01:26 pm.

          Sorry, but typing the word “fact” after a statement, doesn’t make it one.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/01/2019 - 02:32 pm.

          It my express intent to make viewpoints like those espoused by Mr. Smith irrelevant. Anyone who feels free to make arguments like this needs to be laughed out of the conversation. Where the most uninformed comments exist, pushback needs to be immediate. It’s not serious to say stuff like this, while maintaining your viewpoint has any credibility.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/02/2019 - 11:20 am.

          “Bureaucracy corruption, fact. ”

          Look at the people installed as top bureaucrats by the Goniff-in-Chief. Fact.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2019 - 11:37 am.

      Nothing in this comment has any basis in reality.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/01/2019 - 02:26 pm.

      22 trillion! And the Republicans decided to expand that debt by giving a massive tax break to the rich. So much for America first.

  3. Submitted by cory johnson on 04/01/2019 - 11:11 am.

    Any other country who values liberty and standing up to terrorism will be ecstatic to have an unencumbered Trump as opposed to the most head in the sand administration ever from 2008-2016.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 04/01/2019 - 12:30 pm.

      As you are typing that, high-level Trump administration officials, for their profit and Trump’s, are hard at work developing a nuclear material supply pipeline to radical Islam. But I do have to concede the other one to you: No one can deny that the best way to liberty is through authoritarianism.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/01/2019 - 02:28 pm.

      Let me remind you that the Trump administration has disregarded the security protocols for clearances, have wasted a Congressional majority in both houses, and decided they wanted to secretly support nuclear technology sales to Saudi Arabia, the biggest supporter of terrorism, and is basically a Islamic facsist regime. Get real.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/01/2019 - 03:50 pm.

      And remember the nations that are being led by Friends of Our Beloved Leader:

      Like Turkey!

      Like The Philippines!

      Like Brazil!

  4. Submitted by Clinton Little on 04/01/2019 - 12:26 pm.

    My goodness Mr. Smith!

    I know facts can be inconvenient, toe-stubbing obstacles to even the most excellent misguided thinking, but lets all get real clear about where we’re at on US manufacturing employment.

    Were it true that “manufacturing jobs have increased 400% under Trump” it would mean that US manufacturing sector-related employment increased from between 12 and 13 million jobs in early 2017 to somewhere around 50 million manufacturing jobs in early 2019… that’s way more than double the percentage increase in manufacturing employment in the US between 1941 and 1943, the first two years of our involvement in World War 2.

    So lets all stop and think about your “fact.” Give it, say, 15 seconds. Ok. Now that you have done some thinking, should we believe what you posted?

    A 400% increase in manufacturing employment is crazy talk. Supporting opinions using crazy talk is… more crazy talk… very fashionable among certain constituencies.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 04/03/2019 - 08:28 am.

      Obama created 96,000 manufacturing jobs in his last 26 months as President, Trump created 400,000 manufacturing jobs in 2 years. 400% increase in jobs being created in manufacturing under Trump.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/03/2019 - 10:02 am.

        That’s an interesting choice of verbiage and figures.

        First, it’s not a 400% increase in manufacturing jobs, it is an increase in the rate of job creation. That’s an important distinction.

        Second, recall that in the first years of the Obama administration, the country was in a deep recession. Manufacturing jobs were declining, and continued to decline until 2010.

        Third, if you look at the numbers, the number of manufacturing jobs has increased by a little over 10% since the end of 2009, at the start of the recession. That’s still an increase, even if it’s not as splashy as 400%. However, it’s a more accurate way of measuring job growth, if your real interest is in measuring job growth and not snarking on Obama.

        • Submitted by joe smith on 04/05/2019 - 09:45 am.

          Compare the last 21 months of Obama’s economy and the first 21 months of Trump’s economy on manufacturing jobs created. Simple task, the results speak for themselves.

  5. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/01/2019 - 03:21 pm.

    Russia has meddled in our elections since 2010… at least, all under Obama’s watch. To focus only on the Trump election is to erroneously tie Russian meddling to Trump.

    Russians would have meddled no matter who was running, and they stepped it up because they didn’t like Hillary.

    Also, Trump wasn’t burdened by the investigation. He was energized by it. He didn’t survive the report, he prevailed over those who artificially built it up then watched it fall apart in their hands.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/01/2019 - 04:42 pm.

      Sorry, I watched Trump in recent weeks and months, and he was, indeed, burdened by the prospect of a negative Mueller report.

      He was tense, and in the immediate pre-Mueller, he was tweeting obsessively, incoherently, madly. He was acting like a man who knew that he had done multiple things wrong [illegal], and was finally being called on the carpet for them. He was acting guilty. Waiting for the guillotine.

      He knows. And he knows that the Mueller report’s details will reveal lots of bad stuff he did. But Barr has reassured him that he will clean up the report, removing details so that it will be months or longer before the American public knows of Trump’s Russia obsessions and obstructions of justice.

      Question one: Why did all the Trump people–including the apparently unindicted Kushner and Trump, Jr.–lie about all the Russian contacts they had? To a person, lies. On multiple secret meetings and contacts.

      Trump is acting triumphant. But that’s because the man doesn’t read: Mueller found strong evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice; that’s even in the four brief pages Barr hoped the president would be able to read.

      Poor Donald J. Trump.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/02/2019 - 08:34 am.

      Where is your evidence of previous Russian meddling? You’re wrong on all counts.

      Personally, I thought the Mueller report was a false hope for Democrats, and I immensely disliked the way the media reported it. However, the substance behind the investigation is startling. The president was not vindicated at all. No one has read the full report, and everything that was released in indictments and sentencing is a stunning display of incompetence at the best, but in reality it shows a president with total contempt for the rule of law.

      More importantly, the way in which the special council was conceived reveals utter incompetence. Trump bright this upon himself, in interviews and statements. But his genius advisor Kushner thought it was a good idea to fire Comey. A self-inflicted wound which wasted his Congressional majority. He had not been vindicated, and the evidence for impeachment is stronger than ever.

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/02/2019 - 10:02 am.

        NPR had a noontime segment in January of 2017. Two leading experts on Russia (as described by NPR) explained how Hillary created a terrible relationship with Russia and the last thing Russia wanted was for her to be president.

        They also said that the meddling had been going on since 2010. A CIA report said the 2016 Russian meddling was the “boldest yet” in a U.S. election.

        To your other point, the media has been on this “you just wait for the next report to come out” bender for years now. Again and again the media creates huge buzz before a report comes out, then crickets.

        I will not judge Trump as guilty or innocent, but there is a huge contrast between what is proposed to be in the next report than what has actually surfaced. Just read Connie’s comment above. She ‘knows’ Trump is guilty, and ‘just wait’ until the Muller report comes out.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/02/2019 - 10:56 am.

          Of course the media spun their own narrative. They are in the business of making money. I’m certainly anti-trump, but the media was right in that the biggest threat was the obstruction of Justice potential. Clearly, we all saw it in real time, there was obstruction. As this is a political matter, under DOJ guidelines, Mueller left that for Congress to decide. Quite conveniently, our new attorney general had made previous comments about his views on obstruction. Is it a coincidence he was chosen for this job?

          We don’t need the special council to know he is incompetent, a threat to democracy and has utter contempt for the rule of law. Your unwillingness to make a clear decision about the president disregard for the law (SDNY investigation as well) puts you in the same position as what you criticized Connie for.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/02/2019 - 11:05 am.

          How would you know anyways? No one has seen the report. I’ll defer judgement until an unredacted report is available. But Mueller’s indictments sure uncovered a lot of illegal activities which directly reflects Trump’s lack of leadership and incompetence.

        • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 04/02/2019 - 11:19 am.

          The Russians knew if Hillary became president they (oligarchs) would never get the monies being held in the USA (Magnitsky) so they made it their business to destroy and prevent her from becoming president and instead put in great effort–in a variety of ways but especially through social media manipulations of the American voters–to put a lackey and incompetent in the White House who had long made it clear he wanted a Trump Tower in Moscow and would say and do anything to get it (and the $$$$ that came from it.)


          “The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.

          Since 2016 the bill, which applies globally, authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and banning them from entering the U.S. “

    • Submitted by ian wade on 04/02/2019 - 01:14 pm.

      “Russians would have meddled no matter who was running, and they stepped it up because they didn’t like Hillary.”

      That alone should give you pause in your support of Trump. Do you think an ex KGB agent that has people killed liked Trump because he could work with him or manipulate him. One thing’s for sure, they feared Clinton.
      I thought you folks were all about projecting strength?

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/02/2019 - 02:37 pm.

        Ian, where did I say I supported Trump?

        To your other comment, I do not try to project strength, unless it is the strength of an argument. And that requires facts. My goal is to talk to others who may not agree with me without using accusations or assumptions.

        • Submitted by David Lundeen on 04/02/2019 - 03:55 pm.

          Ray, it’s rather implicit in your falsified grievance against the Obama administration. Do a little research about how unpopular the Magnitsky act was for Putin / oligarchs.

          Also, I don’t see you blaming McConnell when a counter-intelligence briefing was organized about the Russian threat, and when the Obama administration wanted to make a public announcement, McConnell indicated he would take any subsequent action as a form of election tampering.

  6. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/01/2019 - 07:40 pm.

    The analysis is straight forward: might is right, and the inhabitants supporters agree, take the advantage crush anyone that dosen’t agree, (Shaka Zulu, no prisoners) make them submit to your will. And if your will is corrupt, (depending on who is looking) no problem, got the power to corrupt the system, corrupt it, winning, rules, if that vision is unconstitutional, takes down the country, takes down the democracy, crush it, as long as we win! “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” Point proven with the MAGA crowd. My response: MAGA DUMP TRUMP!

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 04/02/2019 - 12:30 pm.

      Your analysis is concise and accurate, but your last sentence forsakes your analysis. Getting rid of Trump will stanch certain bleeding but won’t solve the problem you describe. The abandonment of democracy for power by any means doesn’t define Trump, it defines the Republican party, from tip to toe, leadership to base. Trump was fortuitous enough to come along at the right time and take for his own purposes what the party spent 50 years cultivating. That’s why the narrow focus on Trump is deleterious to the possibility of rescuing the nation: this can happen only if the Republican party itself is wholly delegitimized and something else can be rebuilt on the basis of reason, values and democratic principles.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/02/2019 - 03:01 pm.

        Good comment CH, cutting off the head is still a good place to start IMHO.

        • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 04/02/2019 - 04:09 pm.

          Indeed but, as they say, sometimes what appears to be the head is merely a pimple on the derriere. (Well, I don’t know that they actually say that – but it seems like they ought to.)

          In any event, a little beheading is never a bad place to start.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2019 - 09:10 am.

    The weird truth is that Trump is a bizarre example of an increasingly irrelevant President of the United States. To the extent that he has a legislative agenda, it’s dead in the water. I doubt that any other POTUS has had so little legislative success. His one and only “victory” was the tax cut, and at bet that’s a: “Meh.”

    He can sign a bunch of Executive orders, but most of them are tied up in the courts, and the rest can be signed away by the next president, who will NOT be Donald Trump.

    If his National Emergency gambit ends up “working” it will be a disaster for Republicans and “conservatives” when Democrats use it to address everything from gun violence to climate change.

    Meanwhile every responsible adult in the world is figuring out how to work and function despite Donald Trump, and hence the POTUS. While he bounces between Mara Lago and DC everyone else is figuring out how to do their jobs in lieu of an absentee president.

    Few people believe what he says or tweets, and fewer and fewer are even listening.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/03/2019 - 09:22 am.

    By the way Cory Johnson, when I say Trump is an historically unpopular president I’m referring to the fact that his popularity or approval rating hasn’t risen above water (50%) during his entire time in office thus far, and probably never will. Yes, some presidents have had lower ratings for some period of time, but no one else has failed to ever rise above 50% at any point in their presidency. You can point a poll here or there that gives him higher ratings but those are obviously outliers.

    We can only assume that Trump supporters will fall on their swords when Democrats sweep into power in 2020 despite Trump’s “immense” popularity.

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