Fri, Jul 21, 2017 - Page 9 News List

When Trump goes abroad, radical change follows in his wake

By Marc Champion and Marek Strzelecki  /  Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump might be struggling to get things done at home, but in other parts of the world he is proving a changemaker.

The US president has made two foreign visits of his own choosing in the first six months of his presidency — to the Middle East and Poland. Both had rapid and major consequences, leading his hosts to believe they had US backing for high-stakes moves they had previously hesitated to make.

Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash earlier this week confirmed that Trump’s “very, very successful” trip to the Persian Gulf in May had helped trigger the decision by his country — together with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain — to launch a political and economic assault on Qatar.

The June 5 move to cut diplomatic, trade and transportation ties with Qatar, closing its only land border, came little more than two weeks after Trump’s departure from the region.

The president backed the decision in a tweet, saying that the Arab leaders he had met there had “pointed to Qatar” when he told them that funding of radical ideologies had to stop.

Poland waited just a week after Trump’s July 6 visit to pass legislation giving politicians more control over the judiciary, transferring to parliament the right to appoint the body that promotes judges.

The government also proposed to terminate the mandates of Polish Supreme Court judges and let the Polish Ministry of Justice decide which ones get to stay on and which are replaced.

Ruling party lawmakers said they had found an ally in the US president, who depicted Poland as a model European nation.

“In both cases, what we saw was an attempt to manipulate Trump, to take advantage of his lack of knowledge and foreign policy infrastructure,” said Thomas Wright, director of the center on the US and Europe at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Trump has yet to impose his foreign policy priorities on long-standing global problems, many of which also defeated his predecessors.

North Korea’s missile testing program has, if anything, accelerated since Trump entered office. The Israel-Palestinian question looks no closer to resolution. Syria’s civil war rages into its seventh year.

For many allies, the biggest worry has been that the new administration, with “America first” as its watchword, would destroy the liberal economic and security order constructed under US auspices since World War II. Trump did lead his country out of the 2015 Paris climate accord, but no others have yet followed.

Still, evidence is growing of a concrete, if unpredictable Trump effect. Some NATO nations are accelerating plans to meet the alliance’s defense spending target — encouraged to do so by Trump, but also looking toward a post-US era.

The new president might also have contributed to a slump in support for fellow populists in Europe, who received sharp boosts from his election last year, only to see their electoral prospects recede again since he took office.

In Poland, officials have not attributed their bid to assert control over the judiciary to Trump’s visit, yet there is little doubt they were emboldened by his support and the opinion poll boost that it produced.

Stopping in Warsaw on his way to a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, Trump made a foreign policy speech arguing that Western civilization, defined by faith and culture, was in peril. He singled out Poland, the subject of an unprecedented investigation by the EU for allegedly abusing the rule of law, as a beacon of freedom.

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