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Trump's Foreign Policy Reversals In The First 100 Days


We've been measuring the presidency of Donald Trump after nearly 100 days in office. Today, we're focusing on the Trump administration's foreign policy. Those positions are still taking shape. In fact, the president has either moderated many of his positions or, in some cases, just abandoned them altogether. Here are a few examples.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: NATO is obsolete, and it's extremely expensive.

China is a currency manipulator.

This deal with Iran is a terrible deal.

MARTIN: And just yesterday, the president changed his position on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Instead of scrapping the deal entirely, as he pledged to do on the campaign trail, he wants to now renegotiate parts of it. So what do his new positions on these issues say about an emerging Trump foreign policy? We are joined now by Richard Haass. He's president of the Council on Foreign Relations and in that role regularly meets with administration officials. He joins us now from New York. Richard, thanks for being here.

RICHARD HAASS: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: It's 98 days in. Saturday marks the 100th day. As you look back on these weeks, what do you understand the Trump foreign policy to be?

HAASS: There's no clear doctrine or anything close to that. What I think we see more than anything is the introduction of a great deal of unpredictability and uncertainty. Mr. Trump seems to want to keep everyone off balance. And by everyone, I mean friend and foe alike. And the world is essentially struggling to get a read on him and to keep up with him.

MARTIN: Can there be a benefit to that? I mean, it appears that, if there is a strategy, it's to do exactly that, to always keep them guessing, don't show your hand.

HAASS: That might be a small benefit with adversaries, the idea that they have to be careful. They're not quite sure what he's going to do next. But I think any possible upside is more than offset by the downside because there's so many friends and allies who essentially have made the strategic choice to rely on us, to place a big chunk of their security in our hands. And unpredictability, a lack of reliability and so forth, the gap between what we say and what we do essentially unnerves them. And my fear is that it's corrosive, that over time they either begin to take matters much more into their own hands, they cozy up to some powerful neighbor. But either way, it's not good for stability, and it's not good for U.S. influence.

MARTIN: But on some of these issues, he hasn't taken the extreme position. He said one thing on the campaign. You know, China's a currency manipulator, I'm going to rip up NAFTA. And then he's - he has recalibrated. He has taken a more traditional foreign policy approach to some degree on these issues.

HAASS: Absolutely right. And on one hand, there's a sense of relief. But the reality is not nearly as bad as the promise or the rhetoric, and there's - you mentioned a few things at the beginning of this conversation, but we haven't moved our embassy in Israel. We haven't torn up the Iran agreement. You're right about China. President's changed on NATO, on the EXIM Bank. It's actually a really long list. The problem, I think again, is it adds great uncertainty, and it raises questions about the - how literally to take the word of the commander in chief of the United States. And times will come when the president needs people to take him literally, to understand that what he says is what he means. And at that point, you don't want to have uncertainty be in the ears of other people.

MARTIN: The White House is far behind previous administrations when it comes to staffing, which may seem insignificant at the edges, but what's your take on this? I mean, all these vacancies in the State Department, around other key agencies, is that a problem?

HAASS: It is a problem. You don't get the input of a lot of seasoned people. And also when it comes to executing foreign policy, you know, a lot of life is execution or implementation. You don't have a large professional staff, so you're getting now too much of foreign policy run by the seat of your pants. Look - and at times, things have worked out well. I think the limited use of military force in Syria to underscore the idea that no one should be able to use a chemical weapon with impunity was a good thing. I think the pressure on China to use its influence to rein in North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs is a good thing. So don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there aren't positives, but I wonder and I worry about the ability to sustain a foreign policy without the hundreds of people who day in, day out tee up the issues for decision and then again execute it.

MARTIN: And just briefly, are you confident in the abilities of the people closest to him who are advising him on foreign policy?

HAASS: The problem is there's so many of them. You get center - different centers of decision-making and you have a certain lack of governing experience. I'll simply say let's see what happens during the first crisis and after. No administration ever escapes its first crisis unscathed.

MARTIN: Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations. His new book is titled "A World In Disarray: American Foreign Policy And The Crisis Of The Old Order." Richard, thanks so much.

HAASS: Thank you, Rachel Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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