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Not Just Russia: Why Trump’s Diplomatic Chaos Is So Dangerous

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Not Just Russia: Why Trump’s Diplomatic Chaos Is So Dangerous

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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

How to make sense of Donald Trump’s foreign policy? Is Trump an “America First” Jacksonian nationalist? An isolationist? A neoconservative? A conventional captive of the DC foreign policy establishment? A Russian puppet? An unhinged warmonger?

At any given moment he might appear to be any of these. But none of these labels quite capture Trump’s most distinguishing foreign policy characteristic: he’s a rube.

Consider what might be the most dramatic international development of Trump’s still-young presidency: the crisis in the Persian Gulf that broke out over the past week. Qatar, the tiny Arab kingdom where more than 10,000 U.S. troops are stationed, is suddenly a pariah within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-member regional body dominated by neighboring Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and their allies, all of which the U.S. shares, are accusing Qatar of supporting extremist groups and of being a conduit for Iranian influence. Qatar is currently being blockaded and may run out of food, while regional affiliates of its state-backed TV network, Al Jazeera, are being shut down. (Disclosure: I am a former employee of the now-defunct Al Jazeera America, but have no current ties to that organization or to Qatar).

However this crisis plays out, it is surely not a coincidence that it comes on the heels of Trump’s high-profile visit to the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where he posed with a glowing orb alongside the Saudi king and the Egyptian dictator after signing off on a $100 billion arms deal (maybe). Since the blockade began, Trump has voiced support for the Saudis, as have officials in Israel, which was Trump’s next stop on his foreign trip. It certainly appears Trump gave the go-ahead, implicitly or explicitly, for a crackdown on Qatar, despite the aforementioned U.S. troop presence there.

One might conclude Trump is a strong supporter of Israel and Saudi Arabia, like many neoconservative policymakers, and earnestly believes that Qatar is the main source of extremism in the Middle East. But as Trump himself accurately pointed out not so long ago, Saudi Arabia is a major offender in this regard too. And even if he did hold this view, the neocon-dominated George W. Bush administration is responsible for building up the U.S. presence in Qatar. For better or worse, they didn’t let their distaste for the Qataris get in the way of their grand imperial strategy in the region.

What seems likelier is that Trump is getting played. He enjoyed being feted by the Saudis and the Israelis, believed whatever they told him, and has now signed off on a profoundly destabilizing course of events that undermines basic U.S. interests in the Gulf. On top of that, on Friday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed the alliance with Qatar and was contradicted by Trump, which is an almost unprecedented level of dysfunction in setting the basic terms of foreign policy. Staffing shortages at the State Department mean that Trump, who knows almost nothing about the nuances of international affairs, is not getting informed perspectives to compensate for his ignorance. Whereas a better-advised and more competent president, regardless of ideological orientation, would want the U.S. to manage a feud between its allies, Trump was happy to take the Saudi side, thereby exacerbating the crisis he helped set off in the first place.

Trump’s behavior regarding Qatar also helps account for the Russia scandal slowly eating away at his presidency. Various theories have been put forward for Trump’s warm feelings toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, ranging from a deep ideological affinity, to the alleged existence of kompromat that could be used as leverage against him, to his willingness to accommodate energy companies looking to extract billions of dollars in crude oil from the Arctic Circle. But the simplest explanation may be that Trump, again, was duped. He trusted Michael Flynn, who was happy to take money from the Russian government and to attend RT’s gala seated opposite Putin, whereas an even modestly well-advised presidential candidate would have shunned Flynn. (During Flynn’s brief tenure in the Trump administration, he also pushed for a policy shift favoring Turkey, from which he had also taken a large sum of money).

Trump savored Putin’s contempt for Hillary Clinton, and while anyone else might have been disturbed by the possibility of Russian hackers interfering in the U.S. election, he openly encouraged it. There may or may not be a deeper conspiracy at work here, but either way, Trump’s ignorance, credulity, and casual willingness to be used by a foreign power at the expense of U.S. interests are what made any of this possible.

Sometimes, Trump’s incompetence serves as a check on his most volatile instincts. For instance, after engaging in saber-rattling with North Korea and suggesting that the U.S. might act unilaterally without regard to Chinese interests, he actually spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and came away with a sober, mainstream approach to North Korea. On the one hand, this helped avert what could have been a very dangerous situation. On the other hand, it established that Xi, like his counterparts in Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and elsewhere, can easily manipulate the U.S. president to serve his interests.

At best, this means that the American Empire is going into accelerated and perhaps overdue decline under Trump. But the more disturbing implication is that it will encourage instability and regional wars. Trump may not be a puppet of any one country, but he’s also not the puppet of every country; there will be winners and losers in an international system where the U.S. has no strategic vision. Qatar, an authoritarian monarchy with a terrible human rights record, might not be the most sympathetic example, but its current plight demonstrates just how unreliable the U.S. is under Trump.

Delicate arrangements that have long been taken for granted—the cold peace between China and Taiwan, or between Russia and NATO members like the Baltic states, or many others—are now open for renegotiation. Whether or not Trump intends to set off more crises, his very nature makes them more likely, and he lacks any qualities that will allow him to effectively manage them when they happen. If he really were a Russian puppet, it would almost be reassuring.


David Klion is a former editor for Al Jazeera America and World Politics Review. He lives in Brooklyn and has written for the Guardian, the New Republic, Gothamist, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @DavidKlion.


This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 12, 2017

    Let’s just admit it—even you Trolls_for_Trump—that Trump is a Simpleton thrust in a position he knows nothing about, thanks to a large number of boorish Trump supporters.
    Voters whose idea of geopolitics and healing social ills is to get a minimum wage job, harass innocent women wearing hijabs, to wield deadly weapons at anyone with a dark complexion unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of male Trumpites, or being guaranteed a position in a Coal mine, breathing dangerous fumes 9 to 5, 24/7.

    The article mentions the likelihood that Trump is being played as far as the Gulf crisis is concerned, and that is extremely likely. Given Trump’s dearth of gray matter, greed, a crying need to be adored, and lack of clarity of vision and thinking, Putin was alert to the fact that Trump was a prized sucker to go after and co-opt.

    It’s no surprise that every time Trump wakes up in the morning, a crisis is waiting to happen just because he gives off bad Karma. The world is now a far more dangerous place thanks to Trump, and the GOP machinery that keeps him from sinking, or falling off the wall like some Humpty Dumpty.

    1. Independent1 June 13, 2017

      Aaron, talking about Trump having a crying need to be adored, this article has to be disturbing to anyone with any sense of sanity; which clearly leaves out all the morons who work for Trump.

      Trump Invites His Employees To Praise Him During Cabinet Meeting

      President Donald Trump invited his top employees to shower him with compliments on Monday. They happily obliged, one-by-one, on live television.
      During a Cabinet meeting at the White House, the resident touted the “record-setting pace” of his legislative agenda and claimed “never has there been a president, with few exceptions” who has accomplished more while in office.

      Trump then went around the table and called on each official to deliver brief remarks, beginning with Vice President Mike Pence.The bizarre scene that ensued resembled something out of North Korea, as each Cabinet official attempted to outdo one another with nice statements about their boss.

      And more here:


      1. Dominick Vila June 13, 2017

        I lived in Venezuela when General Perez Jimenez was in power, and in Spain when Generalissimo Franco was in power. What happened yesterday brought back memories of an era that I thought belonged in the annals of history. That was downright embarrassing. Did you notice Tillerson’s body language?

        1. Edencmichael June 13, 2017

          Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj283d:
          On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
          ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialJobsCash283ShopWinPay$97Hour ★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★✫★★:::::!mj283d..,….

        2. Independent1 June 13, 2017

          Yes, he looked a bit uneasy during much of the meeting. And what he and Trump and virtually every other Trump lackey in the room are too clueless to realize, or intentionally ignore, is that none of them have really accomplished anything new; virtually everything Trump and his cohorts have done so far is tearing down what Obama and past presidents had accomplished.

          Destroying something always goes faster than building it up. And yes, Trump and his crew have succeeded in destroying an enormous amount of the progress that Obama and past presidents had accomplished – and that includes progress that a lot of passed Republican presidents had contributed to the betterment of our country. Trump hasn’t accomplished anything new that wasn’t in reality an embarrassment such as what happened in Saudi Arabia and the Mideast recently and which is even now sowing discord in that region.

          Trump is so clueless that he believes his EOs are the equivalent of laws. In a past email he was claiming that during his 1st 100 days he had presided over the creation of more than 28 new laws; he was clearly referring to the travesties he calls his destructive executive orders that are endangering all Americans’ lives; including the idiots sitting in that sad excuse for a cabinet meeting; and they’re endangering the lives of even billions of other people in every other country around the planet; not just from global warming but also from heightening the prospects of more wars around the globe and increased violence from racial hatred around America.

      2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 13, 2017

        When I read about that bizarre Cabinet meeting, a sense of nausea overcame me. Imagine—A room full of myrmidons, eagerly competing with each other to gain Trump’s approval. As though they were at King Arthur’s Round Table, a group of newly knighted knaves, picked from a crowd of dwellers in the hinterlands, are shipped to Camelot, dirty and boorish, behaving like buffoons trying to get some bananas by performing the best to get the King’s attention.

        A more wretched meeting can’t be imagined.

        1. Independent1 June 13, 2017

          And Aaron, it’s not just cabinet meetings; his website is even promoting his own birthday. See this email from DONALDJTRUMP:


          Did you see this note from the First Lady?

          Next week, we’ll be presenting President Trump his official birthday card signed by millions of Americans just like you.

          And Friend, we wanted to be sure you didn’t miss the chance to join us in our celebrations.

          if you haven’t already, be sure to sign your name to the President’s
          official birthday card before 9:00 PM on Wednesday, June 14.

          Thank you,

          Team TRUMP

          P.S. – This is President Trump’s first birthday in the White House
          working for the American people and we want to make sure it’s one he’ll
          never forget. Sign the official card today!

  2. Dominick Vila June 13, 2017

    In addition to the obvious uncertainties created by Trump’s conflicting statements and actions, and his propensity to insult or intimidate anyone he believes his challenging him, and in addition to the need to investigate the extent of foreign interference in our elections, the most likely revelation is going to be money laundering. A crime that some members of Congress may interpret as bribery, one of the articles of impeachment. No wonder El Trumpo is not considering firing special counsel Mueller!

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth June 13, 2017

      Trump isn’t aware of Nixon’s folly, but it’s uncanny the way he is duplicating the Watergate mess. I hope he tries to follow through on that brain-dead tactic.


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