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Trump's Attacks, Launched On A World Stage, Fall On Powerful Ears

International leaders are taking Trump seriously, writes Susan E. Reed. This time, he has to stay in his lane. Pictured: President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and others, during a visit to the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday, Jan. 25. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
International leaders are taking Trump seriously, writes Susan E. Reed. This time, he has to stay in his lane. Pictured: President Donald Trump, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, and others, during a visit to the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday, Jan. 25. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
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COMMENTARY

President Trump entered a club on Jan. 20 that is more exclusive than Mar-a-Lago, more selective than the pantheon of past American presidents and more dangerous than "Designated Survivor." It is the array of presidents, prime ministers, premiers, chancellors, kings and queens of 195 countries around the world.

Trump has come close to treating some of these countries as badly as he did his fellow presidential candidates, and that is a big mistake. His first two weeks in office have brought pushback from around the world.

Trump has come close to treating some of these countries as badly as he did his fellow presidential candidates, and that is a big mistake.

The strongest words came from Donald Tusk, the president of the European Union. In a letter to 27 members, Tusk compared the Trump administration to the threats posed by Russia, China and radical Islam. "The change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation," he wrote, "with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy."

Harsher reactions followed Trump’s sudden 90-day travel suspension of citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to the U.S. Iran launched a medium range ballistic missile more than 600 miles. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to American criticism of the test with the statement, "Let's help neighboring cultures, not build walls between nations."

Iraq’s parliament voted that its government should enact a travel ban against U.S. citizens if Trump does not withdraw its executive order to prohibit the entry of Iraqis. Iraq’s president has not yet ordered the American ban.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tutored Trump on the Geneva Refugee Convention after he suspended the U.S. Refugee Admission Program for 120 days. Under the Convention, the U.S. must allow entrance to any person to whom it has granted asylum or recognized as a refugee.

There was no need for the Trump administration to rush into the ill-conceived and poorly executed immigration orders. He could have waited until his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been sworn in to draw from the department’s proficiency. Trump, who is far from an expert in international relations, could have consulted those who actually have some experience in immigration. That was the reaction from 900 frustrated career foreign service officers who signed a dissent memo this week outlining the dangers of his actions.

Instead of gallantly accepting their expertise as constructive criticism, White House press secretary Sean Spicer rebuffed the employees. "These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?" he said. "I think they should either get with the program or they can go."

As the president trolled one country after the next and leaders put him in his place, there were faint signs that he was learning to stay in his lane.

For the moment Trump has stopped badgering Mexico to pay for his border wall after being slapped by President Enrique Peña Nieto who publicly cancelled via Twitter his trip to Washington.

Trump has not further disparaged NATO, a Western security organization, since Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May out maneuvered him, revealing during their joint press conference that he had privately committed to NATO during their meeting.

Trump has not openly pushed for safe areas in Syria after his favorite leader Russian President Vladimir Putin halted Trump’s headlong rush by warning that any such action would have to be approved by Syrian President Bashar al Assad, whom Russia supports with considerable fire power.

Unlike his presidential competitors, whom he defeated with insults and lies, international leaders could extract significant costs from Trump’s America in terms of a trade war, failure to cooperate on important initiatives, denying visas to Americans, or boycotting travel to or products from the U.S.

But just as it seemed like Trump was beginning to learn his place in the world, he erupted in a Twitter tantrum about a deal to accept 1,250 refugees that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had pressed him to uphold in a phone conversation days earlier. Trump wrote on Twitter: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

Unlike his presidential competitors, whom he defeated with insults and lies, international leaders could extract significant costs from Trump’s America in terms of a trade war, failure to cooperate on important initiatives, denying visas to Americans, or boycotting travel to or products from the U.S.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis presciently warned during his confirmation hearing that “nations with allies thrive and nations without allies don’t.”

World leaders have considerable power, resources, interests and citizens to protect. Although most countries are smaller geographically and economically than the U.S., they could pull together to penalize, sanction or exclude the U.S.

For now we should be grateful that other nations have flexed their muscles mostly with words; grateful that they knew how much authority to use and did not go overboard. Next time it might be different.

Related:

Susan E. Reed Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Susan E. Reed is a columnist who has won several awards for her international reporting and her book, "The Diversity Index."

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