Trump at the G20

Trump continues to struggle at major international meetings.

Via the NYT:  Dodging Friends, Chased by Legal Troubles, Trump Navigates G-20

To some experts, Mr. Trump’s truncated schedule represented a new phase in his unorthodox approach to statecraft.

“In previous meetings, Trump has been more focused on undermining the very notion of a global agenda, let alone affirming the U.S.’s leadership role in defining it,” said Vali R. Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “But in this one, with the exception of his working dinner with Xi, he is not even doing the key bilateral meetings.”

“Some” as in, I would care to wager, practically all.  This is a great example of the NYT being rather judicious, unnecessarily.  While I am sure someone, somewhere with a Ph.D. after their name would love to pontificate about what a great idea Trump’s approach is, I am certain that such persons are both rare and not well regarded in international relations.

It is more than reasonable to suggest deviations from past strategies might be advisable.  Having said that, I cannot image a coherent, cogent argument as to why Trump’s approach is an improvement. I agree, as the piece also notes, that too much focus is put on face-to-face meetings, but cancelling meetings via Twitter and eschewing communication altogether is not an improvement.

William J. Burns, who served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, said Mr. Trump was dismissive of traditional diplomacy and appeared distracted by the investigation of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“The net result is not just a missed opportunity,” Mr. Burns said, “but the acceleration of international disorder and the long-term weakening of American influence.”

Put another way:  so much winning.

All snark aside, for a President who claims to be all about strength, this behavior is clear weakness (and petty incompetence).  More importantly, his entire approach is one that lessens American influence.  It is not strength.

Elliot Abrams defends Trump as follows:

“The president came to office believing that personal relations among leaders were a central part of international relations,” said Elliott Abrams, who has worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “I believe he has found that most foreign leaders will not allow personal likes or dislikes to affect policy, and that national policies are most often driven by history, geography and bureaucratic decision-making.”

The problem is, all Trump talks about are personal relationships, and I do not for a minute think he understands the historical or bureaucratic context of the countries in question (or, the one he ostensibly leads).

In general, I think that much of his behavior boils down to this:  he can’t socialize with the people he wants to (Putin and MBS) and he has already alienated our traditional allies, so can’t socialize with them.  As such, he is left mostly with pouting.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Mikey says:

    unorthodox approach to statecraft

    For fuck’s sake, why do they keep trying to normalize this? It’s not an “unorthodox approach to statecraft.” It is not statecraft AT ALL. It is, at best, utter shrieking incompetence, and at worst, the active undermining of America’s influence in the world.

    It seems like the only action a politician has ever taken that the NYT didn’t try to normalize was Hillary Clinton’s goddamn e-mail server.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Trump does not believe personal relationships are important, he believes personal relationships that enrich him personally are important. Putin pays Trump and covers for him. MBS pays Trump and gets cover in return. Trump is not capable of any relationship that is not crudely transactional. Trump has all the character of Richard Nixon minus about 40 IQ points. He’s stupid Nixon.

    It’s an astonishing fact that the world is moving on without us. We are increasingly irrelevant. The world’s only superpower, the world’s largest economy, and our president is left to pout in a corner like the ill-behaved child he is, while the adults talk.

  3. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    our president is left to pout in a corner like the ill-behaved child he is, while the adults talk.

    Sure a good thing we didn’t elect that over-emotional, low stamina woman. Who was it that said empires commit suicide?

  4. grumpy realist says:

    @gVOR08: Trump is a one-man empire wrecking machine. He’d gladly serve up the U.S. to whoever strokes his ego.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    Even if personal relationships did trump national concerns, Trump would still be a failure as everyone seems to hate being around him.

  6. Kathy says:

    Random Trump joke:

    Q: How do you define gross incompetence?

    A: 144 Donald Trumps

  7. Gustopher says:

    While his new approach of not bothering to meet with world leaders is deminishing the US’s influence, I think we really have to consider the alternative before we condemn it — Donald Trump having more influence.

    He’s not bothering to do the job, and international institutions are just going on without his input. Given how poorly he does the job when he bothers… I think this is a good thing.

    Also, it is another sign that he really isn’t enjoying this whole president thing. I like that he is unhappy.

  8. Teve says:

    I think it’s good the US is losing stature in the world, because American tards conservatives are the biggest global obstruction to dealing with Global Warming. If the rest of the world is more inclined to say “Fuck the US” they’re more likely to form a serious anti-GW coalition, and then perhaps sanction us until we comply.

    The US is the most powerful country in the world, but only with allies. If the whole world unites against us we’re actually pretty weak.

  9. CSK says:


    Trump’s not doing the job because he’s not capable of it. He has no interest in learning, and lacks the ability or interest to do so anyway. He can do rallies. He can lie in bed eating cheeseburgers and KFC while watching reruns of Hannity.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    I think you’re using the wrong yardstick here, Steven. It’s certainly true that Trump is undermining US interests and making us a bigger laughingstock every day. And it’s even true that he is utterly incompetent to advance US interests or win the respect of foreign nations, even if he wanted to.

    But he doesn’t care. His only agenda is intensely domestic — that is to say, his own family. And within that family, mostly himself. And his pathetic performance abroad is not hurting him with the supporters he relies on, so why should he change it?

    The burning issue is how we became a country where that many people are ignorant tools, and what we can do about it as soon as possible.