The Wall Street Journal reports that world leaders are beginning to ditch the formal processes of diplomacy when they want something from the United States, preferring instead to court Trump directly. That the Journal’s prime examples are North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Turkey’s Erdogan, and Vladimir Putin is probably more telling than the note intends them to be, but both the glaring omission of Saudi Arabia and the fulsome efforts to explain that other, past American presidents also had summits with world leaders suggests a continued resistance on the Journal’s part to fully parse out the implications of what’s going on here.
They did allow a quoted diplomat to politely hint at it, however.
“At this point, foreign leaders understand that nobody can speak authoritatively other than Trump, and that what other interlocutors say may not represent the president’s position today,” said Robert Danin, a longtime U.S. diplomat, now at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.
Translation: Foreign diplomats can’t trust a damn thing United States diplomats say because none of them, as in not one, can assure their contacts that (1.) they have spoken to Donald Trump, (2.) Donald Trump agrees with what they are currently describing or offering, and (3.) Donald Trump will continue to have that same position exactly two Fox & Friends commercial breaks from now. It is impossible, even for the secretary of state himself, to make any commitment on the part of the administration, and there is no negotiation top-ranking American diplomats can engage in that does not pose a high risk of being scuttled, pared down, added to, or screamed about furiously On The Twitters when it comes time to have Donald sign the paperwork. It’s pointless.
The Journal notes that North Koreans have caught on to this, though the history of the administration’s “negotiations” with the dictatorship suggests that North Korea knew it from the very beginning. The Journal lumps Trump’s secretive, no-notes private meetings with Russian foe Putin in as part of the same dynamic, which may be something between naive and adorable on their part. The Journal worries little, however, about the implications of the United States’ vast foreign policy apparatus being rendered near useless in the face of a leader who genuinely cannot hold the same policy positions from one day to the next.
But the fact of the matter is that other world leaders have Trump’s number, and have since approximately his inauguration.