Saturday, November 18, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Trump chaos unsettles the world

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It took just seven days into his presidency for Donald Trump's bombast and thoughtlessness to create chaos, uncertainty and opportunities for mischief on the international stage. Mexico's president canceled a state visit after Trump moved ahead on a border wall, raising the prospect of a trade war. Israel, sensing the Trump administration would be more accommodating, approved a massive Jewish settlement in disputed territory in the West Bank. Trump scrapped a trade deal with Asia, cut aid to family planning in poor nations and signaled a tough new line against immigration, diplomacy and norms outlawing torture. He also gave Russia a green light to meddle further in Syria. One week down, 207 to go.

Trump's first week demonstrated with alarming clarity the danger of a president who is woefully unprepared and uninterested in the complexities of managing the modern world. Using Twitter and public appearances scripted on the fly, the president and his new administration charted an entirely new course on global affairs that has rattled our friends and rewarded our enemies. The only question, as Friday's visit by British Prime Minister Theresa May reinforced, is how willing and able America's partners will be in nudging Trump back from the chaotic brink.

Trump's intention to increase security along the border with Mexico was never in doubt. But his order Wednesday to move ahead with a wall, coming days before Mexico's president was due for a visit, was a slap in the face to America's neighbor and third-largest trading partner. Trump's executive order calling on local governments to assist federal authorities in rounding up suspected illegal immigrants (and facing sanctions if they don't) was another reckless and legally questionable move that further inflamed tensions. And it didn't help when Trump's spokesman floated the idea of taxing Mexican imports to pay for the wall — a suggestion the White House later softened but which raised the threat of a trade war.

Trump shows no regard for the impact his pronouncements. The Israeli approval of new settlements in the occupied West Bank undercut a global push to reinforce the two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the bedrock of any durable peace. The president's withdrawal from the trans-Pacific trade deal encourages China to expand its economic influence and military ambitions in Asia. His refusal to assert a U.S. role in the Russian-led Syrian peace talks creates a void Moscow will continue to exploit. Trump's order putting the Keystone pipeline back into play already has raised doubts about the future of the global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

May delivered a smartly nuanced speech Thursday to congressional Republicans in Philadelphia, agreeing with Trump that Europe needs to contribute more toward its own defense and acknowledging the need to reform NATO, the United Nations and other institutions. But she also strongly defended NATO, which Trump has trashed, and the nuclear arms agreement with Iran, which Trump has called the worst deal in history. "Our two countries together have a responsibility to lead," May said. "Because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and for the world."

It's been a chaotic, unsettling week — and there's no telling what the next presidential tweet will bring.

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