Wavebreakmedia Ltd/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Just shy of his 100th day in office, President Donald Trump — the first U.S. president with no political, military, or foreign policy experience — has shaken up the globe, surprising allies with his demands, adversaries with his military action, and maybe even himself with his new power.
During his short time in office, Trump has had to make decisions about life and death, war and peace, and military and diplomacy, as his administration exerts itself on the world stage. Here are the top foreign policy moments of his first 100 days.
Surprise strikes on Syria
The “America First” president shocked the world with his muscular response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Just days after the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad reportedly bombed the town Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas, Trump ordered 59 Tomahawk strikes on the air base where Assad’s planes are said to have taken off.
“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” he said at a Rose Garden press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah.
Critics on the left and right were surprised that the businessman who had decried years of wasteful spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was ready to play the world’s policeman. But allies, from the UK to Israel, applauded the response, even as Russia and Iran blasted the U.S. for the attack on their ally Assad.
The administration has left the door open to more strikes against Assad for further violations of international laws and norms — although it has faced some confusion on its views of Assad’s future and its priorities in Syria.
High-stakes diplomacy with China
If Syria was the moment of crisis for Trump, China has been the steady challenge.
Candidate Trump bashed China constantly, citing the country as a source of America’s problems, often with graphic language. They were manipulating their currency, stealing American jobs, beating the U.S. on trade, even raping the American economy.
But now that he’s in office, Trump has taken a more nuanced tone, culminating in a two-day summit at his private club Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He agreed to abide by the one-China policy, to not label China a currency manipulator, and so far, to not slap them with the sort of tariff that critics said would start a trade war.
Instead, Trump appears to be using that tough economic talk as leverage to get China to help with North Korea. Since the summit, Trump and Xi have spoken twice by phone, and China may be pressuring its ally and neighbor North Korea a bit more.
This is an important space to watch, though, as the stakes in North Korea rise or the domestic politics in China change.
Boiling tensions with North Korea
Key to that is what happens next in North Korea, where every day the rhetoric seems to heat up. North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States for years, but it just could happen under Trump’s watch.
On a critical trip to Japan, South Korea, and China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that all options are on the table and that the time for “strategic patience” is over. And the President said the U.S. would send a strike group and a nuclear submarine to the area, although it took some time before the USS Carl Vinson and company actually headed toward those waters.
Now, the world anxiously awaits what that means if North Korea successfully tests an intercontinental ballistic missile or another nuclear bomb. If Trump strikes preemptively, will it mean all-out war on the Korean peninsula, as strongman Kim Jong-un has promised?
So far, the administration is pursuing diplomatic and economic options in the face of those fiery words and after the Kim regime detained a third American citizen. The pressure on China to do more is working, they say, and this week both Trump and Tillerson will speak to the United Nations Security Council, to push full implementation of existing UN sanctions.
But even then, it’s unclear how far China is willing to go on North Korea, since it fears destabilizing or toppling the regime. Trump and Kim’s next moves are treading on a fine line here, as the world holds its breath.
The Russian question
For months now, the Trump administration has been dogged by questions about ties between his advisers and the Russian government. Those questions still loom, as the FBI and two Congressional committees investigate.
It’s created a dilemma for the real estate magnate who promised to “get along” with Russia and work on what he saw as common issues, including terrorism. Complicating that campaign promise are the politics of working with the country that reportedly hacked his political opponent to favor him and the reality on the ground in places like Syria, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has labeled as terrorists and even targeted American-backed rebels.
That tension came to a head with Tillerson’s big visit to Moscow, meeting with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Initially announced at the same time that the State Department said Tillerson would skip a NATO summit, critics were quick to pounce that the Trump administration was insulting European allies in favor of Russia.
At those meetings, Tillerson and Lavrov commented that U.S.-Russian relations were at their lowest point yet. They tried to paper over major differences on Syria and promised to take steps to work together down the line — although no tangible changes have been announced so far.
Accelerating the fight against terrorism
The most apparent change in U.S. foreign policy may be what Trump has done to the military, pushing for a more robust, muscular presence to take on terror groups around the world.
The administration granted new capabilities to commanders in Yemen and Somalia, allowing them to conduct more airstrikes without individual White House approval. They returned strike authority to battlefield commanders in Iraq and Syria. And the military dropped the world’s largest, non-nuclear bomb on an ISIS cave complex in Afghanistan.
But the increased activity has created more risks, too. Early into his administration, a controversial raid in Yemen killed several civilians and a U.S. Navy SEAL. U.S. airstrikes in Mosul, Iraq, and Al Jinah, Syria, may have killed hundreds of civilians. The military is still investigating those claim but it did reveal that it accidentally bombed a U.S.-backed Syrian rebel position, killing 18 allied fighters.
In its fight against terror, the Trump administration has also targeted what it sees as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism — Iran. While it reviews its Iran policy writ large, especially whether it will abide by the nuclear agreement, it has blasted Iran for its support for terrorists in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq; for harassing U.S. ships in international waters in the Persian Gulf; and for its missile tests and its continued pursuit of a nuclear bomb, according to Tillerson. That review should conclude in mid-July.
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