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Trump’s brand of diplomacy is looking weak and ineffectual

Donald Trump now faces the possibility of playing an ever diminishing role on the international stage in the remaining years of his first term, and it may not be long before America’s allies in Europe consider the possibility of working around him to salvage and somehow retain the traditionally strong linkages built over the decades since World War 2 in areas such as security, intelligence-sharing and trade.

editorials Updated: Jul 17, 2018 18:08 IST
Hindustan Times
US First Lady Melania Trump, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, and US President Donald Trump pose with a football after a press conference following their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16(AP)

Donald Trump’s term as President of the United States has been anything but conventional, and it was widely anticipated that his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki would be unlike most conventional diplomatic summits. Mr Trump was, after all, meeting the man who has been blamed by US intelligence agencies and numerous others of overseeing the set-up accused of widespread meddling in the 2016 polls that brought the president to power. And once the joint news conference was over on Monday, Mr Trump looked like he had, as one US media outlet put it, caved in “spectacularly” to Mr Putin. Another media outlet described Mr Trump’s performance at the news conference as a “personal and national embarrassment”.

Such reactions weren’t surprising as Mr Trump appeared to side with Mr Putin and to contradict the US intelligence agencies. Mr Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, broke with the president and reiterated the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and the “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”.

Some even uncharitably suggested that Mr Trump refuses to acknowledge the possibility of Russian meddling in the elections because it would strengthen his critics. Even top leaders of Mr Trump’s Republican Party, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, publicly rebuked the president for his comments and pointed out that Mr Trump should stop looking at Russia as a friend and ally.

Mr Trump’s brand of diplomacy, based more on personal rapport and his instincts than the sage advice of the mandarins at the state department, was left looking weak and ineffectual. And Mr Putin, who has been blamed by western intelligence set-ups of personal involvement in the meddling in the polls in the US and other countries, emerged much stronger.

The fiasco in Helsinki followed the controversial visit to the United Kingdom, where Mr Trump criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit policy, the US president’s description of the European Union as a trade “foe”, even though the 28-member bloc has played a crucial role in enforcing US sanctions, and a personal attack on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is no surprise, therefore, that long-time allies of the US such as Germany are openly saying they can no longer rely on this White House.

Mr Trump now faces the possibility of playing an ever diminishing role on the international stage in the remaining years of his first term, and it may not be long before America’s allies in Europe consider the possibility of working around him to salvage and somehow retain the traditionally strong linkages built over the decades since World War II in areas such as security, intelligence-sharing and trade.

First Published: Jul 17, 2018 18:07 IST