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Trump’s first foreign trip a test of what he’s learned, or not, about national security

President Trump s learning curve on matters of foreign policy and national security was steep even before the bombshell report this week that he had blurted secrets to Russian diplomats. Trump s first foreign trip as president, which begins in Saudi Arabia this weekend[1], is a test of the lessons he has learned about geopolitics as well as whether he can reset his chaotic administration. Many presidents have tried to use statesmanship abroad to distract from problems at home, but the Trump brand of diplomacy has some analysts worried that the nine-day tour of allies in the Mideast and Europe might only make his troubles worse.

[Upcoming trip is an opportunity for Trump and his staff[2]]

Trump mentioned few foreign policy agenda items when he reeled off what he called the successes of his young administration in a graduation address Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy, except to say that his promised wall on the Mexican border is coming closer to fruition. But he did look ahead to a trip that includes a high-stakes meeting of NATO alliance leaders, with a warning about overseas partners that rely too heavily on U.S. largesse.

With the safety, security and interest of the American people as my priority, I will strengthen old friendships and will seek new partners, but partners who also help us, not partners who take and take and take, Trump said. That echoed Trump s campaign promise to cut off global freeloaders, but also served to remind that Trump has reversed his frequent criticism of NATO as obsolete.

(The Washington Post)

Trump s national security stumbles and diplomatic course corrections began even before he took office.

[9 foreign policy issues the Trump administration will have to face[3]]

In the weeks following his surprise election victory in November, Trump stunned the foreign policy establishment by suggesting he might upend the delicate policy surrounding China and Taiwan[4]. He has since had to walk it back or risk losing leverage with China to help rein in nuclear North Korea. He raised eyebrows by meeting with Brexit proponent Nigel Farage[5] before seeing British Prime Minister Theresa May, and then suggesting that Farage would make a good ambassador to Washington. Trump then welcomed May as the first foreign leader to visit the White House, and gushed that the U.S.-Britain relationship had never been better.

Trump has backpedaled on a threatened trade confrontation with China and retracted his allegation that China unfairly manipulates its currency. He mused aloud that dealing with North Korea was harder than he thought after hearing a tutorial from Chinese President Xi Jinping during their summit in Florida[6]. His administration is expected to back off a campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem, largely because Arab leaders warned Trump that doing so would unleash violence and spoil chances for a peace deal. He did pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact as promised, but has been vague about the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has dropped rhetoric about canceling the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, and he regularly calls it a bad deal. On Wednesday, the White House extended Iran s relief from sanctions under the deal, thereby passing up an opportunity to undermine it. While every president has a learning curve in foreign policy and national security, such as former president Bill Clinton with early crises in Somalia and Haiti, Trump is also still learning the responsibilities of governance and accountability, said former State Department undersecretary Wendy Sherman.

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