Trump has positioned himself, at home and abroad, as the “disruptor in chief,” a political insurgent throwing stones at the establishment on behalf of the people who elected him. He relishes it.
But as a result, the U.S. is standing alone on more key global issues than ever before. And America's seductive sheen of "soft power" — the ability to get what they want through attraction and persuasion — has been diminished.
Trump has praised the presidents of global rivals Russia and China, while criticizing the leaders of America’s closest allies Britain and Germany. He has also sowed doubt about America’s commitment to its oldest alliances, such as NATO.
It’s too early to say whether Trump’s foreign policy has been a success or failure. However, several things are clear.
The “Middle East peace process” has made no obvious progress; it’s a phrase beloved of policymakers and journalists that cloaks a desert of failure and frustration.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been put in charge of it, with little to show so far. This, after Trump boasted that peace between Israelis and Palestinians “is something that I think is frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” Officials suggest there may be something to announce in early 2018.
Trump has also been at war in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen as he targets ISIS, al Qaeda and their affiliates.
He signaled a change in policy in Afghanistan, announcing 4,000 extra American troops to help the 11,000 already there. He also dropped nearly 4,000 bombs on the country, including the largest non-nuclear bomb ever detonated.
And Trump has Iran in his sights. In his campaign Trump promised to support Israel, confront Iran and get out of other people’s wars in the Middle East.
Despite his campaign promise to scrap the Iran nuclear deal — “the worst deal ever negotiated”— on Day One in office, he hasn’t yet done so.
But in October he decertified the nuclear deal, turning his back on a U.S. commitment without providing evidence that Iran was reneging on the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is complying with the terms of the deal.
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He has hawks in his administration who believe the road to solving the problems of the Middle East runs through Tehran. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis once described the three biggest threats to America’s national security as “Iran, Iran, Iran.”
Trump has identified Iran as a centre of instability in the Middle East; the crosshairs are settling on the nuclear deal, which he would love to kill and may yet.
But so far, Trump has refrained from openly confronting what is a relatively moderate regime in Tehran, at least by its revolutionary standards.
The tectonic plates of global power are shifting. Four powers — the U.S., China, the E.U. and Russia — are jostling for global influence.
In his December national security speech, Trump stated the obvious and presented China and Russia as competitors wanting to realign global power in their interest, potentially threatening the United States.
“Whether we like it or not,” he said, “we are engaged in new era of competition.”
In the newspaper Trump describes as “failing,” the New York Times, Thomas Friedman says “in nearly 30 years of covering United States foreign policy, I’ve never seen a president give up so much to so many for so little, starting with China and Israel.” He calls it “the art of the giveaway.”
On the second of two long presidential trips, he visited Beijing and, as with the Middle East tour, managed not to step on diplomatic landmines.
The Asia tour was notable for a bland encounter with China’s President Xi Jinping, in which Trump held back from criticizing him, but made what may become one of the defining statements of his presidency; asking “who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?” On that logic potentially rests the invasion of other countries.
His personal behavior has grated with many leaders. More worrying was the new president’s seeming contempt for core Western values. The world’s most powerful state was seen to be sabotaging the order it created.
It’s still not clear where Trump’s foreign policy will take the U.S. And it’s certainly too early to pass judgment on whether he can “make America great again,” at home or abroad.
But it appears likely his combativeness will continue as he challenges accepted norms, shatters diplomatic traditions and responds to slights with thin-skinned aggression.
It’s too early to call anything “Trump-ism”— except perhaps disruption itself. He is not yet defined by Nixon’s “Madman theory” — that he can frighten any adversary into bending to his demands. One lesson global leaders are learning is that if challenged, Trump often doubles down.
But Trump is also learning. He criticized China for failing to restrain North Korea’s missile tests but then changed his mind after talking with China’s President Xi.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said the U.S. has made progress on issues like North Korea, but earlier this month conceded that the administration did not have any big victories yet. “Do we have any wins on the board? No. That’s not the way this works. Diplomacy is not that simple.”
Nor, as Trump is discovering, is governing.
Bill Neely is NBC News' chief global correspondent. He joined NBC News from Britain’s ITV News in January 2014. His reports from across the globe have earned many awards, including an unprecedented three consecutive BAFTAs, the British equivalent of the Oscars, for his work in China, Haiti, and the U.K.