Policy surprises

Again Donald Trump is full of surprises when it relates to foreign policy. After a week when Mike Pompeo and John Bolton were squeezing the Venezuelian government, Trump calls Vladimir Putin. After conversation, the president denies that the Russian Federation is heavily involved in Venezuela, he contradicts his foreign policy team that it is involved in helping Nicolas Maduro. Moreover, after North Korea launched medium missiles, Trump’s advisors denied that it represented a violation.

You cannot say that the president does not know how to keep it interesting. Unless Putin has completely altered his foreign policy, something is up between Washington and Moscow. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, met with Pompeo in Finland. Bolton is evoking Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary which states that our hemisphere is America’s backyard. Russia, already burned by the United States on Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Iran, would not appear to be eager to sell out allies such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Unless there is an agreement on the Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The overwhelming defeat of Petro Poroshenko in the presidential election and the elevation of a comic might have persuaded Trump that the Ukraine is a bust as an ally. Putin, perhaps eager to regain territory which he regards as in Russia’s backyard, may demand a swap. If this is not the case, little of what Trump is doing makes sense. But the movement is intriguing with the U.S. moving closer to a realistic and sustainable foreign policy.

Although Bolton seems his same belligerent self, Pompeo has softened the rhetoric. With Trump appearing to reach out to China and Russia, Pompeo might be willing to forego the all or nothing approach of Bolton. But with Trump, there is no such thing as a sure deal.

Even in his domestic program, Trump never seems to stick to a bargain. He left a meeting with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi ecstatic over an agreement on building up America’s sagging infrastructure. A few days later, he reduces the bill to less than originally agreed to. That it is his style, but in foreign policy it can be risky if he reneges on any deal. It is one thing to flip on domestic political opponents, it is quite another to openly play China or Russia.

Perhaps Pompeo will persuade Trump that his ideas to warm up to Beijing and Russia may be sound. Surely Bolton burned his fingers in Venezuela with regime change rhetoric. If the military is going to overthrow Maduro, it will not be to seat Juan Guaido in the presidential chair.

Conversely, the defeat of Poroshenko in Ukraine may put an end to Victoria Nuland’s enterprise begun during Barack Obama’s administration. Whatever the reasons behind Trump’s latest tweets and conversation with Putin, it represents a change. Perhaps Pompeo and Lavrov will meet and bring the Chinese along with them to settle international disputes. It would bring back great power diplomacy in a grand fashion. Certainly the specter of national interest diplomacy replacing internationalism might make possible a world of accommodation and mutual interest.