Fury but no fire: World confused after Trump's first year

A year has passed and the lights are still on: we aren't speaking Russian, or at war with North Korea, or Iran. We've...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 2:40 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 2:40 PM

A year has passed and the lights are still on: we aren't speaking Russian, or at war with North Korea, or Iran. We've not started a self-defeating trade spat with China. And right-wing populists like Brexit pioneer Nigel Farage and France's Marine Le Pen are even less relevant than they were at the beginning of 2017.

But still, after a year in power, the rest of the West is left asking: what does US President Donald Trump actually want?

We in the rest of the world had been warned the great age of American isolationism was upon us -- that the US was tired of being taken advantage of, tired of, to quote his inaugural speech, defending "other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own."

Yet the truth, it turns out, was more complicated. After a year of tweets and turns, it's still not often clear what the Trump foreign policy actually amounts to, other than more of the same, with some white-knuckle, 280-character roller coasters on the way.

Let's start with Iran. Trump said he wanted out of the nuclear deal, "one of the worst deals" he's ever seen. Yet twice he has continued to waive sanctions under the deal.

The aim is clearly to escalate pressure on Tehran through other, unilateral sanctions and to get European allies to demand separate concessions under a "supplemental deal."

But a year in, the deal remains intact, its European signatories as wedded to it as before, and the rhetoric less and less threatening every time it doesn't amount to action. There's noise, but little real change.

Trump had hoped for the ultimate deal in the Middle East. Yet that has been given to his son-in-law to privately negotiate, while publicly the Palestinians have been offended by the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

This was something Trump promised to do when campaigning, yet he didn't use it as leverage to get the Israeli government to change tack, for example, on settlement activity.

The Palestinians appear to consider the US a voice they no longer need to listen to in the peace process. But, given the peace process was pretty much dead when Trump got here, the Jerusalem announcement hardly upturned the apple cart. We are pretty much where we started, give or take some serious damage to the US' image.

Asia has provided the most immediate challenge. Yet the current talks between the Koreas ahead of the Winter Olympics -- which seem to essentially usurp the pressure of North Korea's pariah status as a rogue nuclear state in favor of immediate calm -- are happening without the US at the table.

Trump says his tough military rhetoric of "fire and fury" has forced them to the table. But it's also meant North Korea is engaged in talks with the US' ally without giving anything up -- a major victory.

The US President has promised to "handle it", but we don't know how, as the military options are all too ghastly. After the Olympics, we may end up with a belligerent North that thinks they get to decide when they talk, rather than make concessions for the opportunity.

With China, the real estate mogul who once tweeted "we have to get tough with China before they destroy us" has found himself flattered by President Xi Jinping in the Forbidden City, and at times pleading openly for more Chinese pressure on North Korea.

The relationship has been pragmatic and complex, yet not majorly different from the Obama years, bar the noise that it soon will be.

There are two places where the Trump administration has stated a specific policy that they own.

First is the recent statement by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlining five major points that need to be satisfied for the US to stop being "engaged" in Syria.

It's pretty extensive, and hard to satisfy, amounting to a series of reasons why the handful of US troops in Northern Syria might remain there for months, if not years longer.

It's exactly the opposite of what US allies feared an isolationist and tired White House would do -- inserting American forces for the long haul into a war the Obama administration bent over backwards to keep out of. But it isn't a major change: those troops were there when Trump came into power, and they will stay there.

In Afghanistan, the Commander in Chief has personally articulated a strategy for "winning," yet it does not differ massively from the 16 years of policies that have gone before it.

It shows commitment and a slight uptick in firepower and capabilities. But it is not a new approach. NATO allies are being asked to help out too, but the effort is still an American one, and will continue to be.

So on the other side of the Atlantic we are left asking what has really changed? And the answer is little: that there is much fury and smoke, but not a lot of fire to go with it.

Trump often has an angry posture, or several, for every foreign policy challenge. But the actions that follow it are very familiar.

That might be comforting to fans of American engagement -- they are not wholesale retreating across the Atlantic as former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon once intimated.

Yet they should not be lighting cigars either. The Trump White House has yet to experience a "bolt from the blue" challenge overseas. And its Commander in Chief hasn't yet been presented with real policy choices that match the fire of his tweets.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 245847

Reported Deaths: 5356
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16717168
Hinds15748310
Harrison12806188
Rankin10334204
Jackson9996172
Lee8666135
Madison7994158
Jones6112108
Forrest5826117
Lauderdale5672174
Lowndes5186106
Lafayette482792
Lamar471162
Washington4700122
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Panola357274
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Monroe3463101
Union334755
Warren334692
Marshall333264
Neshoba3310149
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Leflore2969104
Lincoln290185
Sunflower275868
Tate264759
Alcorn257850
Itawamba257058
Pike254876
Hancock246957
Prentiss240047
Scott238743
Copiah235649
Yazoo235054
Tippah233845
Simpson230166
Leake226764
Coahoma219054
Grenada213970
Covington207171
Marion203371
Adams200065
Winston196260
George195937
Wayne193029
Attala190958
Newton185142
Chickasaw179943
Tishomingo179059
Holmes167467
Jasper163533
Clay155632
Stone138818
Tallahatchie137033
Clarke135160
Calhoun132021
Smith117322
Yalobusha112534
Walthall110536
Noxubee108922
Greene108229
Montgomery107134
Carroll102320
Lawrence99817
Perry98631
Amite95725
Webster90024
Claiborne84125
Tunica84021
Jefferson Davis82925
Humphreys80324
Benton79722
Kemper75620
Quitman6678
Franklin64613
Choctaw59412
Wilkinson57424
Jefferson52019
Sharkey42317
Issaquena1576
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 414583

Reported Deaths: 5945
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson60842887
Mobile29590538
Madison26466183
Tuscaloosa20537267
Montgomery18562304
Shelby18181112
Baldwin15841177
Lee1212097
Morgan12002112
Etowah11488142
Calhoun10863197
Marshall10048106
Houston8405123
Cullman792294
Limestone785073
Elmore7670101
DeKalb757282
St. Clair7417120
Lauderdale740282
Talladega6036108
Walker5834176
Jackson571937
Colbert522270
Blount521980
Autauga507555
Coffee431456
Dale388278
Franklin362145
Chilton332965
Covington325567
Russell318910
Escambia309842
Dallas297988
Chambers275769
Clarke272933
Tallapoosa2591107
Pike245829
Lawrence239345
Marion238649
Winston222535
Bibb211347
Geneva196331
Marengo196329
Pickens195331
Hale172542
Barbour169636
Butler166958
Fayette164026
Cherokee158330
Henry149219
Monroe143617
Randolph137635
Washington135426
Clay124446
Crenshaw117444
Lamar116819
Cleburne115123
Macon111935
Lowndes107935
Wilcox99921
Bullock97128
Perry95019
Conecuh92820
Sumter89126
Greene75123
Coosa59814
Choctaw50824
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