Trump's transition from businessman to statesman heavily scrutinized by global media
Apparent lack of strategy in communication with foreign leaders has drawn criticism
Trump has defended his unorthodox approach
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition is being viewed at home as chaotic, and his move from candidate to statesman is being closely scrutinized by the global media as well, particularly his communications with world leaders.
Once again, Trump has bucked past practices for a more unorthodox approach, leaving many wondering if this signals an overhaul in US political procedure and a taste of things to come.
What protocol has Trump not followed?
Traditionally, the President-elect turns to the State Department for briefings prior to taking or returning calls from heads of state or government. This was how the transition team coordinated its international outreach strategy for then President-elect Barack Obama in 2008. The State Department said it wasn’t contacted until Thursday, after Trump had already spoken with several leaders.
Why has this been problematic?
This appears to have contributed to confusion from several foreign governments wishing to offer the incoming President their congratulations on his victory. A diplomatic source has told CNN that one US partner had to make multiple attempts in contacting the Trump camp to successfully arrange a phone call between their head of state and the President-elect.
When calls were finally arranged, they were connected without any appearance of vetting or confirmation of the individual calling, according to several diplomats who spoke to CNN.
Illustrating some of the unconventional approaches international leaders have taken, the Australian prime minister was supplied with Trump’s cell phone number by golfing legend Greg Norman after Joe Hockey, Australia’s ambassador to the US, contacted him seeking the information.
How does it differ to Obama?
Back in 2008, Obama returned 22 calls from foreign leaders in what was described at the time as a considered strategy prioritizing leaders from countries with strategic importance and the time they called, according to Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.
Trump’s transition team have released a list of 29 foreign leaders that it said have spoken to the President-elect and vice president-elect. It did not specify if all leaders spoke to both men, or if some only spoke to Trump or Pence.
CNN has made several attempts to independently verify which leaders spoke to the President-elect and confirmed that he has spoken with the prime ministers of Ireland, Australia, Canada, Japan, Italy, Israel, Denmark and the UK in addition to the presidents of Egypt, Russia, Turkey, France, China, Mexico, Argentina, South Korea and Ukraine. Trump has also spoken to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Saudi King Salman bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud.
Calls and emails to the remaining nine heads of government to find out if they spoke with Trump went unanswered. CNN has not verified which world leaders also spoke to Pence.
The President-elect responded to media reports querying what appears to be a random call sheet for foreign leaders.
“I have received and taken calls from many foreign leaders despite what the failing @nytimes said. Russia, U.K., China, Saudi Arabia, Japan,” he said in a tweet Wednesday.
Before adding in a second post: “Australia, New Zealand, and more. I am always available to them. @nytimes is just upset that they looked like fools in their coverage of me.”
What does it tell us about Trump as a world leader?
The unusual nature of Trump’s campaign has followed him into the transition phase and his apparently unsystematic technique for speaking to world leaders has raised eyebrows.
“It’s all a bit haphazard as far as I can see. It doesn’t seem to follow any logical order,” former British ambassador to US Christopher Meyer told CNN.
“I wouldn’t attach much importance to it except that it’s all part of the learning process for him as well … It’s all part of getting used to being President-elect and then President.”
However, Leslie Vinjamuri, an associate professor in international relations at SOAS, University of London, told CNN that Trump’s preference in communications with Russia has “caused anxiety among America’s European allies.”
“It is short-sighted not to turn first to the United Kingdom,” said Vinjamuri, who also serves on the council of Chatham House. “Inevitably, any president of the United States will eventually recognize the absolutely essential role of the UK-US relationship.
“If we accept that first impressions matter, it is obvious that Trump’s path to diplomatic success is going to be longer than it needs to be.”
Meanwhile, Meyer said that the reports of international leaders bypassing traditional protocols – as in the case of the Australian prime minster – is “unusual,” but also to be expected somewhat considering Trump’s political credentials.
“I haven’t the faintest idea how this happened,” the erstwhile UK envoy said. “I would say this is all part of the process of the President-elect learning the rules of the game as he goes along. What else would you expect – he’s never been in government.”
What are the potential repercussions?
Considering how unprecedented the President-elect’s campaign turned out to be, so too are his early moves in his presidency. For Meyer, spectators across the globe shouldn’t be surprised by the fact Trump is conducting himself differently.
“The whole campaign that he has fought – both in the primaries and the presidential has been totally different – smashing all the conventions.
“The big question for outsiders, and I guess also for Americans, is which Trump is going to turn up in the Oval Office,” he added.
But this visible shift in US presidential communication strategy has been a warning flare, said Vinjamuri.
“Donald Trump’s campaign has certainly alerted us to the fact that he will not be a leader who plays by a well-recognized rule book,” she explained. “This could be very damaging especially in the realm of international diplomacy, where many of America’s partners are accustomed to the deliberative and carefully considered approach of President Obama.”
Vinjamuri continued: “But even more so, Trump has demonstrated a failure of imagination when it comes to evaluating the consequences of his words and actions on third parties. This will be potentially devastating for America’s ability to forge strong relationships with key allies.”
CNN’s Elise Labott, Kara Fox and Mark Oliver contributed to this report.