Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN where his columns won the Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” he was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Asia and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Major negotiations were set to take place on Wednesday in Washington on President Donald Trump’s efforts to jawbone China and Mexico into trade pacts substantially more favorable to the United States.
But suddenly, a deeply wounded president may be ill-equipped to hold any feet to the fire in critical crises of his own making on three continents.
Initial media reaction across Europe and Asia overnight suggest a world somewhat stunned by the legal dramas Tuesday involving Trump’s former lawyer and campaign chief. Stunned, and clearly aware of how problematic his presidency has suddenly become.
“Donald Trump’s reckoning has arrived,” writes Richard Wolffe in London’s Guardian.
Then comes Wolffe’s description of Trump that seems to resonate across Europe: a leader with “a delusional sense of power.”
France’s leading daily, Le Monde, carries a banner headline across its front page that proclaims “Donald Trump shaken by the judicial setbacks” of Manafort and Cohen.
In Germany, where there has been no love lost between Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leading daily Süddeutsche Zeitung headlined: “Ticking time bombs for Trump.”
In Asia, the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua played the story very straight, quoting CNN as reporting “Cohen was not expected to cooperate with the government…saying that by pleading guilty both Cohen and prosecutors would avoid the spectacle and uncertainty of a trial.”
Of course, the effects of this confluence of events should not be minimized. In Washington, American and Chinese officials were set to begin their first trade negotiations since June when talks between Wilbur Ross and China’s lead economic adviser Liu He broke off in Beijing.
This time, there’s a hard deadline, with new 25% tariffs set to kick in on $16 billion worth of goods on Thursday and Trump himself predicting there’d be no real progress in the latest round of negotiations. After all, why should there be?
Clearly the Chinese, deeply sensitive to political meteorology, can see which direction these winds are blowing. Already, markets across Asia and Europe have been shaken by Tuesday’s judicial actions.
Moreover, a series of hearings before the US Trade Representative had to be extended from three to six days as 400 American companies and industry groups on Monday began parading their grievances and warnings of profound impact on their companies and the broader economy.
At the same time, Mexican and US officials were due to resume their trade talks in Washington on Wednesday after a day’s postponement. The key outstanding issue? Automotive manufacturing, the quantity of locally made components needed to avoid tariffs.
And that’s just the first step toward a renegotiation of the entire North American Free Trade Agreement – a top priority for Trump, at least before the double blows that fell on Tuesday.
And Canada, quite prudently, is waiting on the sidelines to resume its talks with Washington to examine the outline of any Mexican-US agreement.
But trade is not the only issue that requires an American president in full command of the levers of power available to him. Also at stake are any number of pending or potential international crises, many provoked single-handedly by Trump before the apparently deep wounds inflicted in the last 24 hours.
A top Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, warned Wednesday that his country would target Israel if the US attacks Iran.
And there seems to be no doubt that Trump is hoping that his latest round of sanctions will have a significant impact, even without the now increasingly unlikely concurrence of his European allies.
Indeed, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be meeting in Washington on Wednesday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly and son-in-law Jared Kushner – a meeting the Independent of London points out comes “just as the president struggles to contain the fallout from a major fraud scandal.” The newspaper adds that Hunt was visiting in an effort “to shore up creaking relations with the US.”
Sadly, though, Trump doesn’t seem to be slowing the speed of his ship of state that gives every evidence of careening ever more wildly out of control. It will be interesting to see if established world leaders – those with whom Trump is in ever-deepening conflict – step back and wait to see just how the President weathers the next several months.
Hopefully he will not seek to strike out blindly if he sees himself ever more deeply cornered or his survival in jeopardy.