When Foreign Policy Is in the Hands of a Few

Rosalind Mathieson
When Foreign Policy Is in the Hands of a Few

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The first day of public impeachment hearings into U.S. President Donald Trump didn’t produce a definitive smoking gun. But it was illuminating in other ways.

As Nick Wadhams explains, the testimony from key diplomats lays out starkly how foreign policy in the Trump administration has become the purview of a small group of loyalists in the White House, cutting out officials who’ve spent years in the field building expertise on countries and how to deal with them.

In particular, it shows how Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani moved to insert himself into policy on countries like Ukraine, even as seasoned diplomats sought to warn him off.

At best, Trump’s advisers sideline people who’ve spent decades, through multiple administrations, navigating America’s interests everywhere from the Middle East to Russia and Asia. At worst they could undermine U.S. national security.

Since coming to office, Trump has repeatedly tied geopolitical goals to economic and trade outcomes. While not unusual, he’s made those links more overt than prior presidents.

That makes foreign policy less predictable. Guided by his inner circle, and his own thinking, Trump has a tendency to make sudden announcements that catch his diplomats, and military, by surprise.

In some cases he’s turned longstanding policy on its head (like stepping away from the Kurds in Syria). For those out in the field, yesterday’s testimony shows that managing America’s strategic goals is becoming ever harder.

Global Headlines

Just in: China says it will allow imports of qualified poultry from the U.S., after the Department of Agriculture made a similar decision on Chinese chicken.

Stalemate | Trump said Turkey’s purchase of a Russian anti-aircraft missile system presents “some very serious challenges” for the U.S., and he directed Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to work on resolving the impasse. That indicates the president and a small group of Republican senators were unable at meetings yesterday to persuade Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reconsider deploying the weapons.

Erdogan said he personally returned an Oct. 9 letter from Trump, where the president warned him to not to be a “tough guy” or a “fool” in his dealings in Syria.

Stormy weather | Campaigners in the U.K.’s first December election in almost 100 years are battling wintry conditions that could influence the result. As well as icy days and dark evenings, flooding has hit northern England, where voters vented at Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he visited yesterday.

Want to follow the elections in one place? You can see the key stories on our website. If you are a Bloomberg terminal subscriber you can use the ELEC function for our new dashboard, which includes the latest polls, research and social media.

Shaking it up | The exit of socialist icon Evo Morales in Bolivia is pitting governments in the region against each other along ideological lines. As Juan Pablo Spinetto writes, Mexico, Venezuela and the incoming Argentine president have slammed Morales’s ouster, whereas the U.S. and its ally Brazil quickly recognized his self-appointed successor.

Martha Viotti Beck and Mario Sergio Lima report that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has limited time to win support for an overhaul of Latin America’s largest economy before October’s municipal elections. 

More turmoil | Speculation swirled that Hong Kong would impose a weekend curfew after China’s state-run Global Times tweeted that one was expected, then deleted the post without explanation. Such a development would be a first in the five months of pro-democracy protests in the city, with schools to be suspended through Sunday after transit disruptions and clashes at universities paralyzed swaths of the Asian financial hub.

Coup claims | Cambodia’s Hun Sen knows a few things about holding onto power. But Asia’s longest-serving leader says he’s now worried about being overthrown by a group of exiled dissidents. His fears aren’t baseless, Philip Heijmans reports. Citizens are chafing against soaring household debt, unemployment and an influx of Chinese investment. There are also rumors of rifts in his party, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy is looking to head home.

What to Watch

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is in South Korea today amid strains on one of America’s most important military alliances, including a demand from Trump to pay about five times more to host U.S. troops. For the second time in less than a week, Trump said he’ll go to the Supreme Court to appeal rulings threatening to expose his tax records. Trump holds a second rally in Louisiana in support of Republican Eddie Rispone, who’s vying to unseat the only Democratic governor in the Deep South in a Saturday runoff. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is telling associates he plans to join the crowded 2020 Democratic campaign as early as today amid concerns in the party that the existing field won’t produce a nominee strong enough to beat Trump.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.And finally ... The key to the cultural and economic revolution underway in Saudi Arabia is the unshackling of the nation from the puritanical brand of Islam known as Wahhabism. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to push the change with his Vision 2030 program to modernize the economy, bring women into the workforce, and reduce religious influence on education. But as Donna Abu-Nasr and Rodney Jefferson explain, many young Saudis have a nagging concern: Where have the Wahhabis gone, and what are the chances of them coming back? 


--With assistance from Karl Maier, Kathleen Hunter, Karen Leigh, Muneeza Naqvi and Tim Ross.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Winfrey at mwinfrey@bloomberg.net

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