As President Donald Trump prepares to tout his achievements at a Fourth of July speech on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., here’s a snapshot of how global hot spots have fared since he took office.
North Korea was a crisis on the boil when President Barack Obama left the White House. Trump’s personal outreach to leader Kim Jong Un has turned the temperature down but failed to produce tangible steps to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
The two men have held three face-to-face meetings, progress of a sort compared to early 2017 when Trump was promising “fire and fury” and Kim was testing missiles capable of reaching the United States. But Kim resumed weapons testing, and U.S. intelligence believes he has built more nuclear weapons, according to David Maxwell of Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
“The North is no closer to denuclearization today than in the previous administration,” Maxwell says.
Trump abandoned Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, ramped up sanctions and brought Tehran to the brink of economic implosion. In response, Tehran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and shot down a U.S. military drone.
European officials fear the tension could lead to an all-out U.S. war with Iran, or drive Tehran to ramp up a mothballed nuclear weapons program, or both.
Iran had dismantled much of its nuclear program by 2016, but also had continued supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and other extremist groups. Trump’s sanctions are aimed at ending those regional activities.
Tehran defiantly produced enough enriched uranium this week to bust the nuclear agreement, trying to pressure the Europeans to get Trump off Tehran’s back.
The standoff is still playing out.
IRAQ & SYRIA
ISIS had lost roughly half the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria by the time Trump took office. He empowered U.S. troops to hit harder with less prior White House approval.
By March 2019, ISIS’ territorial caliphate had ceased to exist, but it has expanded affiliates globally, from West Africa to the Philippines.
In Iraq, its fighters have melted back into Iraqi society, and much of the country is still in ruins, with 1.7 million Iraqis internally displaced.
Syria remains a war zone with no peaceful resolution in sight. The Assad government is propped up by Russian and Iranian military assistance.
Libya is a failed state gripped by civil war. The chaos started under Obama and hasn’t gotten any better under Trump.
Western countries that had intervened to overthrow dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 did little to rebuild Libya. The power vacuum was quickly filled by former Libyan strongmen, ambitious young militia leaders and a Star Wars bar of extremist groups including ISIS.
The Trump administration continued an Obama bomb-and-raid campaign to drive ISIS out of the towns and into the Libyan desert.
But the bulk of the fighting has been undertaken by rogue Libyan general and former U.S. ally Khalifa Haftar, whose forces are now threatening to overthrow the weak UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Trump’s support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s coup plot against President Nicolás Maduro last April went nowhere. Attempts to turn Maduro’s inner circle against him have been stymied by Cuban intelligence, and any notion of intervening militarily has been rendered moot by a small number of Russian troops backing Maduro.
At least 3 million Venezuelans fled the country as it sank into economic decline, partly due to a fall in global oil prices but also because the socialist system promised more benefits than the country’s coffers could deliver. U.S. officials say Maduro has been robbing the country to pay off a network of senior military and government officials to stay in power.
The Trump Administration is still trying to figure out how to extricate U.S. troops from Afghanistan, after Obama spent two terms attempting to do the same. The conflict has cost the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. troops since they invaded to hunt Al Qaeda after the attacks of 9/11.
Trump’s Afghan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has held multiple rounds of talks with the Taliban. He is pushing a peace deal that would give the extremists some political role in Afghan government in return for allowing a small western military force to continue hunting ISIS and al Qaeda.
The talks have been stymied by two things: the absence of anyone from the government of the current Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani; and the impatience of a U.S. president who would like to bring home a significant number of U.S. troops ahead of the 2020 election. Trump’s repeated declarations that he intends to bring the troops home gives little incentive to the Taliban to negotiate, experts say.