The United States' international allies are reluctantly rethinking their relationships with the U.S. as President Donald Trump's incoherent, incompetent leadership throws the established order into confusion and marks the end of our nation's pre-eminence among world powers.
Foreign Policy magazine said that world leaders, international negotiators and ambassadors can no longer count of representatives of the U.S. government to reliably know what the country's policies are on any given issue -- due largely in part to the president's constantly-shifting positions and habit of making statements that directly conflict his aides and the stated policies of the administration.
For example, last week former Exxon CEO turned U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a lengthy testimony before Congress defending the massive cuts to his agency outlined in President Trump's proposed budget plan.
Under any previous U.S. administration, international observers and government representatives would be riveted to the speech, weighing the Secretary of State's words carefully for clues about the nascent administration's policies toward their nations.
"But unlike in years past, U.S. allies aren’t poring over Tillerson’s testimony for meaningful signals of what U.S. policy is or will be; diplomats from around the world are learning that what Tillerson says is not necessarily a reliable guide to U.S. policy. The problem is that nothing much else is, either," said Foreign Policy's Emily Tamkin.
While Trump's administration may have "tor(n) up the U.S. foreign-policy playbook," Tamkin said, it has not replaced it with a new playbook.
“Even if we do get meetings” with representatives of Tillerson's State Department, a European source told Tamkin, “most of the time what happens is that they speak in personal capacity --
they don’t have capacity to speak for the administration.”
Even on deeply secretive and sensitive National Security Council issues, Trump's representatives routinely say they can't speak for the president because they don't know what his position is.
This has left a vacuum internationally where once the U.S. led the discussion on a wide range of issues -- and our allies are struggling to find their footing.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a speech earlier this month that the U.S. "has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership.”
Trump has thrown the U.S. relationship to NATO into question, raising fears that smaller European states like Estonia will once again find themselves in dread of Russia, which occupied Estonia during the Soviet years.
China, wrote Tamkin, while craving a leading role in the world industrially and economically, is still a work in progress. That country "has been hankering for a place in the sun all century --
but, like Augustine, doesn’t want it quite yet, and Beijing’s values aren’t the same as those long preached by Washington or Brussels."
China's President Xi Jinping has pleaded with Trump "to uphold the international order," Tamkin said.
The United States' military might and booming prosperity have enabled our country to have an outsized influence on the world, underwriting international stability. The abdication of that role would be virtually earth-shattering, Tamkin said.
However, given Trump's bellicose posturing on the world stage and the vast number of international diplomacy positions still left unfilled by his administration, it appears to many allies that averting America's diminishment as a world power is low on the Pres. Trump's agenda.