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14 February 2017

The greatest obstacle to Donald Trump? Donald Trump

The President's domestic agenda continues to advance. In foreign policy, he is failing and retreating. 

By Stephen Bush

Roses are red, violets are blue, Mike Flynn has quit, increasing my chances, of seeing 2022. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Donald Trump’s volatile National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, has quit his post after reports that he misled the Vice-President, Mike Pence, about his conversations with the Russian Embassy.  Flynn, a retired general who was already under fire due to his fondness for conspiracy theories and his closeness to Russia, was undone when it emerged that while still a private citizen he discussed American sanctions against the Kremlin with Russian diplomats.

In the frame to replace him is David Petraeus, who is due to meet Trump today at the White House. Flynn’s early retirement is the latest in a wider trend as far as the Trump administration is concerned. While Trump is advancing as far as his domestic agenda is concerned, he is struggling to make headway on foreign policy.

The visits of Shinzo Abe and Theresa May both went on without major gaffes, and were typified by fairly boilerplate foreign policy pronouncements. Even the launch of a missile by North Korea was met with a distinctly un-Trumplike response. There has even been a ratcheting down of tensions with China as far as the status of Taiwan is concerned, although the two countries are still headed for a collision on trade.

Although the President has significantly greater freedom on the world stage, that also increases the importance of the President’s own skills and abilities. Trump is neither skilled nor able, so he is unable to force his will through.

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To the extent that there has been a successful breach with Presidents past it has been the presence of quite so many family members on foreign trips – Ivanka Trump mystifyingly attended meetings with both Abe and yesterday with Justin Trudeau – adding to the sense that Trump’s foreign policy “achievement” will be leveraging the presidency to enrich himself.

But the chances of dangerous changes to what America does abroad, outside of trade policy, look slimmer than they did when Trump took office. Instead, the risk will be what Trump doesn’t do, particularly where Russia is concerned, and even more so as far as global efforts to tackle climate change are concerned.