Foreign leaders have found much to dislike in President Trump’s policy—the aggressive stance on trade, the chaotic policy process, the disregard for convention and past agreements. Yet they’ve seemed willing to work with the administration anyway. However much it pained them, they appeared to believe that Mr. Trump had a strong enough political coalition behind his foreign-policy program that, on the whole, it was better to deal pragmatically with the administration than to try to wait out his presidency.
That changed last week. The sudden decision to break with the Syrian Kurds, the shambolic execution of the decision, and the administration’s evident inability to manage the easily foreseeable political consequences in the Republican Senate crystallized a perception that the White House is in over its head. Unless that changes, foreign powers will increasingly act on the belief that the American executive is both politically weak and intellectually unfocused. The consequences for political stability and economic prosperity around the world are not good.
Mr. Trump’s trade diplomacy is particularly at risk. China is much less likely to make significant compromises if it thinks the president is a lame duck. As the Europeans shift from dealing with Mr. Trump through gritted teeth to waiting for his administration to end, the European Union will likely stiffen its trade stance as well.
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