- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2017

His doubts about NATO and his support of Brexit have outraged the European Union establishment. His questioning of the “one China” principle has Beijing warning that he is “playing with fire.” And his hostility toward NAFTA — and free trade in general — has leaders on edge from Santiago to Seoul.

While Donald Trump’s supporters say he’s going to make America great again, domestically and internationally, there is little question that the incoming president’s penchant for incendiary rhetoric and unpredictable policy swerves have unsettled audiences around the globe.

In the Middle East, Mr. Trump seems certain to move closer to Israel in a way the Obama administration has resisted for years. But his rhetoric suggests he will also shift U.S. priorities squarely back in line with wealthy Gulf Arab monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, which felt spurned by the Iran nuclear accord that Mr. Obama helped negotiate in 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has traded compliments with Mr. Trump, calling him a “clever man” and expressing optimism about the future of U.S.-Russian relations, even with regard to Syria’s long-running civil war. But the reaction from other major players — most notably China and Mexico — has been veiled agitation and sometimes open skepticism about the new U.S. administration.

Even as Beijing’s influence across East Asia is projected to benefit from Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the Obama administration’s coveted Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, Chinese leaders are cringing at the prospect of a trade war with Washington. They also are bracing for an escalation of military tensions over Taiwan’s status.

When Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal last week that the “one China” policy could be “under negotiation,” the state-run China Daily newspaper accused Mr. Trump in an editorial of “playing with fire” and speaking “like a rookie.” Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows again when he suggested that the U.S. would bar China from contested islands that Beijing has been building up in the South China Sea.

Mr. Trump may have won some points with Beijing by naming one of President Xi Jinping’s old friends, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, as U.S. ambassador, but that hasn’t stopped the Chinese president from going after Mr. Trump on trade and a host of other issues, including the incoming president’s ambivalence toward the issue of climate change.

South Korea and Japan, two of America’s closes allies, are wringing their hands over the apparent death of TPP and the new administration’s uncertain intentions regarding North Korea. Mr. Trump’s outspoken distaste for the North American Free Trade Agreement has sent concerns soaring in Latin America.

Machiavellian realist?

“Some of Trump’s specific policy ideas — such as letting more countries obtain nuclear weapons, abandoning long-standing NATO defense commitments, banning Muslims from entering the United States, reconciling with Russia, building a wall with Mexico, abandoning the Paris climate pact and dismantling the Iran nuclear deal — are especially disconcerting to our global allies,” said Philip Gordon, a self-described “liberal, internationalist” who served as a Middle East adviser in the Obama White House.

But the “risk with Trump,” Mr. Gordon wrote in Politico last month, “is less that he will pursue a grand strategy that causes problems than that he will have no coherent strategy at all.”

Others argue that Mr. Trump does have a coherent foreign policy strategy. It’s just so realist, transactional and U.S.-centric that Washington’s foreign policy elites are incapable of getting their heads around it.

“To those who criticize his apparent contradictions, his vagueness about his ultimate strategic objectives or his willingness to make public threats, [Mr. Trump] offers a simple and Machiavellian response: ‘We need unpredictability,’” Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor and fellow at the New America Foundation, wrote in Foreign Policy in April.

“To Trump, an effective negotiator plays his cards close to his chest: He doesn’t let anyone know his true bottom line, and he always preserves his ability to make a credible bluff,” wrote Ms. Brooks, who noted that she is not necessarily a Trump fan.

The unease is perhaps most palpable in Europe.

Mr. Trump has attacked German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policies as “catastrophic,” praised Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and openly criticized the EU as a vehicle for Berlin to dominate the Continent.

Ms. Merkel and French President Francois Hollande seethed, suggesting that the EU does not need Washington’s help to straighten out its internal problems.

But European leaders are also scrambling to get face time with Mr. Trump before he can meet with Mr. Putin. One leader has raised with Trump the prospect of a U.S.-European Union summit early this year, and the head of NATO is angling for a face-to-face meeting, according to The Associated Press.

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