T.S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month”. For those who wanted a Trump administration that was anti-interventionist, diplomatic, and focused mainly on domestic issues, April was cruel indeed. But now that May has begun, there are several signs which are impossible to ignore, suggesting that Trump may be slowly getting back to his pre-April self.
1. The Middle East versus domestic expenditure
Donald Trump recently announced a new wide-ranging domestic infrastructure program to cover the building and maintenance of bridges, roads, veterans hospitals, and modern utilities.
Donald Trump spoke of his mass infrastructure project using language surprisingly similar to that which he employed during his campaign.
Trump said, “We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East… (and) it’s 20 times worse than when we started”.
Trump’s statement also praised China’s ability to build modern infrastructure in a quick and efficient manner. He contrasted this negatively vis-a-vis the United States which he said resembled the ‘third world’.
This is the same language that Trump used during his campaign when he would consistently argue for less spending abroad and more projects at home.
After a month where he praised NATO, illegally attacked a sovereign state (Syria) and threatened to attack another(North Korea), is Trump finally remembering his priorities? Is he prepared to put once again put America first?
2. Talks with North Korea
Trump Tweeted, “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him (Kim Jong-Un), I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it”.
When both the State Department and John McCain appear to be backing off from extreme hawkishness on North Korea, this can only be a good sign.
But now, Trump himself has alluded to the fact that he is prepared for the direct talks with North Korea that China has advocated as the best political solution to Pyongyang’s weapons program.
Yesterday, when Donald Trump was asked if he was prepared to meet Kim Jong-Un face to face, something even China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin have not done, his answer was in the affirmative.
Such a meeting is still unlikely, but the fact that Trump has gone from Tweet threats to North Korea to saying it would be an ‘honor’ for him to meet the North Korean leader, is a step closer to meaningful diplomacy.
3. Talks with Russia
It seems that Washington and Moscow are ‘making communication great again.
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a phone call with Sergey Lavrov where they confirmed a face to face meeting next week, their second in a month. It has also been confirmed that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will also hold a phone conversation. Syria and North Korea will certainly be at the top of the agenda.
It seems that Washington and Moscow are ‘making communication great again’. Even if the calls reiterate fundamental disagreements, it is still far more productive to hold private conversations than to have Sean Spicer or others deliver public sound-bites about Russia or Russian interests, that achieve nothing.
If Russia and the US continue to speak, maybe the generally inexperienced Trump administration might even learn a thing of two from the Russian President and Russian government ministers who have vast amounts of experience and knowledge in world affairs.
4. Syria and Turkey
Multiple reports have confirmed that America is deeply displeased with recent Turkish attacks on Kurdish-led SDF forces on the Turkey/Syria border. To this end, America is sending its troops in the region to act as a literal buffer between the Turkish military and the SDF.
Any temporary hopes that Ankara had a joint US-Turkish operation against the Syrian government are now dashed. The Trump administration seems to have gone back to its initial policy of opposing regime change, ceasing to fund jihadists (unlike Turkey who handsomely funds the FSA) and instead is focusing on aiding secular Kurdish forces. Assad isn’t going, Erdogan may be forced out of Syria in the medium term if such developments continue.
Donald Trump’s decision to order an attack on Syria in the middle of dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping was deeply insulting to China. China opposes regime change in Syria as much as China opposes the war in neighboring North Korea. That being said, Trump’s recent statements have indicated a new found admiration for China and the Chinese President.
North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2017
Although China has consistently warned the US to stop provoking a situation in North Korea, Trump’s words indicate that he is generally pleased with the leadership in Beijing and is happy to work with China on North Korea. He no longer calls China a ‘currency-manipulator’ and appears to have backed off remarks about ‘China raping us’.
America needs China far more than China needs America, in many respects. Because of this, it is deeply important for the US to conduct a respectful and dignified relationship with China. Trump appears to be moving in that direction.
Donald Trump has often claimed that he enjoys employing the ‘element of surprise’. His most recent surprises have been generally pleasant ones. Let’s hope there are no further negative surprises in the pipeline.
This piece was first published in The Duran.