November 19, 2019

A Difficult Time for Foreign Policy

“His call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “perfect,” President Trump said Sunday, but whether we the public will be permitted to read a transcript of this perfection remains to be seen. A certain expectation of privacy is essential to high-level talks, the president argued: “The problem is, when you’re speaking to foreign leaders, you don’t want foreign leaders to feel that they shouldn’t be speaking openly. And the same thing with an American president.” So maybe the details of the call will come out, but if they don’t, Trump suggested, it’s for diplomacy’s sake.

This argument is fair enough on its face — but the surrounding circumstances have rendered it a farce. Diplomatic discretion certainly has its value, but surely that consideration pales next to our need to settle the merits of serious allegations that the president abused U.S. foreign policy for personal political gain. And if those accusations are true, Trump’s use of diplomacy here — both in the initial corruption and in his attempt to hide it — creates a danger that runs beyond the immediate scandal: It undermines diplomacy in the American polity at a moment when we need it most.

Trump as a threat to diplomacy is nothing new. He fancies himself a master dealmaker, which is demonstrably false. His negotiating instincts know nothing of concession and cooperation, only coercion. He is all sticks, no carrots. He recklessly rejects or withdraws from deals others have constructed without any apparent consideration of probable consequences. He seems to care far more about his personal receipt of glory — “credit,” in Trump’s phrasing — for a diplomatic accomplishment than whether the accomplishment happens at all.”

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