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What Trump's Meetings With World Leaders Say About His Foreign Policy


President Trump's list of foreign visitors this week is a lineup of global heavy hitters - Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Monday; today, Jordan's King Abdullah; tomorrow, China's president, Xi Jinping. Well, can the president's guests and, for that matter, other world leaders operate on some understanding of U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump? What are the big ideas that might guide the Trump administration's goals in the world, or do we not yet know?

With us is David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the Foreign Policy Group. Welcome to the program once again.

DAVID ROTHKOPF: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: And first, in general, is it clear to you what making America great again means in terms of Trump foreign policy?

ROTHKOPF: (Laughter) I'm not sure it's clear to Trump what it means in terms of foreign policy. First of all, these are early days. And any administration in the early days, the foreign policy is coalescing. Secondly, Trump doesn't really have much of his team in place. He's got the Cabinet secretaries, but the deputies and the undersecretaries, who tend to make the policy, haven't even been appointed yet in many cases. Thirdly, there hasn't really been a process by which a collective sort of view of the foreign policy could emerge.

But we know a couple of things. One, Trump foreign policy is Trump-centric. It's about leaders meeting with him, and it's about him trying to seek face. And I think another thing is that, you know, you've heard of realpolitik possibly. The very realistic view that, you know, has been attributed to people like Henry Kissinger. I think Trump has gone a step beyond the pragmatism of realpolitik to something that you might call dealpolitik (ph). He's about transactions, and he's about transactions at any cost without any consideration, say, of values. So you saw in the meeting with the president of Egypt an embrace of a guy who has cut back on rights in that country, who's been very brutal with some of his people, and no comment about that.

SIEGEL: So, certainly, less - he's unlikely to give world leaders a rough ride on human rights. We can infer that much.

ROTHKOPF: If human rights crosses his lips, it's going to be an accident. It's just not something they're talking about.

SIEGEL: Looking ahead to his meeting with China's Xi Jinping and considering the cryptic remark of Secretary of State Tillerson yesterday - the United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment. Do you see a clear approach to East Asia emerging?

ROTHKOPF: Well, first of all, I don't even see clarity in Tillerson's remark. We have nothing left to say could be very tough if there was action to follow. But there may be no action. It may just be we're tired of this subject. Let's change the subject, in which case, it just says, you know, we don't really have a policy or a plan right now.

As far as China goes, Trump has spoken about on both sides of his mouth. He wants to be tough. He wants to embrace Taiwan. He wants to depart from the one-China policy to, no, I didn't really mean that. I'm perfectly willing to have a relationship with China. So it's going to be very interesting to see which of these kind of approaches emerges out of the meeting with Xi Jinping.

SIEGEL: Trump supported Britain's exit from the European Union. He's chastised Germany for what he claims is underspending on defense. Do you really foresee a U.S. policy significantly less supportive of the EU and NATO?

ROTHKOPF: Oh, so far, it's been significantly less supportive of the EU and NATO, at least as far as the White House is concerned. Trump has said those things. He has offended the Germans profoundly during the Merkel visit on this issue. Now, there are some people who are playing the role of trying to keep things together with the alliance. Secretary of Defense Mattis has been principal among these.

But, you know, it looks like, in some cases, the role of the Trump Cabinet is a little bit akin to the role of the guy with the broom following the elephant in the parade, where Trump goes, does something, makes a bit of a mess, and they're there to clean it up.

SIEGEL: Sounds like what you are describing is a foreign policy that is likely to be different but not in any especially coherent way.

ROTHKOPF: Not coherent also not necessarily constructive. You know, I kind of thought we would go from the unilateralist predisposition to engage of the Bush years, and then we swung to the kind of very cautious Obama years. And I thought we'd kind of end up in the middle with the next president. Instead, what we're getting is kind of the worst of both worlds - bluster, a predisposition to use military force a little bit less coherently than we had. And so we're likely to stir up trouble. And in fact, I'm concerned we're actually going to make things substantially worse.

SIEGEL: David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the Foreign Policy Group, thanks for talking with us.

ROTHKOPF: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEO CROKER SONG, "REALIZE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.