Trump Can't Deal

[ Posted Thursday, October 5th, 2017 – 16:51 UTC ]

That headline should be taken literally, and not as slang. President Donald Trump, supposed dealmaker extraordinaire, the King Of The Deal, seems to be trying to prove to the world that he cannot successfully cut a deal with anyone on any subject. So, literally: Trump can't deal.

Trump, to date, has cut precisely zero deals on the foreign policy front. On domestic policy, he has (to the best of my recollection) cut two deals -- both largely with congressional Democrats. Both of these were on the budget, since Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have proven time and again how incapable they are of passing any sort of budget that has actual hard numbers contained within it. Earlier in the year, we hit one of those self-imposed budget deadlines and Trump essentially made a deal with Democrats to punt the can down the road, with virtually zero GOP agenda items included. A month ago, Trump cut yet another of these can-kicking deals with (as he put it) "Chuck and Nancy." Other than that, no deals have been struck at all, even with his own party in control of both houses of Congress. A pretty slim record, in other words, especially to a Republican partisan.

But even his abbreviated list of domestic deals stands out in comparison to his performance on the world stage, which, instead of "deal-making," so far consists solely of "deal-breaking." Trump pulled out of the Paris accords on climate change, he torpedoed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, he's been threatening to pull out of NAFTA, he even threatened to walk away from NATO, and he will reportedly soon "decertify" the Iran deal which prevents them from acquiring nuclear weapons. He's a one-man deal-wrecker, in other words.

There is little to suggest that Trump will replace any of these broken deals with (as he repeatedly promised) bigger or better deals any time soon. What trade deals has Trump struck, to date? None. What other international deals has he put together? Well, he has strengthened sanctions against North Korea, and China has moved (ever so slightly) towards reining in Kim Jong Un, but other than that not much diplomacy has taken place in the Trump Era.

Nor are the prospects good for any such diplomacy taking place in the foreseeable future, either. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's job seems to be hanging by a thread, and it was astonishingly reported this week that Tillerson had called his boss a "fucking moron" earlier this year (it's OK, Rex, we've all been thinking it at one point or another...). Trump returned the favor by completely undercutting pretty much everything Tillerson has been trying to do, on North Korea and anywhere else in the world. So much for the "surround Trump with adults" anti-chaos theory, eh?

If Trump (and Congress) actually follow through and walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, it will then be almost impossible for Tillerson to cut any sort of deal with just about anyone, for the entire remainder of Trump's term. What world leader, after all, is going to take the United States at its word at this point, when all Trump seems interested in is proving to the world that any agreement with America isn't worth the paper it is written on?

Take a look at things from Iran and North Korea's perspective for a moment. Why in the world would Kim Jong Un decide to cut a deal with Trump that would end their nuclear weapons program when Trump is about to prove that such deals are worthless? If North Korea continues for another year or so (or even sooner), then they will be able to deal with the United States as an equal -- a country with the ability to deliver thermonuclear warheads to another continent. That is quite a different thing than voluntarily deciding to give up a nuclear weapons program. North Korea has taken the lesson of Libya's Qaddafi to heart. The Libyan dictator did agree to end any nuclear weapons program, and look what happened to him. And now, by pulling out of the Iran deal, Trump will be sending the message that such deals are worthless in America's eyes, so why in the world would North Korea accept such a future deal?

From the Iranian perspective, the lesson is the same. Without nuclear weapons, America shows you little respect. If the U.S. does pull out of the deal and reimposes sanctions on Iran, this time around they will be doing it unilaterally, which will be of rather limited impact. Without Europe and the rest of the world on board, it will be very easy for Iran to essentially ignore such sanctions. The other signatories to the deal aren't about to pull out of it just because Trump tells them to. Iran will be watching what happens in North Korea, to see how different the United States treats a fully nuclear-capable state, and they'll be wondering if finishing their own nuclear weapons program would give them an elevated status in such discussions as well.

So in one fell swoop, Trump will destroy any chances he might have had to halt nuclear proliferation in two countries at once. The chances for a diplomatic resolution favorable to the United States will shrink from a slim chance to absolutely zero chance. This leaves two outcomes with North Korea (and, possibly later, with Iran): America accepting that they are now a nuclear state and trying to contain them, or all-out war.

Rex Tillerson still has a job as Donald Trump's emissary to the world. But, at this point, it doesn't really even matter whether this job is vacant or not. Every time Tillerson tries to "speak for the Trump administration" overseas, Trump winds up completely undercutting him with a few snarky tweets. The obvious conclusion other world leaders have to be drawing is that Tillerson simply does not speak for Trump. At some point, Tillerson is going to be seen as completely irrelevant, in other words. There would be no difference between him attempting to do his job and his job being vacant.

In normal times, the secretary of state's job is to hold discussions and flesh out American foreign policy into actual agreements -- verbal, behind-the-scenes, or expressly written up as formal pacts. But with Trump publicly undercutting him at every turn, Tillerson's effectiveness shrinks with every Trump tweet. This, it should be pointed out, means it is increasingly less likely that any meaningful foreign policy deals will be cut on pretty much any subject, because who can trust that Tillerson even knows what Trump is thinking at any particular moment? Trump himself is never going to dive deep into the details and make his own deals without Tillerson's help, so Trump may wind up going down in history as the worst deal-making president America has ever had. This is ironic, considering all the rosy promises of wonderful deals Trump made on the campaign trail. But rather than being Dealmaker-in-Chief, the sad reality is that Trump just can't deal, period.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Trump Can't Deal”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    It's like every direction he looks, he finds a way to screw things up. He really is a disaster on steroids.

  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Paula. Ignore the rage. Trump is a lumpy disaster on junk food.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "If North Korea continues for another year or so (or even sooner), then they will be able to deal with the United States as an equal -- a country with the ability to deliver thermonuclear warheads to another continent."

    I think this is a bit of an overstatement. NK joins the nuclear club, but not as an equal member. To put it bluntly, NK doesn't gain "Doomsday Privileges" without a lot more more work and a lot more investment.

    North Korea and its "beloved leader" have gained some additional deterrence against a regime changing attack, but they've already had very powerful deterrence for years - In the form of conventional weapons aimed at Seoul and the piggy backed threat of Korean War II. This has served the North Koreans well for seven decades - they are still firmly in power and the ruling elite is living elite-ly as mega mafia lords with plenty of nice stuff. Life is very good at the top.

    "North Korea has taken the lesson of Libya's Qaddafi to heart. The Libyan dictator did agree to end any nuclear weapons program, and look what happened to him."

    If Qaddafi had a small nuclear force, would it have prevented the domestic uprising? I would argue no. Would it have prevented NATO air intervention? Perhaps, but NATO had other less overt options. Any time Q. uses his nukes, he can do serious hurt to the West - but as a small country he can expect total destruction. He can weigh that option against more conventional military options... and he can do that right up to the bitter end... when catching a plane out of country may be more appealing than committing suicide.

    Strategic nukes change some things, but not every thing. Conventional war has never ended... it's just played for higher stakes.

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Trump’s mental issues cannot allow anyone to get credit for doing something good in his administration because Trump’s ego cannot handle it.... especially from someone with as impressive a resume as Tillerson has!

    Remember, Tillerson is the only person in Trump’s cabinet that did not get his job through groveling and kissing Trump’s cottage cheese orange ass — He was a Putin appointment (or Big Oil’s appointment, at the very least). Trump had never met Tillerson, yet offered him the Secretary of State job the day they were introduced. Rex isn’t going to grovel and worship at the Trump alter like the others are so very willing to do at any given moment, and Trump isn’t used to being around anyone who doesn’t do that.

    Trump is intimidated by truly successful people (Can you say, “Obama”?). Add to that the news reports of Tillerson calling Trump a “moron” in front of White House staff and Trump is probably chomping at the bit to fire Tillerson!

  5. [5] 
    Kick wrote:


    He was a Putin appointment (or Big Oil’s appointment, at the very least).

    Poor Rexxon... also known as "RT"... gets kicked around by "Putin's Puppet" because he's "Putin's Pick" and takes all the abuse Trump would love to heap on Vladimir.

    Tillerson says he didn't seek the job but "my wife told me I'm supposed to do this." I wonder how Vlad likes being referred to as RT's wife? :)

  6. [6] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    TheStig [3] -

    I hear you, but I do think KJU has a different perspective. Unlike much of the USSR/US Cold War, there is a definite hostage this time (as you mention): Seoul. OK, you could argue "Berlin" and that's valid, but the threat of total destruction of Seoul (by conventional weapons) is an oversized card to play in this high-stakes game. Qaddafi didn't have that, in other words.

    I just hope that certain of "my generals" don't convince Trump that KJU won't retaliate in any military way if, say, we take out a few of his missiles on the launch pad. Any attack on the regime is going to trigger a pretty overwhelming response, and I am not at all certain everyone in the Pentagon truly understands that. Which is scary.

    Even without nukes, Korean War II would be horrendously expensive, in the cost of lives.

    ListenWhenYouHear [4] -

    I thought Tillerson was Condi Rice's appointment?



    Kick [5] -

    Are we ready for (cringe) "Rexit" yet?

    Sorry, I apologize, I hate the moniker too...



Comments for this article are closed.