Running an effective foreign policy for a global hyperpower is always tricky when the president happens to be a personally corrupt authoritarian bigot who is concealing shady ties to a strategic adversary. The problem gets even harder when the president is unable to grasp some of the basic facts and principles of diplomacy. Politico’s Daniel Lippman rounds up several harrowing new details of Trump’s attempts to interact with world leaders.
Trump’s shortcomings as a global strategist include, but are not limited to, the following areas:
Knowing all the countries. Maps indicate the world contains a bunch of countries whose existence Trump was never made aware of previously. “Trump appeared confused by Nepal and Bhutan, which lie sandwiched between India and China,” a person familiar with one meeting tells Lippman. “He didn’t know what those were. He thought it was all part of India. He was like, ‘What is this stuff in between and these other countries?’” One of the things they don’t tell you when you start running for president is, there are just so many countries.
Knowing how to read the names of the countries after seeing them. “In one case, Trump, while studying a briefer’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as ‘nipple’ and laughingly referred to Bhutan as ‘button,’ according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.”
It’s like having Homer Simpson as president, but dumber:
Time zones work, how do they work? Trump reportedly gets the urge to dial up foreign leaders, and has trouble understanding that they may not be working or awake at that moment if they are located on the opposite side of the planet. “He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn’t going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time,” a former Trump National Security Council official tells Lippman. “When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is.”
A source tells Lippman the time zone problem comes up on “a constant basis.” Holding their daylight hours during inconvenient times is just another one of the ways all these foreign countries are ripping us off.
Which countries don’t like each other. Trump can intuitively grasp the concept that some countries will have better or worse relations with the United States. The idea that these countries may have different levels of relations with each other, independent of the United States, is a far trickier concept. During one meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Trump repeatedly praised Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, reports a source, who notes that “everyone was cringing.”
Why world leaders have phone calls. Traditional world leaders have busy schedules, and use phone calls to focus on specific points of negotiations. Trump just calls world leaders for no reason. He especially likes to stalk French president Emmanuel Macron. Trump has developed “what one former Trump national security official calls a ‘bizarre’ fascination with calling French President Emmanuel Macron,” reports Lippman. “He wanted to talk to him constantly … Macron would be like: ‘Hey what are we talking about?’”
Most of your world leaders don’t have hours of “executive time” for watching television and rage-tweeting, so they need to use phone calls in order to advance a specific policy agenda.