100 days of President Trump: Flip flops or pragmatic realism?

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady

Published: Updated:

Just like pundits were split on President Trump’s election success and the reasons behind it, we are now again witnessing many acres of print in assessing the presidential first 100 days.

They are focused on whether this represents the real pragmatic Trump who had to learn the realities of the job quickly, or of a President who habitually flip flops from one cherished pledge to another and causing uncertainties amongst both friends and foes alike.

Determining a presidency’s success by inspecting its “first 100 days” is a bit of an artificial construct but it has now become the norm and a peer assessment of success or failure. The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been anything but boring or slow but gave everyone something to talk about and go into a deep analysis mode on the true meaning of the action, the flip flop or no action, but how much of it was sound and fury and how much entailed real action?

This is not a laughing matter as political leaders around the globe are having now to scramble and reassess where they stand following volte face changes, and for those especially accustomed to a steady international relations, the flip flops will do nothing to alleviate anxieties.

So where were the departures from the campaign promises and does it really matter if they have been discarded in the bigger picture of things to Trump followers, who by all account still have great faith in him and are putting the blame on false news and the media?

Even for the President, with the lowest approval rating for any US President in his first 100 days in office, the ratings are a big lie and he believes he has the highest rating of all times, making one dread on what he will do next to jack up those low rating figures.

The wall

Let’s start with the wall, not the president’s only promise, but certainly one of his oldest, most high-profile ones with election candidate Trump constantly promising of the great wall that he plans to build along the US-Mexico border, and whipping the crowds in a frenzy when he said Mexico would pay for the project.

By the end of the 100 days, all the thunder had gone and as usual one had to learn about the fate of the wall via a tweet which simply said: “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall”.

The laughter from the Mexican side of the border could be heard all the way in Washington. Then there was Obamacare and the campaign promise to disband it from day one, only to have another President Trump comment that “nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.”

Sometimes one wonders what will be written on one’s tombstone as an epitaph, but if the Trump presidency collapses under the weight of broken promises, this quote from the president who has majority control over both legislative houses, will make a fitting inscription for a tombstone.

As for immigration and keeping the bad dudes out, Mr Trump may have a bit of a mixed record when it comes to fulfilling his promises on immigration, but it's not for a lack of trying.

His administration has taken two shots at curtailing the US refugee program and preventing citizens of a handful of majority Muslim nations from entering the US. But those executive actions have been stymied by a handful of court judges showing that the powers of checks and balances in the US were still alive, even if the President alluded to the Hawaiian judge as a “so-called” judge.

However it is on foreign policy matters that there is most confusion, with the 100 days ending on a doomsday note of “will he or wont he” push the nuclear button against a seemingly unhinged North Korean leader who it seems takes great pleasure in goading President Trump with a string of useless missile launches.

Slowly but surely, Trump has begun to resemble something less menacing and more normal than his foes predicted and that may be he is finally being sucked into mainstream politics by the very establishment he so derided and loathed on his campaign trail

Dr. Mohamed Ramady

ISIS, Iran and China

Candidate Trump spoke of getting tough on ISIS, Iran and China, reaffirming an alliance with Israel and mending relations with Russia. He promised to put American priorities first and downplayed support for US allies and international alliances that he deemed too burdensome.

He pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership as promised and has begun a review process for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) although that is bow being downplayed.

Trump’s self-defeating campaign promise to pull the US out of Nafta, the trade agreement he once described as a “total disaster” was dropped after Trump realized that it would decimate the very jobs and industry in the American heartland that voted him into power. After saying that NATO has gone by its past due date, he has recently acknowledged the value of NATO membership.

Russia is now emerging as a troublesome country and the matter is not helped by multiple investigations involving President Trump’s advisors on the extent of their relationship with Russia and what effect this had on the recent US elections.

The rhetoric and practical steps taken against Russia are now more evident. The Trump administration rejected a request from ExxonMobil to get a waiver to explore energy exploration in the Black Sea, despite the fact that he chose Exxon-Mobil's chief executive officer, Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State.

Then there was the Number One international currency manipulator China, but he’s taken a softer line and backed away from his promise to label the nation a “currency manipulator” or impose steep import tariffs, instead seeking the nation’s help in dealing with North Korea.

While the Chinese were pleased at this, they were somewhat taken back, to put it mildly, at being told over a “lovely piece of chocolate cake” that the President had ordered a multiple tomahawk missile strike against Syria following that government’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. This was the kind of action that the candidate Trump had condemned in no uncertain terms in 2013, when Barack Obama proposed his own Syrian intervention.

To his credit, the president signed a raft of executive actions, authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and instituting a federal hiring freeze (which has since been lifted) – but in the vast scheme of things these are small change to the President. So how will history judge him – by specific policy metrics or something far bigger in what he represents?

‘The Washington swamp’

Mr Trump is far from a traditional president, so perhaps it’s unfair to evaluate the first few months of his presidency in traditional ways, such as by tallying up his policy accomplishments and failures. His voters largely didn’t back his candidacy based on specific promises but because of his attitude and his promise to shake up the political system and “drain the Washington swamp”.

Mr Trump has indeed taken some executive actions to limit administration officials from becoming lobbyists after they leave government service. On the other hand, his promises to avoid conflicts of interest over his wide-ranging business empire have proven vague and unenforceable and he’s stocked his administration with the kind of financial insiders and Wall Street billionaires he regularly railed against on the campaign trail.

If the performance metric is how much the Trump presidency has disrupted politics as usual, Trump has posted a clear victory as no one can now take him and his past election promises for granted, and this has to be factored in from now on by the many leaders that he will meet including those in the Middle East in his planned May visit to the region.

In the final analysis, Mr Trump has displayed many flaws, and shown he is human after all, and, despite criticism, these flaws have not yet posed an existential threat to the US Republic. He has obeyed the courts, even as he has derided their decisions on twitter. He has reversed himself on Russia, much to the delight of the Washington establishment, although a Trump – Putin summit can easily reverse this.

Slowly but surely, he has begun to resemble something less menacing and more normal than his foes predicted and that maybe he is finally being sucked into mainstream politics by the very establishment he so derided and loathed on his campaign trail.

Foreign leaders, however, should be more alert and prepared just when being served another “nice chocolate cake” in case the President advises, as a matter of passing, that World War III has just started , as now he talks of a “major, major” conflict with Pyongyang’s rogue regime. Taking this as bluff or at his word, is at your choice and peril.
Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

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