Trump’s 100 Days on World Stage: Rallying Some and Repelling Others
WASHINGTON — One morning last month, several hundred Muslims living in the sugar-cane belt east of New Delhi awoke to discover fliers plastered to walls in their village, ordering them to pack up and leave with their families by the end of the year — or else.
“If you do not do this,” the unsigned posters warned, “then what TRUMP is doing in America, the same things will happen in this village.”
It was a stark illustration of how Donald J. Trump’s presidency has reverberated around the world over the last 100 days — becoming a rallying cry for some and a source of fear for others, upending long-held assumptions and roiling the politics of countries as far-flung as India, Mexico and Australia.
Mr. Trump’s most predictable quality is perhaps his unpredictability. So it makes sense that his impact would be felt differently in different parts of the world, resonating with, or repelling, people in countries that have idolized, demonized or relied on the United States.
Here are some ways in which the “Trump effect” is changing the world.
When Mr. Trump took office, White House officials predicted that his election would accelerate a populist wave that began with Britain’s vote to pull out of the European Union.
But Mr. Trump’s call to put “America First” and his blunt appeals to nativism have had a more ambiguous impact, fanning nationalist flames in a few countries while spurring a backlash in others.
“We are putting Australians first,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last week as he announced proposals to limit the number of permanent residents in Australia and make it harder for immigrants to become citizens. “Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.”
In Mexico, where Mr. Trump’s vow to build a border wall and have Mexicans pay for it is viewed as an enormous insult, the American leader has also inspired populism — but of a different sort.
Anti-Trump sentiment runs so high that a longtime leftist leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has seen his fortunes rise before next year’s presidential election, using a full-throated defense of Mexico that many feel has been lacking in the current president, Enrique Peña-Nieto.
Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric has also arguably backfired in Europe. Far from consolidating their gains after his election, nationalist parties have lost ground from Britain to Germany.
In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration candidate, Geert Wilders, fell short in his bid to be prime minister. In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany has faltered and is rife with internal disputes. And while Marine Le Pen, another anti-immigration candidate, has advanced to a second round of voting in French presidential elections, she is widely expected to lose to her centrist opponent, Emmanuel Macron.
Mr. Trump antagonized the British government by declaring that Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which favored Britain’s break from the European Union, should be the next British ambassador to Washington. But that party’s sole member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, recently quit the party.
Across the political right in Europe, disillusionment with Mr. Trump is setting in. Members of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement, who originally heralded his victory, have expressed frustration at his reversals, particularly his tougher line against Russia and his decision to intervene in Syria.
“Between the saying and the doing is half the sea, as we say in Italy,” said Alessandro Di Battista, a potential prime minister in a future Five Star Movement government.
Similarly, Ms. Le Pen, who once said that Mr. Trump’s election “made possible what had previously been impossible,” has changed her tone. During her campaign, she rarely invoked his name, and when she did, it was to accuse him of flip-flopping on NATO and the war in Syria.
“I am coherent,” she told French radio in criticizing Mr. Trump. “I don’t change my mind in a few days.”
Rightist leaders are not the only ones suffering from whiplash. Mr. Trump’s quicksilver approach to statecraft has left many of America’s allies and adversaries in a kind of paralysis. They are unsure how to interpret his statements, judge his long-term intentions, predict his next move or be certain that a deal struck with the White House today will have any meaning tomorrow.
“Everyone is asking themselves if this is a temporary stage or if this will be America’s behavior in the years to come,” said Lucio Caracciolo, editor of the Italian geopolitical magazine Limes.
Mr. Trump’s inconstancy, he said, was leading countries to look inward, to focus on their own interests rather than take their lead from Washington. But such a coping mechanism has limits, particularly for countries that share borders, alliances or trading relationships with the United States.
On Wednesday, after senior White House officials put out word that Mr. Trump was going to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the leaders of Canada and Mexico called him, asking him to hold off. He agreed, but the next day he warned that he might still withdraw from the agreement if he cannot rewrite it to his satisfaction.
A day later, Mr. Trump threatened to rip up a free-trade agreement with South Korea, rattling the government and corporate leaders there right before presidential elections. They warned that the trade deal was a central pillar of the relationship between the United States and one of its steadiest allies in Asia, which is grappling with the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
To mainstream European politicians, of course, Mr. Trump’s reversals, including a tougher line on Russia and a sudden decision to intervene in Syria, are welcome signs that the American leader — now flanked by an experienced national security team — is reverting to a more conventional foreign policy.
The Trump administration “is beginning to look much more congenial, with risk factors reduced,” said Crispin Blunt, a British Conservative Party lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee.
Mr. Trump’s advisers describe his foreign policy as pragmatic, flexible and transactional. From his missile strike on a Syrian airfield to punish President Bashar al-Assad for a deadly chemical weapons attack, to his dealings with China’s president, Xi Jinping, over North Korea and trade, they say, Mr. Trump uses surprise to his advantage.
That strategy faces its more rigorous test in Asia. After declaring during the 2016 campaign that Japan and South Korea needed to pay for their own security, he embraced them, only to turn again to threats on the trade front. After threatening to start a trade war with China, he stepped back from calling it a currency manipulator in return for Mr. Xi’s cooperation in pressuring the rogue regime in North Korea.
“He wants China to carry out his policy on North Korea, but that will fail,” said Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “He will blame China for not implementing it — and then very possibly, he will use China as a scapegoat.”
In the Middle East, where Mr. Trump’s attack in Syria was driven by his visceral reaction to photos of children strangled by poison gas, his impulsiveness has stoked both hopes and fears.
Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf neighbors are deeply satisfied that they no longer have to contend with the mistrust of Mr. Obama. But some in Lebanon fear that Mr. Trump will give Israel a green light to attack the militant group Hezbollah as a way to hit its patron Iran.
His intervention in Syria, they worry, may whet his appetite for American military engagement in a volatile region. Mr. Trump clearly enjoys “being a forceful leader, and that will make him want to do it again,” contended Kamel Wazne, an expert on Hezbollah at the American University of Beirut.
Mr. Trump’s protean character has also played out unpredictably in Israel. His election buoyed members of the far right, who believed that his campaign promises of no daylight closeness between America and Israel would translate into a free hand for Israelis to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Instead, Mr. Trump declared he would seek an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned Israel to curb its construction to avoid undermining his peacemaking efforts. So far, Israel’s determination not to spoil its relationship with the new president has deterred some members of the Israeli right from testing him by defying his calls for restraint.
“His unpredictability is a source of anxiety, and I think it should be,” said Daniel Shapiro, a former American ambassador to Israel, noting that politicians on the right are nervous about saying or doing something that will end up earning Mr. Trump’s ire.
In Israel, which prides itself on its street-smart analysis of American politics, Mr. Trump remains a wild card.
“We see it as if it is a one-man show,” said Ali Jarbawi, a professor at Birzeit University. “Trump, and that’s it.”
Under Mr. Trump, the United States has largely put aside its role in defending democracy or protesting human rights abuses overseas. That, critics say, has strengthened the hand of autocratic leaders like Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whom Mr. Trump called to congratulate after a much-disputed referendum that cemented his power.
In India, where religious violence is as old as the Indian state, America’s silence may also have an impact. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has labored over three years to distance himself from the causes of the Hindu far right. But in March his party selected a firebrand Hindu cleric as the leader of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, who has called for India to be enshrined as a “Hindu rashtra,” or Hindu nation.
“The international climate today is far more permissive of minority-bashing, bashing of human rights — all the nasty stuff you would expect to be called out on by the international community,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor of The Wire, an Indian news site.
“The fact that Trump doesn’t care, and hence the U.S. government is not going to care, it does create more room for bigots,” he argued.
For many around the world, this is the most troubling change of the last 100 days. Their reaction to the new president is less fear, anger, or confusion than sadness. Mr. Trump, they say, has dimmed the role the United States has long played as an exemplar for their countries.
“This is the end of the United States as the Northern Star — the star that used to guide democracy,” said Sabina Berman, a Mexican playwright and essayist. “It might be a temporary four-year eclipse, but in the Mexican psyche, that star is gone from the sky.”