President Trump speaks in Poland 1
Trump: Poland sets example for NATO members
00:47 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer is a history and public affairs professor at Princeton University, editor of “The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment” and co-host of the “Politics & Polls” podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @julianzelizer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

CNN  — 

What a difference a year makes.

In early July 2017, President Donald Trump went on his second foreign trip, which included a stop at the G20 Summit in Hamburg. In those hot summer months, most of the nation was scrambling to figure out what Trump aimed to do overseas and what he would be able to actually accomplish.

It is one year later, and as the President embarks on his trip to the NATO summit in Brussels this week, he is in a very different position than last summer. Now, it’s clear what he can “accomplish” at the international level.

Indeed, it is fair to say that the world is now seeing the very serious impact that this President is having on US relations with the world. President Trump loves to wreck things. He must be a fan of Groucho Marx’s famous lyrics in the film “Horse Feathers,” “No matter what it is or who commenced it, I’m against it.” On the world stage, being “against it” seems to be his favorite mantra.

Preserving historic alliances? He’s against it. As promised, Trump has followed through to keep “America First,” but it has been to the country’s disadvantage globally. Despite hopes that some of his more seasoned advisors would push him away from this path, the President has managed to strain relations with a large number of key allies. In rather shocking fashion, as the world’s attention was on June’s G7 summit, Trump took jabs on Twitter at Justin Trudeau – who has not been on anyone’s top 10 list of problems for US foreign policymakers – accusing the Canadian prime minister of taking advantage of America when it comes to trade.

The President has roiled some of our staunchest allies in Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has been disappointed with the way that the President has backed away from strong support of NATO.

And, though they had a “bromance” for a few minutes during a state visit earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron has since made it clear just how frustrated he is with Trump’s continually aggressive stands toward countries whose national interests have traditionally aligned with the US.

As a result of his blistering words and policies, most recently with the separation of migrant children from their families at the US southern border, the President has reversed the improved standing that the US had achieved around the world under Obama.

He has taken concrete steps to pull out of a series of international agreements that were at the heart of international efforts to combat climate change, reduce the nuclear threat and strengthen global market exchanges. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal have all been abandoned in the President’s first year and a half in office.

Pursuing peace and reconciliation? He’s against it. In the Middle East, the President is playing a dangerous game by throwing strong support to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Starting with the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump has shifted US policy in the region away from any attempt to achieve a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, the US has influenced a regional alliance between Israel and the Persian Gulf States against Iran.

If there is some grand strategy that brings together an elusive peace agreement, the moves could pay off. More probable, however, is that the explosive tensions within the region will only become worse.

There are some areas of foreign policy with which US allies are pleased, such as the virtual defeat of ISIS and relative stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. But overall the international alliances that took form in World War II and the Cold War, and which have continued to serve as pillars of US policy, are more frayed than ever.

Avoiding the disastrous trade wars of the Great Depression era? He’s against it. On the economic front, the President has further alienated our allies by imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

In a tweet, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) complained, “Europe, Canada & Mexico aren’t China. You don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents.”

And with China, President Trump’s trade war has now officially gone into effect. On Friday, the US imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products. Warning that President Trump has “launched the largest trade war in economic history,” the Chinese immediately hit back with its own $34 billion tariff on US goods.

Standing firm against authoritarian regimes? He’s against it. With President Trump in the Oval Office, the United States has also been remarkably quiescent and sometimes outright supportive of authoritative regimes. Human rights don’t seem to matter in the Trump White House. Strong-states have thrived – most notable has been Russia. The President has refused to come down hard on almost anything that the Russians do, even after US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the US election on an unprecedented scale. He only signed a bill approving sanctions against Russia when he was backed into a corner by the Republican Congress and then held off on implementing the measures.

The world will be watching carefully when Putin and Trump meet on July 16. Other governments with strongman leaders have also received praise from the US commander in chief, including Poland and the Philippines.

Added to that list is Kim Jong-un. Thus far the opportunity for a historic diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea has not materialized. Though it is important to give the administration time to work out a deal that would curb North Korea’s nuclear program, Trump’s strategy has only served to elevate Kim on the world stage. He did this by participating in a high stakes summit with Kim, and by trying to give the world assurances that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat”– without the exchange of any concrete reforms.

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    But none of that will matter to Trump during the NATO summit, because with continued support from most Republicans and passionate backing from his “base,” he likely feels that he can make big moves, including going against allies when it serves his interest and vision. Unlike many presidents who came before him, Trump doesn’t seem to have much awareness of the delicacy and fragility of international relations, with the enormous costs that can come from taking things apart without a real plan for how to put them back together. If members of NATO want to stop him, they better start thinking of carrots and sticks that can influence Trump’s agenda.