White House & President

‘A new level of dysfunction’: Trump administration suffers ‘rampant confusion’ as US foreign policy goes of the rails

Perhaps Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg summed up the crisis is U.S. international relations best Friday when he tweeted simply: “The United States of America no longer has a foreign policy.”

The tweet came in response to President Donald Trump’s announcement, also on Twitter, that he “ordered the withdrawal” of new sanctions on North Korea that the Treasury Department has just announced. In addition to it being a stupefying decision for a president to immediately contradict his administration after a decision had been made, the tweet was factually mistaken in at least two respects: The sanctions were announced Thursday, not Friday. And they hit two Chinese shipping companies that have been doing business with North Korea — they are not, as Trump implied, additional “large scale” sanctions on North Korea itself.

CNN’s national security reporter Kylie Atwood noted that the companies were “violating sanctions that are already in place.” A senior administration official had described them as “maintenance,” she said.

“What is unclear here, to White House officials, what they do next,” she said. “Does Treasury roll back these sanctions on these Chinese entities? Well if it did that, then they would also have to roll back even more sanctions on other companies and entities that were violating these sanctions in place. So it’s extremely complex, and administration officials are quite confused about where they go from here.”

Gloria Borger, a CNN analyst, noted that Trump’s decision Friday reflected similar chaos brought on by his announcement Thursday that the U.S. will recognize Israel as the rightful possessor of the contested Golan Heights region.

“And we don’t know with the Golan Heights tweet whether it’s actual policy, and we don’t know with this tweet what is actually means,” she said. “My colleagues and I have been rushing around trying to figure out who knew what when about this. And it seems to me this takes everything to a new level of dysfunction that if the president can tweet something about his own policy on sanctions and nobody quite understands what it means, how do you run foreign policy?”

She noted that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump “likes” North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un — a brutal authoritarian — and doesn’t think these sanctions are necessary.

“Well, they’re already instituted!” said Borger. “We’re trying to confirm whether they’re part of existing, or whether they’re new — and Treasury was surprised by it, national security staff were surprised by it. Makes you scratch your head and say what’s going on over there?”

Watch the CNN clip below:

President Trump triggered rampant confusion among his own aides and administration officials when he said he is withdrawing new sanctions aimed at North Korea that were just issued by his own administration https://t.co/BlmpBbpnUW and pic.twitter.com/odIf6YRVgx

— CNN (@CNN) March 22, 2019

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