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May 29, 2017

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Trump inheriting turmoil

Chaos, conflict and crisis are some of the words that best describe the combustible global situation that new U.S. President Donald J. Trump inherits from his predecessor. Far from a stable world order, Donald Trump is entering a complex foreign maze in which he must decipher, decode and often defuse a feckless and lamentable foreign policy legacy from Cuba to China. Let's take a look at the international situation Donald Trump faces.


On Barack Obama's watch China's trade deficit with the U.S. ballooned, hitting an all-time high of US$367 billion in 2015. More ominously, Beijing is expanding its geopolitical reach into the international waters of the South China Sea, through building artificial islands and platforms in disputed reefs. Despite the conflicting claims of six other states, Beijing provocatively claims the South China Sea as a kind of exclusive "Mare Nostrum" Our Sea.

While American rhetoric has stressed the right of free navigation in international waters, Washington's words and a downsized U.S. Navy have not stopped China's deeds. Obama's vaunted pivot to Asia was another style-over-substance policy.

North Korea

North Korea's nuclear threat has expanded. Pyongyang has perfected working nuclear weapons during Obama's administration. There have been five nuclear tests and the regime is working on long-range missile technology, targeting Japan and ultimately the U.S. This could be a first test for Trump. Don't take the bait.

The Middle East

Obama inherited a dangerous but stabilized Iraq. After much American blood and treasure spent toppling Saddam's dictatorship, Iraq was reasonably secure. Obama's precipitous troop pullout caused the string in the national fabric to unravel reopening the sectarian divide. After losing huge swaths of land and cities to the Islamic State (IS), described by Obama as a "junior varsity" terrorist group, only now has Baghdad begun to regain its footing. Slowly they are reclaiming lost land from IS with the help of 5,000 U.S. troops.


Despite the Islamic Republic of Iran being a clear and present danger to regional stability, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Obama team brokered a multilateral diplomatic deal with Russia, China, France, Germany and the U.K. to presumably defuse Iran's embryonic nuclear capacity. While the "deal" as Secretary of State Kerry proudly describes it, has frozen Tehran's nuclear weapons program, not all countries are quite so sanguine. In the meantime, Obama released hundreds of millions of Iranian frozen financial assets and helped Boeing aircraft win contracts to sell Iran Air late model American civilian airliners and technology.


Poor Syria; 500,000 dead, over 10 million people internally displaced or turned into refugees. The so-called Arab Spring began with democratic intentions but soon turned into a bloody sectarian winter. An American seesaw policy of tough words and empty actions toward Syria's dictatorship enflamed a regional conflict and eventually invited bloody backdoor Russian involvement.

There are many more Middle East disasters from Western intervention, such as in Libya (the country is now a chaotic gaggle of warlords and terrorist clans) and Yemen (once Obama's poster child in the region and now torn asunder by rival Saudi and Iranian backed factions). Once-close American relations with Israel are tragically frayed.

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