Trump’s Tough (Policy) Week

This week, we saw evidence that three of President Trump's signature policy plans so far haven't worked.


North Korea: Just days after the abrupt breakdown of negotiations between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam, satellite evidence shows that North Korea has begun a "rapid rebuilding" of a long-range missile test site that had been partly destroyed last year. The work reportedly began after Kim left Hanoi and before he arrived back in Pyongyang.

Is this a bid by Kim to win concessions from Trump by replacing vague promises of denuclearization with specific threats? If so, it appears Kim has chosen a site designed to test the sorts of weapons that might reach the US mainland.

Border Security: Next, we learned this week that more than 76,000 migrants crossed the US southern border illegally in February, the highest monthly total since 2008. Unauthorized entries by migrant families have nearly doubled over the past year. If tougher asylum policies, increased prosecutions, and the separation of children from parents at the border were designed to slow the flow of families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador desperate to reach the United States, it isn't working.

The Trade Deficit: The Commerce Department announced this week that, despite Trump's pledge to win a fairer deal on trade for American workers by imposing, or threatening to impose, tariffs on foreign-made goods, the US posted its highest-ever merchandise trade deficit ($891.2 billion) for 2018.

The political silver lining(s): Trump is an agile-enough politician to make smart use of all these stories.

On North Korea, he can claim Kim's latest move justifies his decision to keep the pressure on Pyongyang by refusing easy concessions in Hanoi.

On border policy, he'll argue the recent rise in migrant crossings proves that his border wall is urgently needed. In coming days, the Republican-controlled Senate will join the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in passing a resolution of disapproval of Trump's declaration of a "national emergency" to gain funding for the wall. Trump will veto the resolution, Congress will fail to override the veto, and courts will decide the issue.

On the trade deficit, Trump can claim his policies are a work in progress, and that a short-term rise in the trade deficit underlines the need to drive a hard bargain with China, and even some US allies. He can add that his tax cuts have left more money in the taxpayer's pocket, which allowed for more spending on foreign products.

Whatever he says, Trump's supporters and critics will both claim vindication, but the problems these policies are designed to address aren't going away.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in Rome tomorrow ready to plant a flag in the heart of Europe. Italy is expected to break with most other advanced economies by formally signing onto Beijing's $1.3 trillion global Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure initiative.

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China's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative is one of the most ambitious geopolitical projects ever. By 2027, it aims to dish out an estimated $1.3 trillion in loans, around ten times what the US spent on the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II. As China increases its investment in the West, will countries' loyalty shift toward Beijing? Here's a look at the already staggering scope of Beijing's agenda.

As you read this, US-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces are killing or capturing the last few Islamic State militants holding out in a fingernail-shaped sliver of riverbank in eastern Syria. It's all that remains of the caliphate declared by the Islamist extremist group across a swath of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.

Despite being on the back foot territorially, here are three ways that ISIS will continue to rile global politics:

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What we are watching

A retiring strongman in Kazakhstan – Since 1989, one man has ruled the massive, oil-rich Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan. That is, until yesterday, when Nursultan Nazarbayev resigned as president and put a close ally in charge until new elections are called. The 78-year old Kazakh leader was rumored to have been planning a transition for more than two years, putting allies in key posts, weakening the power of the presidency, and bolstering the clout of the country's Security Council, which he will still head. But the exact timing came as a surprise. We're watching this story – not just because it's a rare example of a strongman leaving power of his own will, but because we suspect Vladimir Putin is watching, too. The hardy 66-year-old Russian leader needs to figure out what he'll do when his current term expires in 2024. The constitution says Putin can't run again. Is Nazarbayev charting a path that Putin can follow?

A suspicious death in Italy – Italian authorities are investigating the suspicious demise of Imane Fadil, a 34-year-old Moroccan model who died in Milan earlier this month – apparently with high levels of toxic metals in her blood that could indicate poisoning. Fadil was a frequent guest at ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous bunga-bunga sex parties, and was a key witness in his 2013 trial on underage sex allegations. Adding to the intrigue, Fadil was due to testify at another upcoming court case. Apart from all of this, her death could have an immediate impact on Italian politics: Italy's right-wing Lega party is now less likely to call a snap election this summer, because the Fadil case taints Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, the group that Lega would ideally like to team up with in order to gain a majority in parliament.

What we are ignoring

The Scent of Fascism – In a new commercial out of Israel, a beautiful woman glides through arty black and white scenes like a model, purring about putting new limits on the judiciary, and spritzing herself with a perfume called "fascism." Hot stuff, right? But this isn't just a sultry model hawking a designer fragrance – it's the country's right-wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who has incensed the left with her bid to curtail the power of courts, which she says are too liberal. At the end of the spoof ad, which is meant to promote her New Right party ahead of upcoming elections, Skaked takes whiff of the perfume and tells viewers: "Smells like democracy to me." We are ignoring this bid to put her party's name back in the headlines because the fascism joke just isn't funny.

Devin Nunes' Mom – Devin Nunes, a Republican Congressman from California, has filed a lawsuit seeking $250 million in damages against a Twitter personality who goes by the handle @DevinNunesMom, other users of the popular messaging platform, and Twitter itself. According to a copy of the complaint uploaded by Fox News, Nunes, the ardent Trump supporter who used to chair the House Intelligence Committee, says @DevinNunesMom engaged in slander by calling him "presidential fluffer and swamp rat," and claiming he was "voted Most Likely To Commit Treason in high school," among other digital insults. The suit also accused Twitter of suppressing conservative viewpoints – an argument that other Republicans have used to put political pressure on the company. We'll be watching how that argument plays out, but we are ignoring @DevinNunesMom. Judging by the massive jump in followers that @DevinNunesMom has received since the case was filed, by the time this is all over, we're pretty sure Congressman Nunes will wish he had done so, too.