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Trump’s Tough (Policy) Week

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.

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It's been four days since Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, died in a hail of bullets on a highway near Tehran. Iran has plausibly blamed Israel for the killing, but more than that, not much is known credibly or in detail.

This is hardly the first time that an Iranian nuclear scientist has been assassinated in an operation that has a whiff of Mossad about it. But Fakhrizadeh's prominence — he is widely regarded as the father of the Iranian nuclear program — as well as the timing of the killing, just six weeks from the inauguration of a new American president, make it a particularly big deal. Not least because an operation this sensitive would almost certainly have required a US sign-off.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody. Ian Bremmer here, have your quick take. Plenty going on this week. I could of course talk about all these new Biden appointees, but frankly, there's not that much that surprising there. Moderate, lots of expertise, not very controversial, almost all of which could get through a Republican controlled Senate, presuming that markets are going to be reasonably happy, Progressive's in the Democratic party somewhat less so. But no, the big news right now internationally, certainly about Iran. The Iranians started this year with the assassination by the United States of their defense leader, Qasem Soleimani. Everyone was worried about war. Now, closing the year with the assassination of the head of their nuclear program and historically the head of their nuclear weapons program.

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Joe Biden has had one of the longest political careers in American history, but his most important act is yet to come. Can decades of experience in Washington prepare him to lead the most divided America since the end of the Civil War?

Watch the GZERO World episode: What you still may not know about Joe


Ethiopia on the brink: After ethnic tensions between Ethiopia's federal government and separatist forces in the northern Tigray region erupted into a full-blown armed conflict in recent weeks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his forces had taken control of Tigray's capital on Saturday and declared victory. But the fugitive Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael quickly called Abiy's bluff, saying the fighting is raging on, and demanded Abiy withdraw his forces. Gebremichael accused Abiy of launching "a genocidal campaign" that has displaced 1 million people, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Sudan, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Tigray, who make up about five percent of Ethiopia's population, are fighting for self-determination, but Abiy's government has repeatedly rejected invitations to discuss the issue, accusing the coalition led by Gebremichael's Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) of "instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines." As the two sides dig in their heels, Ethiopia faces the risk of a civil war that could threaten the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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