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Opinion U.S. foreign policy is in shambles – and that might tempt Trump to wage war

Donald Trump’s big-mouth diplomacy is reaping wreckage.

JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

Chalk up another foreign-policy flop. Donald Trump’s self-proclaimed deal-making wizardry has deserted him again, this time on a mega-trade pact with the world’s second-largest economy.

He and his team were highly confident of a big breakthrough on trade with China, but it didn’t happen. Canada is caught up in the crossfire. As a result of the Trudeau government’s co-operation with Washington in the Meng Wanzhou case, its relations with Beijing are interwoven with the Trump administration’s. That means more trade woes with the Middle Kingdom. It means Canadians incarcerated there will remain so.

While the Trumpians aren’t overly concerned about collateral damage north of the border, they do need to be alarmed over foreign-policy failures most everywhere else they look. Mr. Trump’s big-mouth diplomacy is reaping wreckage.

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Beyond the economic war with China, there’s now the possibility of real war with Iran. In the wake of abandoning Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House reasoned that harsh sanctions would force the regime into capitulations; it shows no such signs. As might have been predicted given Mr. Trump’s ditching of an agreement that was working, Iran recently announced it is restarting the production of nuclear centrifuges and accumulating nuclear material.

On top of that provocation is the possibility of an attack on U.S. troops by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, which could prompt an unrestrained U.S. response.

On North Korea, Mr. Trump’s big hopes for a disarmament breakthrough have come to naught. Kim Jong-un, the Hermit Kingdom’s little dictator, is firing off little rockets again.

Mr. Trump confesses to having a fondness for Mr. Kim – so what if he’s a totalitarian cutthroat? But it must be becoming apparent to him that, as former defense secretary Robert Gates said recently, North Korea will never completely denuclearize.

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Meanwhile, Russia’s Vladimir Putin toys with the Trumpians. In the Middle East, tensions rise. On Venezuela, Mr. Trump was wrongly and embarrassingly led to believe by National Security Adviser John Bolton – a dangerous unreconstructed warmonger – that the Maduro socialist regime was ripe for imminent overthrow.

Despite the reversals, Mr. Trump’s belief in his superior powers of personal diplomacy shows no signs of abating. He entered office believing there was hardly a treaty out there that couldn’t be dramatically improved via his adroit interlocutory acumen. His hyper-confidence is all the more remarkable given his performance as a real-estate mogul, which has been exposed as a debt-ridden charade.

He casts the new North American free-trade deal replacing NAFTA as an example of his wondrous capacities. But the deal is only a modest redo, and its chances of ratification in the legislatures of the three countries involved are hardly auspicious.

Given the fall election, the Trudeau government had hoped to proceed to ratification before Parliament’s summer adjournment. That does not seem likely given that a prerequisite is the removal of Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. No such removal appears imminent, though Washington ambassador David MacNaughton is still holding out hope. “Dropping all immediately, maybe not, “ he says. “We will see. Still trying for that.”

While angering allies, Mr. Trump’s harebrained tariffs have done little to address the problem of U.S. trade deficits, one of his longtime obsessions.

On the environment, his quitting of the Paris accord puts his Republicans squarely on the wrong side of history. The accruing gravity of the climate-change issue is becoming apparent to all but the most resolute troglodytes.

One encouraging sign is that this president has shown no thirst for taking his country into war. During his 2016 campaign, he said that “we will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”

But having brought in hardliners such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Bolton, there is no certainty that he will hold to that view. Mr. Bolton has previously made pitches for Iran to be bombed and for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

With his foreign-policy failures piling up, and with his support level below what he needs to win the election next year, Mr. Trump may decide he needs a sharp change of course.

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As his hawks are surely telling him, a surefire way of diverting attention from other perils and of jacking up support numbers is to go to war. Throw pork chops to your masses by inflating a threat and then obliterating it.

Big-mouth diplomacy isn’t working. Bombs might.

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