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President Trump's Overseas Trip Provides New Insight Into His Foreign Policy


This week gave us a sense of what President Trump is like on the world stage. His first international trip in office took him through the Middle East and Europe, bringing him to the centers of three major world religions.

Susan Glasser is the chief international affairs columnist for Politico. She joined us to talk about what President Trump's trip tells us about his approach to foreign policy. Our discussion began with what she found to be a change in message for U.S. president.

SUSAN GLASSER: There's not a foreign policy person in either the Democratic or the Republican Party, who I know, who wasn't struck by the incredible and weird for an American president juxtaposition between a president who goes to Saudi Arabia and says he's not going to lecture them and then goes to Europe with our closest allies and partners and lectures them. So I think it's the most visible kind of abrupt manifestation of this flip-flop on American foreign policy that we see.

SHAPIRO: If you were to somehow summarize this into a Trump approach to foreign policy, how would you put it?

GLASSER: (Laughter) Well, thank you for not using the D word - doctrine. Everybody's always looking for doctrines in American presidents and their foreign policy. And usually, the doctrine is made up of lots of different little reactions and circumstances. In the case of Trump, he's talked about an America First foreign policy - lots of wags on Twitter, as I know you know. We're making the joke that he did show America First foreign policy in shoving out of the way the leader of Montenegro at the NATO summit. That was the physical America First foreign policy.

But, look, I think it's very clear by now that it's not just a rhetorical preference. But Trump - he wants bilateral relationships. He wants, in other words, to negotiate man to man with leaders of different countries. He prefers strong men. He prefers people who he thinks he can make a deal with. It's very hard to make a deal with the 27 member states and the European Union. It's very hard to make a deal with something as amorphous as a multilateral peacekeeping organization, right? And so that's as close as we can come to stating what his foreign policy preference is right now.

SHAPIRO: One theme that seemed to come up again and again, from my perspective, was that if you have money, we are happy to make a deal with you, whether that is selling arms to the Saudis to the tune of $100 billion or scolding NATO allies for not paying their fair share.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. He still thinks, as you said, in terms of deals, in terms of dollars and cents. The one tweet - he was very disciplined on the Twitter this week after his last week almost disastrous Twitter wars with his own FBI director and the like. I think it's notable the one thing he did say was we saved USA billions of dollars, hundreds of jobs.

So he thinks like a business man in that his job is a deliverable. It's not some amorphous foreign policy doctrine. It's some more specific tangible arms sale to Saudi Arabia or the like. And I think, also, if you understand the psychology of Trump, it's smart to think in terms of deals and tactics - where is this opportunity that might be available to make a deal rather than grand strategy and big doctrines.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to ask specifically about Russia because while Trump did not meet with Russian leaders on this trip, he has been criticized for his team's connections to Russia. Of course, there's the ongoing FBI investigation. Did his actions on this trip say anything about his view of Russian activities, Russia's relationship to the U.S.?

GLASSER: Well, I'm glad you brought this up because this was something, again, that I feel we did learn something significant on this trip. We learned that despite the best efforts of his advisers - his own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and national security adviser McMaster constantly seeking to reassure European allies that, in fact, they were on the same page with Trump on Russia, and they weren't going to lift the sanctions, and they really are going to continue NATO's move to counter Russian aggression in the east of Europe, in fact, I think we learned once again that Donald Trump isn't onboard with that policy.

I thought, in some ways, the newsiest information that came out of all these meetings was Donald Tusk - the EU's current rotating president - a poll coming out and saying we disagreed in our private meeting with Donald Trump about Russia. We are not on the same page. And again, that sort of puts the lie to all the soothing words from his advisers that there is no distance between Trump and the Europeans on Russia. That's not the case.

SHAPIRO: Susan Glasser is chief international affairs columnist for Politico. She joined us via Skype. Thanks a lot.

GLASSER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.