Following Donald Trump's upset victory in the 2016 US election, foreign diplomats who have spent over two years adjusting to Trumpian diplomacy are now coming to grips with the following;
Trump's 2016 win was not a fluke, he has a good chance of winning again, and there's no 'just riding it out' anymore.
"In 2016, nobody believed he was going to be elected. People don’t want to be stupid twice," former French Ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, told Politico.
"The way it looks to people is it’s going to be another four years," one Arab diplomat said, adding. "If he gets reelected, he’s bound by nothing, except Congress. And I don’t know how that’s going to play out."
One Asian ambassador told Politico that every embassy in Washington is operating "on the basis that the president has more than an even chance at being reelected."
There’s no known scientific survey on the topic — few foreign officials would participate in one given diplomatic norms that preclude them from commenting on another country's internal politics. But none who talked to POLITICO were willing to say that Trump will lose. Instead, they pointed to three key advantages for Trump: He’s the incumbent, the U.S. economy is strong and the Democrats have no definitive front-runner to challenge him.
The expectation could affect how allies and adversaries approach negotiations with the U.S. While countries like China and Iran have shown signs of trying to wait out Trump, several foreign officials said it would be ill-advised to count on a Trump defeat in 2020. Even if Trump loses, they argued, some of his policies and views may shape U.S. foreign policy for years to come. -Politico
Another foreign diplomat told Politico that Trump may lose interest in major policy moves as the 2020 campaign heats up, but "Trump is very hard to predict!," adding "We are always very surprised."
Trump or not, however there are certain US foreign policy directions that some diplomats feel are cast in stone regardless of who wins in 2020. For example, when it comes to US military involvement overseas, some of the Democratic candidates have echoed Trump's 'America First' rhetoric - which Politico describes as 'isolationist.'
Moreover, candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have spoken of similar 'fair' trade deals as Trump.
Politico's conclusion; " no foreign government should bank on getting a better shake post-Trump."
"He’s not an isolated phenomenon," said one European diplomat, adding "In his campaign and his presidency, he’s just responding to what the American public feels. The frustration he expresses, the grievances he responded to in his campaign are very often real."
That hasn’t stopped a few countries from sending signals that they’d rather wait and see what happens.
China, for one, appears unlikely to strike a trade deal with the U.S. until after the 2020 election. Beijing has been increasingly reluctant to make concessions as Trump has slapped a steady stream of tariffs on the country’s exports.
Iran’s Islamist regime, meanwhile, appears unwilling to hold new nuclear negotiations with Trump, despite the president’s repeated imposition of sanctions that have battered the country's economy. -Politico
Other governments such as Hungary and Poland would welcome Trump's re-election. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would also applaud another Trump win, after the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Saudis would similarly celebrate a second term for Trump, who sells them sweet, sweet US munitions which they use to turn Yemeni civilians into pink paste.
Then there's North Korea - which is become hostile towards South Korea again and has enjoyed Trump's seeming lack of concern over their recent bevy of new missile tests.
Trump made history by meeting face-to-face with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, part of an effort to strike a nuclear deal with the country. But neither side has made significant strides toward its ultimate goal — an end to North Korea’s nuclear program for the U.S., and an end to U.S. sanctions for North Korea.
Still, Trump touts his friendship with Kim, whom he says has sent him many “beautiful” letters, and has downplayed Kim’s recent short-range missile tests. Trump has also scaled back U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises, a gift to Kim.
The North Korean ruler may not get such generous treatment from a Democratic president eager to distinguish himself or herself from Trump. -Politico
Brookings Institution foreign policy analyst Tom Wright notes that aside from preparing psychologically for another Trump win, governments haven't taken concrete steps towards foreign policy directions ahead of 2020, a sign that they're still holding out for a Democratic win.
If Trump does win as now expected among Diplomatic ranks, allies such as France and German will have to give some serious consideration to their military and economic partnerships with the United States, and that if Trump wins, "future Democratic candidates will be more nationalistic," according to Wright.
"It’s not Trump, it’s much wider than him," a senior EU diplomat told Politico. "It’s not anymore that we are the two allies fighting together against threats like terrorism. The way they look at us now is mainly as a market to conquer against Chinese interests. It has become a bilateral struggle between them and the Chinese for who conquers Europe or Africa."
"What I’m saying right now is, I think, shared by many people," said a Middle Eastern diplomat of the 2020 election, adding "It’s his to lose."