Trump’s America has a foreign policy Talleyrand would boil down to one word: ‘No’


Five separate events over the past few days have come together to create a better picture of US foreign policy than we had until now.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s fourth visit to North Korea this year has been called off in an indication that the denuclearization process is not going well.

The new Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s first conversation with Mr Pompeo has become embroiled in an undiplomatic row over what exactly was said. Washington has held firm, which suggests it doesn’t care much about soothing Islamabad. Quite separately, Mr Pompeo is said to be on the point of appointing Zalmay Khalilzad, who is very critical of Pakistan, as special envoy to Afghanistan.

The US State Department made disapproving noises about South Africa – saying it was going down the wrong path with land redistribution to correct the abuses of the apartheid system – and Cape Town reacted badly.

The US said it would reconsider its relationship with El Salvador because of its disavowal of Taiwan in favour of China.

And the Trump administration cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.

A pattern is emerging from all of the above: the US is currently prepared to play up issues of race and religious difference; it is heedless of the feelings of allies such as Pakistan and South Africa, careless about rivals such as China, and indifferent to the plight of a dispossessed people.

It is an unusual foreign policy. Back in the 18th century, the French aristocrat and statesman Talleyrand, said a diplomat who says “yes” means “maybe”, a diplomat who says “maybe” means “no”, and a diplomat who says “no” is no diplomat.

American foreign policy right now seems to revolve around saying “no” to almost everyone and on almost everything.