President Donald Trump’s brinkmanship with Mexico over immigration has opened a new and risky front in his global campaign to pressure other nations to capitulate to his demands, a strategy that has paid few dividends over 21/2 years and left his major foreign policy initiatives in doubt.
From his “fire and fury” rhetoric against a nuclear-armed North Korea to an escalating trade war with China to new ultimatums aimed at Mexico, Trump has wielded threats, insults and punishments against his foreign counterparts with diminishing returns.
Though he lured Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table through a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions, Trump’s historic summits with the young dictator ended in failure after talks collapsed in February.
Beijing attempted to negotiate over Trump’s push for a trade deal, but President Xi Jinping has met successive rounds of U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods with commensurate retaliatory measures, deepening an increasingly zero-sum clash between the world’s two largest economies.
And although Mexico took steps to comply with Trump’s hard-line immigration policies – allowing Central American asylum seekers to the United States a temporary haven – Trump’s vow this week to impose sweeping tariffs unless that nation curbs unauthorized immigration into the United States stirred a public backlash.
For Trump, who campaigned on achieving “peace through strength,” the consistent application of a tool kit of toughness has limited his options and left him in a precarious position as he accelerates his campaign for a second term.
Despite his pressure tactics, unauthorized immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border is at a 12-year peak, the tariff wars have sent jitters through Wall Street, and Pyongyang has resumed testing of short-range missiles, a sign that Kim is growing impatient.
“It strikes me that we are in the middle of an unprecedented and multifaceted experiment in the application of brute force,” said Daniel Russel, who served as an assistant secretary of state on Asian affairs in the Obama administration. “President Trump has been extraordinarily effective at generating leverage . . . but it has yet to be shown that he has the ability to translate that leverage into results that are advantageous to the United States or are durable.”