The Obama-Trump Grand Strategy

The strange continuity in their foreign policy gambits and ambitions.


Comments: 172

  1. For the "bargain (to) be a bad one, or it may evaporate" presumes that there is an actual bargain at all. From what we've seen, North Korea has merely restated their goal of denuclearization, which has been their position for a long time. The president, because he never met a photo op he didn't like, executed a negotiation to appear on camera and declare victory.

  2. A victory, alright- for Kim and the Chinese. They got our feckless leader to scrub joint military exercises with the ROK. How much longer 'til we withdraw from the Korean Peninsula entirely and leave Seoul to the tender mercies of a (still) nuclearized PDRK?

  3. "America's grand strategy is outdated or nonexistent."
    Yes it is. For far too long we have tried to order the affairs of the world from Washington. This has led to a series of catastrophic wars which we seemingly cannot end because that would imply defeat. For those of us who participated in the conflicts of fifty years ago this is an old sad story.
    The Washington foreign policy establishment "blob" which Ben Rhodes refers to no longer enjoys the support of the public. Away with them.

  4. If you want to really compare Trump and Obama, consider this. Obama thought about policy, relationships, consequences. Trump doesn't. Trump doesn't even really have any policy of his own. He just negates Obama and calls it a day.

    Obama had more than his share of problematic actions, but I'd take him in a heartbeat. Obama was brains and pragmatism; Trump is ego and impetuousness.

  5. Trump thinks about how something will benefit him personally. He really hasn't a clue that he is expected to be president of our country.

  6. I think Obama was overly cautious to a flaw, where Trump is not overly cautious to a flaw, but as Ross indicates both tried or are trying to extricate us from this endless war nightmare of being the world's policeman and neglecting the home front

  7. "If you want to really compare Trump and Obama, consider this. Obama thought about policy, relationships, consequences." Huh? What about the, "consequences," of picking a right wing health care plan the republicans could clobber the democrats with, losing all three branches of government AND over a thousand state election seats? How about not prosecuting any of the bankers that caused the great recession? The banks got bigger! What about the, "consequences," of having almost five million home foreclosures throwing millions out of their homes? Or, not fixing NAFTA, so workers in the industrial mid-west were de-unionized by the leverage of corporations leaving the country? If you sent Obama to buy a used car for you, you would pay twice as much, if you sent Trump, you just wouldn't see the money again.

  8. I told my wife this morning that she will read that somehow credit for this geopolitical master stroke of Trump will go to Obama. Hilarious.

  9. Does turning his back on our actual allies also rate as a geopolitical master stroke? No, not hilarious.

  10. And as pointed out in other media outlets, the irony is that the Right lambasted Obama for making concessions to Iran for little more than a promise not to build a nuclear bomb for 10 years while looking the other way as it builds it ICBMs, finances terror proxies with billions in cash Obama allowed released (the excuse being it was Iran's money plus interest to begin with, but conveniently forgetting the US had garnished a larger amount in damages against Iran inflicted on US property and American lives but Obama dropped the claims), while looking the other way as the mullahs cracked down bloodily on pro-Democracy demonstrators and publicly hung gays. All with the hope that the atmospherics would eventually lead to peace.

    Now Trump has made a few concessions to North Korea, the main one being a suspension of US/South Korea war games (which can be easily restarted if necessary) but has not dropped sanctions. And he didn't bring up human rights abuses except it's reported discussing kidnapped Japanese citizens to be repatriated. Instead, the hope like Obama with Iran is that improved atmospherics will lead eventually to real peace. And like clockwork, the Trump haters -- the very same times that gushed over the same Obama strategy with Iran -- are lambasting Trump for doing similar.

  11. The benefit of the Iran deal was Iran dismantling its nuclear program and facilities and subjecting to international inspections. It worked.
    That’s nothing like what Trump did, which was to accept Kim’s assertion of a desire to denuclearize someday as a “deal”, and downgrade our alliances in the region faster than you can say “Munich”.

  12. There is no comparison to the deal that Obama made with Iran and the photo op that Trump just did with North Korea. Obama's deal actually had some verifiable restraints on Iran's ability to build nuclear bombs. North Korea already has those bombs and Trump's "deal" does not result in their dismantling or any inspections to see that they comply with anything. Trump's visit was really about Trump, just part of his campaigning for re-election in 2020. Only a fool would think that not even trying to restrain North Korea was anything but a public relations stunt. Trump doesn't earn the "noble" prize.

  13. There were nothing similar between the two. The Iran deal is an actual end deal with verifiable perimeters. This summit was Trump's opening move, securing a mere "promise" while giving away something tangible and actionable. What the summit did achieve was putting the flame that Trump had stoked with NK last year. Was that an achievement since Trump was responsible for the flame to begin with?

  14. that Douthat would even attempt to make a legitimate comparison between Obama & Trump negates any credibility he may still have...

  15. Well they are both men with children and have been president as well as being American (take that Mr President!) They also both eat, breathe and sleep, so they’ve got that in common. I think that about somes it up Mr D.

  16. Ross is trying to maintain his Trump audience in the same way the reckless GOP leadership is trying to maintain Trump voters by rolling over for Trump at the expense of our national security and dignity.

  17. What a stretch. What contortions. Obama is thoughtful and looks at the big picture and thinks things through. Trump is the proverbial broken clock, correct twice a day.

  18. "Twice a day"? Which day was that?

  19. I really liked most of your comments but I strongly doubt if Trump has ever been correct twice on any day of his presidency. His brokenness is staggering and beyond repair.

  20. OK. Here is more sophistication.

    “Can you imagine how the the citizens of the US would react if any normal President showed so much disdain for human rights and decency having cozied up to a murderous dictator like this?”

  21. The right enters yet another post truth alternative universe when the best it can do is postulate an equivalence between dummy trump and the well prepared obama. And this from the very folks who excoriated obama. They have earned the contempt they receive.

  22. Most of them also excoriated Trump before they learned to love him on condition that he help reelect them.

  23. The Difficulty with this analysis and with any analysis of the Trump presidency is that there is no reality. It’s like trying to decide whether Coke or Pepsi taste better by simply watching their advertisements.

    It’s always healthy to look at how others in the world see our activities. For this it’s hard to argue that Trump gets anything other than an E for a grade. Even with Our new pal North Korea, who have to be scratching their heads wondering what really is going on. Six months ago he threatened to bomb them, and now they are reporting that we are best friends.

    I guess my biggest source of anger is for those who reported craziness before Trump. I’m sure a lot of people don’t even listen to the news, because it has been so cantankerous.

    Now, when things are truly insane, I believe most people simply think that It’s the media reporting from the fringe.

    I would love to be on another planet watching this from afar. Then, it might be amusing.

  24. @K. Corbin - Luckily, this eventuality was anticipated by South Park, so your fantasy has been committed to film history:

    https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0705900/

    The key to our little reality show down here is ratings from the watching Universe; so we're lucky to have a reality show carnival barker hogging the camera ?

    Does anyone know if Orange even transmits well across the Galaxy ?

  25. So far, this comparison between Obama & Trump foreign policy does seem to reflect some similarities, with, of course, obvious trade offs.
    The obsessive harping on the benefits of the so-called Pax Americana by Douthat is something else.
    Pax Americana defined by Douthat - " We shop. They drop."

  26. Ross, if Trump and Obama look similar to you, run, don't walk to the nearest eye doctor to have your vision checked.

  27. Thanks for the laugh. This column doesn't rate a serious answer!

  28. I don't buy your theories on this one Mr. Douthat.

    President Obama (Democratic administration) tried to engage with hostile regimes (Cuba and Iran as examples) but backed it up with demands for inspections and changes for human rights.

    This President has achieved the reverse, by dismantling the agreement with Iran and now has given the store to North Korea. (simply by shaking hands, having a photo op and giving the prestige of such a meeting to their leader)

    I, for one do not feel any safer.

  29. "President Obama (Democratic administration) tried to engage with hostile regimes (Cuba and Iran as examples) but backed it up with demands for inspections and changes for human rights. "

    Right. Can you remind me about the state of human rights in Iran and Cuba after Obama's engagement with them? I think you are confusing Bush's policies with Obama's.

  30. It now turns out that Li'l Kim's human rights record never even came up during this meeting- our feckless leader was too busy calling out Canada's tariff "abuses" to bother himself about the millions of Koreans being subjected to torture and imprisonment on a daily basis for the crime of having questioned the rule of their Dear Leader. Kim's name should now be added to the growing list of exemplary world leaders who The Donald has chosen to emulate: Putin, Xi, Duterte, Erdogan, Netanyahu. And he has the audacity to object to our treaty agreement with Iran because of its failure to address other issues apart from denuclearization!

  31. I understand that it did, but it should never interfere from us getting him to eliminate nuclear weapons etc. I don't care what he does to his citizens, or at least no nearly as much as US citizens not being threatened by nuclear or other weapons.

  32. President Obama thought that "resets" were possible if other nations were approached rationally with appeals crafted to take their interests into consideration. Too often, that didn't work out as planned. Too bad things are so complicated; who knew?
    President Trump doesn't think much. He reacts from his instincts and his emotions. Kim likes me so much that I can trust him to do just what he has promised, or maybe it wasn't a real promise, but I trust him. He wants to prove something to a world that despises him.
    The Iran deal may have polled well, but did most Americans understand what was in it? Trump's supporters aren't known for nuance.
    I agree that the US has to think about how it will relate to the rest of the world, but I think Trump's America First is different from what Obama was trying to accomplish. The way Trump behaved at the G-7 meeting suggests that there is an assumption the US can wield more power than was possible even at the height of US dominance. Or maybe it's just Trump and his conviction that he can make whatever he desires happen.

  33. A bully bullies because that's all he knows how to do. That's all we need to know about Trump and it's also what he's been telling us all along. For some reason we just don't want to believe it.

  34. Ah, "continuities and discontinuities"! A few of the former go unmentioned in Mr. Douthat's column. Under both Obama and, now, Trump, China's expansionism in the South China Sea and gradual abandonment of Taiwan go substantively unchallenged. Although stylistically as different as day and night (or let's say chalk and cheese), both presidents have been glad to leave European affairs to the Europeans. The pivot toward India and away from Pakistan that began under Obama has continued under Trump. Neglect of Africa is a hallmark of successive presidencies, punctuated by occasional humanitarian crises. De-Obamazation under Trump has in some spheres been somewhat more cosmetic than real, for example in policy toward Cuba and Venezuela. Does anyone detect real differences in US policy toward Central Asia since January 2017? North Africa? Central America? Even Syria and the Gulf? Continuity in Israeli policy in the West Bank has been obscured by the advent of Trump and consequent rhetoric and photo ops; American liberals have been horrified, but Palestinians will be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has changed. The greatest discontinuity has been in the US regime's abandonment of multilateralism, both in word and deed, the ultimate results of which we must hope to be able to correct in the post-Trump era.

  35. The facts and implications lead to China calling the shots and commanding its bidding. Obama is the classic and useful GOP scapegoat, tattered and worn--but nothing like the sell out of Trump. Full story (in 4 parts, below.)

    The audience co-stars, Trump and Kim, made it to Singapore, Kim on a China-borrowed, American-manufactured plane. Fittingly, they arrived at a golf resort whose beach was built with imported sand. They spoke alone. They spoke with staff. They signed an agreement of general principles written before the meeting to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, a position long sought by North Korea. The moment has been declared as “defining,” “historic,” a “new chapter.” Two bandits and bullies, as heads of state, their handshake. The murderer didn't have to kneel as the nations flags stood side-by-side.

    In media reality, essence was replaced appearance. Appearances overwhelmed a myriad of details, and missed descriptions and comparisons—even the media's joyful shame. Shame on media cheerleaders—omitting details of truth/essence.

    72 hours before the Summit,Trump and staff viciously attacked Canada's Prime Minister, the national neighbor who hosted the G7 conference to which Trump arrived late and left early. Trump hit Justin Trudeau with made-up lies, smeared him as “weak,” “dishonest,” and used Air Force One's 20 tv's to justify his lies. The media left-out details of Canada's dairy supply management, real answers that defend Trudeau and say otherwise.

  36. (Part 2)
    Trump quickly flew to shake the hand of the life-appointed dictator of the world's most vicious regime. North Korea denies basic human rights, imprisons and kills its citizens, who are among the world's poor. The media endlessly repeats the endless round of Trump cliches of Kim's talent, love, his being tough at an early age. (Never mind the constant pall of death.)

    North Korea had a nuclear warhead and delivery capacity. Canada, by choice, has none and is not a nuclear state. Trump would tell us Trudeau was smeared over the price of milk; Canada's tariffs supports the price for local farmers.

    Trudeau spoke before his country's citizens, from a podium in one of Canada's provinces. He wanted to make clear to Canada--French and English, African and Native, to immigrant communities in Toronto and Ottawa, the Asian community in Vancouver, to farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, to the farming cities of Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary on tariffs/trade Canada would “not be pushed.” No bullying, a review of new deals.

    None of what Trudeau said on tariffs had anything to do with G7 agreement! Why cancel your signature, and refuse to sign, while projecting “a special place in hell” for Trudeau?

    48 hours later, Trump announced a major military policy change as an interview aside.

  37. He looked into Kim's soul and saw...himself.

  38. Nice Stu. Scary thought though.

  39. I suggest Mr. Douthat watch the pro-Kim video that was released by the White House, and to honestly answer the question as to whether Obama would have ever produced such a thing. It is Trump "diplomacy" in a nutshell.

  40. As a former institutional finance marketing executive, I watched in awe the "story" Trump created for Kim.

    At first Itboght it was a commercial by The Onion.

    When I realized it wasn't, I couldn't believe the production values were so, well dreadful. The pitch was so heavy-handed that it seemed like it was created by a dreadfully sincere college media major.

    I was most surprised that there wasn't a Trump logo on one of the phoney buildings along the beautiful beaches.

  41. i only been in america all my life and the trillions spent or wasted, your choice, on keeping our interests world wide safe and happy needs to stop. we have thrown away funds for old outdated bridges across our nation let alone the secondary and ancillary roads we rely on. after any flood poisons leech into ground water and nothing has changed except this year the EPA has made it even easier for chemicals to be recklessly stored.

    i come here and find an article comparing the similarities between twitter boy and the last President to hold this office. please mr columnist you really look for false equivalencies all the time now. as readers we deserve better.

  42. You are right. It is unconscionable to spend all this time arguing about things that don’t affect real Americans when we have so much to do at home.

  43. Trump apologists have to work very hard to find a thread of something that could be construed as a coherent foreign policy or doctrine in this administration's chaotic words and actions.
    But the very fact that it's so inchoate is what makes it possible to compare it to the previous administration - or to anything else- and say one has found a parallel.
    A more interesting mirror image is between Kim and Trump. Both have an instinctive feel for images and spectacles to be fed to the masses; both have complete faith in themselves and demand total unquestioning loyalty to themselves; both interpret events and situations in fantastic terms that bear little resemblance to reality.
    But I suspect Kim prepared for the so-called summit.

  44. Obama was an arrogant person who generally bowed down to everyone, Trump is nothing like that. If you see something here your mental state is in question. Obama is a nice traditional person, Trump is not!!! Viva the difference!!!

  45. Thanks for the alt-right foreign policy perspective.

  46. Arrogant people don't bow down to everyone.

  47. I usually don't pay much attention to Mr. Douthat, and although several of his observations in this column, such as the Iranian deal leading to problems in Yemen and Syria, are a couple of bridges too far, the column as a whole is one of the more sober and thoughtful pieces I've seen today. Yes, there is a sea change happening both domestically and in America's position in the global order, and his call to reassess these phenomena is a welcome change from the usual op-ed that follows one of the well-tread "storylines."

  48. Equating an impulsive, clumsy attempt at rapprochment with North Korea to a long-overdue thawing of relations with Cuba--Cuba!--is completely absurd. Redressing a half century of failed policy vis a vis Cuba posed a national security threat to the US how, exactly? Likewise, when it comes to shattering alliances with Canada, France, Germany, and the rest of the G7--our partners through thick (the Iraq war) and thin (the 2008 financial collapse)--how does that compare with pushing back against the sometimes brutally oppressive policies of the Israeli government, while still giving them $3 billion a year in aid?

    This column is false equivalence at its worst.

  49. While one may assess Trump as a "total disaster", we must
    further look at the possibility that the preceding Presidents --
    Clinton, Bush and Obama -- laid the foundation for our current
    situation. And in spite of the liberal adoration for Obama, much
    of the fault lies with his administration and his failed understanding
    of "the world as it is". Read the Rhodes' memoir carefully. Future
    historians will not be kind to the Obama presidency.

  50. Sorry, Mr Douthat, but your theory here holds no water.

    President Obama made an actual, enforcable, verifiable deal with Iran that led to, at minimum, a major delay in its nuclear weapons program.

    Donald Trump made a photo op with a mass murderer that, for unknown reasons, happens to be popular with the willfully ignorant near-majority in this country.

    Obama angered the Saudis, who gave us Mohammad Atta; Trump attempts to break up with the UK and Europe, who gave us the twentieth century.

    If Trump is skeptical of 'inherited wisdom', its not because, like Obama, he has weighed the merits of said wisdom and found it lacking. Trump saw a shiny object, dropped whatever he was doing, and grabbed for it. Never mind the trip wire.

  51. "Trump is angering a traditional set of allies (the Europeans and now Canada) while pining for a détente with an authoritarian rival (Russia); Obama had a similar approach to realignment in the Middle East, angering the Israelis and Saudis while seeking an accommodation with Iran."
    Look closer. The analogy does not hold. Trump has been gratuitously rude and aggressive with our allies in Europe and Canada - from throwing a temper tantrum at the G7, bickering about its members, diminishing and complaining about NATO, declining to shake Merkel's hand, lying about terrorism in Europe, mocking London's Mayor, supporting Marine Le Pen, and so on.
    President Obama was never in poor form like this. He did stand up to the cynicism of the Saudi Royals and Netanyahu, in a dignified manner and for real reasons. With the Saudis, President Obama curbed their anti-Shiite hysteria, particularly with regards to bombing Yemen and their determination to keep Iran on the fringes. With Bibi, President Obama did not indulge his destructive settlement expansion, his fearmongering over Arabs, his lies about Iran's nuclear capability, or his manipulation of Congress. That was sticking up for right, not picking a fight.
    President Obama was not looking for a "special bond" with anyone in Iran, unlike Trump and Kim Jong Un. President Obama was being pragmatic and looking to make the world a safer, better place. It was he, not Trump, who knew how to really do business with the world.

  52. The analytics here are somewhat confusing. Most of us know Trump doesn't read much, and doesn't pay attention to any detailed analysis. While Obama being just the opposite does delve into the details.

    Trump has Bolton and Pompeo, both warmongers. Obama on the other hand balanced every security proposal with his own understanding (he reads the daily briefing). There just is no comparison between the two. Pax Ameiricana has no meaning in Trump world.

    This entire Trump Kim meeting was nothing more than a "Reality TV" performance. Two weeks from now, we will hear nothing more about this. Trump will be on to his next "Realty Show".

  53. I take Trump’s Singapore event as seriously as I do one of his awful “campaign rallies”. Spectacle trumps substance.

  54. Seriously?

    1) Trump belittles America's allies, but speaks well of its enemies. Obama knew who the enemies were and treated his allies as allies.
    2) Trump likes doing a deal with America's nuclear-armed enemies using his gut instincts to verify it will turn out well. Obama had verification built into his agreements so he could see that plutonium stores were removed and not being replenished.
    3) Trump often tweets his foreign policy, using the spur of the moment to catch everyone, including his advisors, off guard. Obama surrounded himself with thoughtful people, heeded their advice, and had an eye to the future.

    Thee two things are not alike.

  55. Thank you Russ. That was probably the best opinion article I have read in the NYT in quite a while. For a change, you (the writer) is allowing me (the reader) to formulate my own opinion. Whether I agree with you, or not. I appreciate that you presented a fair and balanced opinion, from which I may draw my own conclusions.
    Refreshing.

  56. "But there is also a mirror-image quality to their gambits and ambitions."

    That is by far the most perceptive characterization of Trump's first eighteen odd months in the White House. But that is as far my agreement with Douthat goes. The labored effort to justify Trump's policies in terms of strategy and rationale falls flat. A set of random events can always be presented as some sort of pattern that really does not exist. The truth can be better expressed succinctly in terms of a pithy, contemporary meme: Trump is bizarro Obama.

  57. I found this column, with its fulsome right wing equivalency and complete lack of analysis of what Trump gave away yesterday (ceasing military exercises on the peninsula in exchange for absolutely nothing -no concrete steps for disarmament, no redress for egregious human rights violations!) to be more dangerous than this week's White House-created propaganda film with Trump's enthusiastic thumbs up to a deified Kim. Clinton and Obama have no place in this column. This column should have reviewed and explained Trump's irresponsible and despotic actions this week, nothing more and...well, can't finish that cliche, because clearly there's nothing less!

  58. President Obama’s pivot to Asia was one of the smartest moves that he made, however it was one of the first things that trump threw out. Trump has handed the guidance of the TPP to the PRC, America is fast becoming irrelevant! What are our multi national companies thinking, they have become immeasurably wealthy due to America’s paternal attitude to countries less fortunate than ours. Are they all going to be applying for resident visae in China. As for his total disregard for our relationship with our northern cousins in Canada, I cannot imagine what is going on in that muddled brain of his. Will he change his mind again when one of his billionaire buddies point out some of the problems in chilly relations with our closest friend.

  59. This essay has a strange academic quality, clever but leaving out the most important fact. As if you were comparing John Dillinger or Jesse James to the presidents of the banks they robbed, and finding there was really no difference.

  60. You are only right about one thing, that Trump and Obama appealed to the electorate’s motivation. Trump appealed to peoples’ fears, Obama to their hopes. Both sought to undermine trust in their opponent.

    “This is not an agreement based on trust” Obama said of the Iran deal.

  61. There's another angle, the old Chinese proverb: the right thing in the wrong hands turns out badly, and the wrong thing in the right hands turns out well. Given that Trump has small, exceedingly wrong hands, we can surmise the end result.

  62. Obama was a realist and was detail oriented.

    Obama made deals to benefit the US and the world, particularly our allies.

    Obama maintained good relationships with our allies, and let our enemies know where they stood.

    Obama was brave.

    Obama was smart.

    Obama was graceful.

    Obama was honest.

    Obama was and remains a loyal American, who would not sell America's interest to benefit himself or his family financially.

    Trump is none of those things.

  63. Barack Obama was, and still is all of those things.

  64. Obama: temperate, cool, aloof at times, but always reflective on his decisions.
    Trump: con man.

    Stop trying to normalize this horror movie

  65. I agree.

    Both Obama and Trump realized that the United States is no longer capable of enforcing the world order on its own. Both were/are loath to state the obvious in so many words. Obama sought to encourage Europe and China to step up and share the burden (hoping that they would agree with the American view of the world), while Trump (under no such illusion) simply walks away, more or less content to let the chips fall where they may.

    The underlying facts remain the same. American can no longer enforce "Pax Americana" and a new order must be created in its place. The process is likely to be messy. The quicker the so-called foreign policy establishment comes to accept this state of affairs, the better.

  66. Ross, I get your point. But it is so overstated to become ridiculous. It presupposes that Trump had some grand plan. He did not. While Obama made many mistakes, he did have a sense of where he was going, with a mix of realism and ethics. I don’t think Obama was particularly successful. But at least he verified,...

  67. I will not dwell on the differences between the Castro regime and what is going on in North Korea---so...I will venture into the real problem with Trump...he sees no value in alliances. Everything he does ---his "grand strategy"---is structured around his image--he loves to sign documents and have photo opts with heads of state who have committed war crimes---Assad maybe his next "diplomatic" break through. You may question Obama's strategic moves---granted we do live in a different world---but they were thoughtful and value laded moves. Trump's moves are thoughtless and ratings driven.

  68. So tiny Cuba is the equivalent of nuclear-armed N Korea, while Saudia Arabia and Israel are the much of a sameness with Western European democracies? Really? Go on, pull the other one.

    "Trump’s Korean bargain may be a bad one . . . "

    There was no bargain. The communique was less specific than previous N Korean statements, and Trump's unilateral decision to end joint military exercises calls into question the US commitment to help defend S Korea.

    Obama ended two ground wars and negotiated a solid nuclear deal with Iran. His foreign policy bears no resemblance to Trump's serial temper tantrums. Mr. Douthat, in his efforts to smear Obama, is merely putting lipstick on a pig, as we would say down home.

  69. Recognizing limitations on American power thru "resetting" and leading from behind didn't subvert American commitment to the Atlantic alliance or our Pacific partners. Obama's nuanced commitments may have reflected contemporary muting of US assertiveness but Buffoon's actions don't constitute a subtle inflection of leadership's characteristics but a deliberate subversion of US moral duties toward the world order. Obama knew our centrality and indispensably remains. (Cf. The Nobel speech) Trump would invite vicious murderers and torturers to the Oval Office and alienate the civilized leaders of western democracies. To compare these two men or their policies because of parallels in the framework in their foreign policies is to miss the point that Obama will go down in history as one who moderated the US leadership role and Trump as one betraying it, perhaps for the basest motives.

  70. Mr. Douthat, Trump is doing just a bit more than angering our allies.

    Perhaps you should speak with our Ambassador for Germany, Richard Grenell, who is actively courting all alt-right entities within Europe, while thumbing his nose at both the Western Alliance and the EU.

    You think he will increase the instability and mistrust?

    It is a miracle that Merkel has not thrown him out and he has only been there for a little over a month. Give him time, because there appears to be far more damage to come.

    Nor is he pining for détente with Russia and, for that matter China. He has already achieved that and is swapping spit with both leaders!

    If anything, they are serving as his role model.

    That is a bit more than just angering your allies Ross.

    Nor are they just accidents. It is more like throwing them under a Trump Tower in each of their countries. After all, that just might be the asking price to end this phase of Trump's war.

    If Kim is changing his posture, then it has everything to do with China and Russia and little to do with the so-called charm offensive of Trump.

    Perhaps the real answers lies in whose orbit Trump is actually heading towards, as opposed to questioning the motives of Kim.

    The North Korean leadership for decades had every opportunity to modernize their economy and they have China as their model.

    They have chosen not to.

    Why now?

    We all need to stop treating Trump like a fool and seeing him for what he is, a very real threat to our way of life.

  71. While I can appreciate the argument that "American power is limited, America's grand strategy is outdated or nonexistent," and that this is a reality that presidents now face, Douthat's comparisons here shatter the limits of credibility:

    Engagement with North Korea and Cuba!

    'Angering traditional allies' like Canada and Saudi Arabia!

  72. Nobody wants a nuclear missile shot at them so I guess that makes us all the same then. Finally, a path to world unity.

  73. "Trump’s Korean bargain may be a bad one, or it may evaporate."

    There is no bargain.

    This was a photo op for two people who live for them. The press, the whole press, is Trump's sucker, covering him 24/7, obsessing nonstop about a meeting that yielded absolutely no results.

    Dan Kravitz

  74. Clumsy argument. And, no.

    "Trump is trying to make a deal with North Korea, a last Cold War holdout, much as Obama did with Cuba."

    That's not even apples and oranges. That's apples and marbles. The rest of the comparisons are about the same.

    You couldn't even slip this by your average IR 201 instructor for a C. Just...no.

  75. How did we get here. Simple, it is the fault of coastal liberals, the blowback was inevitable. Making blue collar workers compete with illegals for jobs, apartments schooling and medical care was a start. Allowing hoards of immigrants coming to replace American white collar jobs using H1b, l1, b1, j1 and a host of other visas was the next shoe to drop. Finally, treating all republicans with an elitist attitude did it in. Liberals, keep it up and there will be GOP winnings for a long time to come.

  76. There are lots of blue collar workers here on the coasts. You think we all live in Trump Tower? And you know what? A lot of those blue collar workers are liberals. And no, we don't look down on Republicans. We look down on people who voted for a narcissistic, impulsive, bigoted, bullying con artist with multiple documented bankruptcies and fraud cases. Plenty of Republicans didn't vote for him -- if they had, he'd have won the popular votes, or at least not have lost it by a 3M margin.

  77. Realist, where are the jobs Trump promised? If he was going to help non-elites, why wasn't that his first priority, instead of giving the 1% a tax cut they will invest in some offshore bank?

  78. "Alliances need to change..." I guess North Korea is going to replace Canada as our major trade partner.

  79. "Of course the foreign policy differences between the two presidencies are obvious .... "

    That's only because Trump LIED about his foreign policy during the campaign. His handlers knew the public liked Obama's non-involvement policy, and he pretended to be for the same. But it turns out he is Netanyahu's puppet, brought to you by the "Russian" oligarchs.

  80. Donald is George in the old "Opposite" Seinfeld episode.

    "I'm going to do the opposite of all of my predecessors," he thinks, "and I will bask in the glory of my loyal base."

    Enemies are now friends. Friends are now enemies.

    "And I suppose," said Jerry to George when he secured a plum job with the Yankees after insulting George Steinbrenner, "your Messiah would be the Antichrist."

    Pretty much describes Donald for me.

  81. Proof positive that there really is no difference between (serious) Douthat and Hannity/FOX/Limbaugh.

    Somehow, I forgot the part where Obama extolled North Korea's tremendous beaches and pushed the idea of luxury condos.

  82. Obama thoughtfully nurtured and repaired the frayed relationships with our important traditional allies that were damaged by W's administration. Trump is trashing those relationships in a way that may be irreparable in favor of obsequious advances to brutal dictators. Any comparison between the two is ludicrous.

  83. Good column. I think Douthat is maturing into a grade A weirdo, and the kind of contrarian and outside thinker this paper needs. The redistribution-of-sex and sex-robots with regard to the Incel “threat” was another sign of his budding insight, but this one is equally strong.

    And as an Obama-Trump voter, I have a lot of sympathy for the views expressed in this one. Unlike the Incel column - which was weird and good but fundamentally “wrong” - I think this one is weird and good and sort of right.

    The reason many of us helped Obama win in ‘08 against Hillary (speaking as a donor and someone who worked as a volunteer in 4 primaries against HRC) was because we detested neo-conservative America Second thinking. The kind of thinking that had W and HRC rushing into wars that wasted red state and poor American blood so some stone aged barbarians could have democracy, while non-profit parasites and State Department careerists could get a nice bullet on their resume.

    And while many of us parted ways with Obama and the Dems over the BLM movement and open borders, I imagine many people who like Trump still respect Obama’s pragmatism and foreign policy realism. Not meddling in Syria for instance was a stroke of genius.

  84. As I understand Mr. Douthat's analysis, the main similarity between the Obama and Trump administrations stems from recognition that the US no longer has the power or resources to play a dominant role on the world stage, at least not to the extent it did during the quarter century after WWII. I agree that Mr. Obama understood and accepted this reality, which in itself reflected in part the success of the US in helping Europe and Japan rebuild.

    Trump, however, views the world from a narrower perspective, chiefly that of a bookkeeper. He glanced at our trade relations and our alliances and concluded that neither contributed positively to America's bottom line, an evaluation that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how both benefit the US. Only a man with Trump's stunted intellect would impose protective tariffs on our friends while refusing to punish a Chinese telecommunications giant that had violated numerous American laws.

    Douthat's thesis also fails to explain Trump's hostility to our NATO allies. If the US lacks its earlier capacity to influence international affairs, that should make our alliances more not less important. But Trump insults our friends while pursuing detente with countries that do not wish us well. No one can imagine Mr. Obama pursuing such a policy.

  85. What did Trump get from the Singapore summit?

    For one thing, it makes it look like he actually had a plan. A strategy. This will keep the people of Fox Noise falling all over themselves for weeks. Fox and Friends will go into happy, happy overdrive. Limbaugh will limbo on the radio.

    It makes it appear that Trump is wheeling and dealing, even though no real deal was made except we can work toward an agreement later. Sometime. You can get a deal like that with the mafia any day of the week.

    Is it possible that the man with funnier hair than Trump actually came to the table because of repeated insults? Maybe. But, as others have noted, Kim got a real big prize anyway, one he dearly wanted: to appear like a reasonable man, instead of a murderer, and as a playa on the world stage. He is a man who had his own uncle and half brother killed and, by reports, ordered the deaths of at least 140. To be in North Korea, citizen or not, is to risk death at any moment.

    This grand summit meeting also affirms my own long held belief that half or more, maybe up to 90%, of so called "world leaders" are thugs in $1,000 suits who, because they shake hands and pat each others backs, are accepted as thugs no more, decent people who did what they had to do for their countries, even if it was horridly ugly at the time.

    It is said that tragedy plus time equals humor. In the case of Kim, and many others, power washes away sins that would place others in deep the frying pan. Ain't life wonderful?

  86. Absolutely Perfect, as an audition for Trumps Speechwriting team. Otherwise, balderdash, misdirection and what aboutism taken to absurd new highs. Or maybe LOWS. Seriously.

  87. You've got to be kidding, right, Mr. Douthat?

    President Trump and President Obama are polar opposites in every possible way, including critical thinking, and we're not even going to mention the crass kleptocracy being run by Trump out of the White House where Trump and Ivanka and Jared and all the corrupt cabinet members are selling every possible policy to the highest bidder, including Russians, Saudis, Chinese and anyone else who needs to launder their dirty money.

    I think you're punking your liberal/progressive readers just to get our blood boiling, just to get clicks.

    Why don't you read Jennifer Rubin from The Washington Post --she's a conservative too -- to see how an intelligent assessment can be written about this debacle called Trump.

    Here's a terrific column from her today about the ridiculous Republican response to the summit:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/06/12/after-the-...

    Perhaps the New York Times should consider replacing Rubin with Douthat.

  88. A fine comment! Did I read the end wrong - don't you mean replacing Douthat with Rubin?

  89. Amen. Rubin would be a great sparring partner. A smart, reasonable, Female Conservative. And NOT a religious nut. AHEM.

  90. Leave it to Ross to find evidence of a connection between Obama and Trump, one that satisfies absolutely nobody but those of us with sick senses of humor. The #NeverTrumpers will be aghast and outraged at the suggestion that Obama and Trump could cahoot on anything, even subliminally – heck, Obama wouldn’t even buy Brioni suits because they’re thought to be the armor of Mafiosi capos. And the Freedom Caucus could never accept that their hero would ever take long, hot showers with a man whom they vilified for eight interminable years during which they suffered in a wilderness almost as desolate as the one that serves as home to Democrats now.

    Ross may have a point that there is a certain continuity in the two presidents’ strategery. Obama also sought to put our allies on notice that they needed to far better pull their weight on the world stage not so much in superior statements, but in funding for a JOINTLY-maintained defensive moat to keep out the Philistines – and he did it eight years before Trump; yet, unlike Trump, he never drove home the point. Unaccountably, BOTH presidents kept us in Afghanistan, that Neolithic moonscape of blasted dreams so drenched in blood. And the other things that Ross points out.

    But Ross must be oinkin’ for a boinkin’.

    However, through inattention, a lack of energy and an unwillingness to toss the dice, Obama made little of his good intentions, while Trump … could win. What we ALL should focus on is if Trump wins, we ALL win.

  91. We are all losers in Trump-ville

  92. It's a nice fantasy Richard, one that even tempts me. But I recognize that Trump is ignorant of the issues and history, completely unprepared, and lacking in the attention span to make anything real happen with North Korea.

    Kim got everything he could ask for in this initial meeting, and more - suspension of joint military preparedness with South Korea surely exceeded his expectations.

    Watch Kim string Trump along as China and South Korea ease off on sanctions.

  93. To my responders so far (other than Greg, who seems to have a bead on things):

    Trump has given away nothing of value, and we stand at a point at which Kim SAYS he has accepted denuclearization. Where were we six months ago? Trump has moved the pieces on the table deftly.

    Years ago, Obama and Kerry, having the opportunity to denuclearize Iran and much of the Middle East, choked badly and settled for a "deal" that acknowledged that Iran's centrifuges will start spinning again soon, and now he has missiles to deliver future warheads. Trump has wisely killed that deal, looking for a better deal.

    His dealings with Kim are an opener for his dealings with the Imams. So far, Trump has gotten an acknowledgement that we should work jointly with Kim to give him reasons for abandoning the atom in weapons and delivery systems. We'll see what happens, but again, where were we six months ago? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago?

    Trump could succeed with BOTH North Korea AND Iran where all that other presidents could manage was to kick the can down the road a few years, to threaten OTHER presidents and OTHER attempts to coax global stability out of the ambitions of buccaneers.

    Stay tuned. You might like the show, even if you can never accept the stagemaster.

  94. This president, though never voicing it clearly, would claim that he has a GRAND strategy--and has, and will, claim that he recognizes opportunities, acts quickly and decisively, and boosts America back to a mythic past greatness.

    His predecessor, while eschewing the swagger and carnival-barker showmanship, did effectively begin a revising and "pivoting" of American foreign policy. He was notably successful in scaling back costly, overreaching military ventures--and the proof is that his political opponents worked extra-hard to discredit him. He probably wouldn't claim "grandness", but I think would accept, and deserve, credit for strategically positioning the U.S. for leadership.

    Trump's leadership style is boisterous, disruptive, and unpredictable--and we can only hope that the disruption doesn't get seriously out of hand.

  95. The approach of Obama with Cuba and Trump with N. Korea is not comparable. Obama restored relation with Cuba because he loved leftist forces in the world who were ideological critic of America and scared to confront Kim like dictators because Obama was weak. Trump is capable of dealing with Kim like characters because he is strong willed, but he won't be in favor of dealing with Castro the way Obama did. Since Obama was a weak willed, he tried maximum appeasement to sign an agreement with Iran, but Trump simply cancelled it. Trump used Maximum pressure to initiate talk with Kim, but Obama didn't even try. It is a stretch to say that Obama and Trump have the same grand strategy.

  96. "Maximum appeasement" in the Iran deal? I guess you don't follow the news much, outside of Fox News, that is.

    How is removal of 98% of Iran's fissile material appeasement? Also destruction of most of their centrifuges, continual anytime anywhere inspections - which the inspectors show Iran was adhering to the deal. Oh, and the requirement, written right in the deal to NEVER create nuclear weapons, in any timeframe.

    "Maximum pressure" pushed us toward the brink of nuclear war - if Kim hadn't started the diplomatic process we might be in one right now. Retreating from his foolish insults and threats does not make Trump a diplomat, or a leader.

    Obama was strong enough not to need empty bluster alternating with phony handshakes that have nothing behind them.

    Obama was also strong enough to figure out that we should stop punishing Cuba, and help it along toward democracy by engaging it instead of isolating it to pander for Little Cuba votes in Miami.

    Wait a year for actual results before awarding Trump his Nobel - there won't be any, because Kim played him like a cheap fiddle.

  97. I would describe Doubthat as ignorant, but that would give ignorance a bad name. Doubthat sees Trump's failures and is trying to make them seem like Obama's fault. Doubthat and all Republicans should lose the right to vote.

  98. amen. something needs to be done here, maybe that is the answer because trying to sift thru the abominations of Republican horrors and hypocrisy has become such a full time job these days, not even NYT offers much relief anymore. When and where will the madness end? With the end of Trump would be a nice start, and the "end" can feel free to come in ANY manner at all.

  99. The Obama and Trump positions on NATO are the same.

    Obama called out some NATO allies as "free riders" who were not meeting their 2% of GDP defense spending commitment. These allies largely ignored Obama, and now Trump is bluntly and loudly insisting that they meet their commitment. Maybe he'll have more success. Maybe not.

    Trump has also continued and even expanded the U.S. participation in the Baltic defense/deterrence efforts started by Obama.

    Both Trump and Obama recognize that an Asian "shift" will require Europe to be capable of its own military defense for an extended period of time. The limitations of the U.S. to fight on two fronts was clearly articulated in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review and these limitations continue to exist today.

  100. In Father Douthat's next column, he will entertain us with the uncanny similarities shared by Mother Teresa and Rahab the Harlot.

    Let us pray now...for more insanity.

  101. Obama was not 'seeking an accommodation with Iran' - Obama was dealing with allies who were ready to break ranks on harsh sanctions PLUS the U.S. Courts had ruled that the U.S. had to return to Iran $ 1.5+ Billion$ per the SCOTUS ruling:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/474962528/supreme-cou...

    which Obama and our allies were smart enough to try and keep Iran from using such funds to develop their nuclear capabilities, by concocting the Iran Nuclear Deal in advance of releasing the funds:

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/30/congress-iran-nuclear-deal-obama-vet...

    Obama didn't have very many options, since keeping our allies in line regarding harsh sanctions on Iran was becoming more and more difficult.

    It is much much too cavalier an airbrushing of history to reduce these actual facts and details to 'seeking an accommodation with Iran'.

  102. @Childe - Good catch; thanks ! It was at the Hague Tribunal where the U.S. felt it was about to lose, and thus negotiated a cheaper settlement with Iran:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/23/opinion/the-fake-400-million-iran-ran...

    as well as a verifiable nuclear reduction regime, which would keep all the allies acting in tandem instead of a free-for-all.

    Our point still stands that Obama was not 'seeking accommodation with Iran', when it manifestly was trying to make the best of a bad situation with legal facts which were against the U.S.

  103. It's good to know that at least readers are paying attention. NYT's columnists, and occasionally reporters, sure aren't. I've never seen this analysis in the NYT. Thank, R Law.

  104. R. Law writes:"... the U.S. Courts had ruled that the U.S. had to return to Iran $ 1.5+ Billion$ per the SCOTUS ruling." But my reading of the cited SCOTUS decision is that the SCOTUS decided to allow distribution of the funds to victims of Iranian terrorism and not to Iran.

  105. Talk about stretching a comparison,,,Douthat has blown a giant bubblegum bubble that should collapse into a sticky mess all over his keyboard.

  106. Trump’s Korean bargain? He shook hands with Kim. Shaking hands is good. It’s progress. But that handshake isn’t a bargain, and even if there was something in writing with signatures neither one of them can be counted on for standing by the same ‘bargain’ the next day, much less their own words.

  107. A simple factor in America's retreat from policing the world that Mr. Douthat left out:
    Iraq.
    Our greatest foreign policy disaster ever, which was foisted on us by a lying republican administration (aided by the chattering class) depleted us, financially and spiritually. Even the conservative rural folks I saw daily at the time knew it was a bad idea, but were resigned to it, and, as loyal Americans, supportive. Hundreds of thousands dead, trillions spent, a country unraveled, left in chaos. And all the talking head supporters, in and out of government, just moving on, taking no responsibility for the disaster or pretending it was a victory, somehow. Calling that war the horror that is was was one of the few instances when trump told the truth during the campaign. Of course, bringing Bolton on later shows he was only using words like the rest of us use utensils.

  108. Douthat really puts something disgusting into the party punch bowl with this column. Has he decided to offend and defy NYT readers?

    As with so much nonsense, there are grains of truth to flavor this. They are worth picking out to show how he's used them.

    Yes, both Obama and Trump took the same approach to defeating Hillary, riding rejection of things as they were combined with presenting Her as the candidate of status quo in all its mistakes.

    It was strange that the Democratic Party forgot why they'd made their choice, and why they were right to do so. It is even stranger that Obama forgot what had worked for him, something he invented and used with great effect. It is too bad the mantra of the day about Team of Rivals led him to take inside and empower exactly what he'd run against.

    It is true that America's allies had grown overconfident, willing to defy the US under Obama. He tried to push them, as with the 2%, but in the end he let them get away with it.

    But then Douthat takes off into nonsense. Blowing it up is not the same as being firmer with an alliance. Blowing it up is not the same as fixing a deal on essential matters like nuclear weapons and climate change.

    I support the dramatic opening with North Korea. I remember that Obama also promised that, but backed down from The Blob. Such drama requires a deft hand, which Obama had, so he could have pulled it off, as he did with Cuba and Iran. Trump blew up both of those, not a show of a deft hand.

  109. Just sitting on a deft hand is worth only the thrill it gives to they sitting on it and not one I’d want to shake either.

  110. "Pax Americana" was the last gasp of colonial power excess as the United States attacked Vietnam with more force, bombs and troops than utilized in WWII.....and got kicked out of the country by a bunch of kids, I mean girls and boys, with passion for their country. Good riddance "Pax Americana".

  111. and here we are! Settling comfortably into our well-earned, and well-deserved 2nd position in the world. 2nd best economy (see China), second best citizen wealth (see China), 10th best health care system (see most of Europe, others), 3rd best in space (See Russia, China), 3rd best computer hackers/crytpographers, cyberwarriors (see Russia, See China), 10th best rail system, (see Japan, Europe), 10th best education of the lowest 10th percentile (See Korea, China, Japan, Europe).

    We are just finding our new level.

    Happy @Republicans ??

  112. And it took only 18 months to get here!!

  113. Donald Trump talks like a populist but governs like a corporate oligarch. Please stop calling him a populist. None of his policies benefit the majority of Americans..by design they are fleecing us and robbing us and destroying our institutions and agencies that make us great.

  114. "But there is also a mirror-image quality to their [P Obama's and PT's] gambits and ambitions."

    Respectfully suggest, Mr D, you take a healthy cut at supporting this sentence with a supplement which includes chapter and verse.

    This based on my read and but also on many of the 81 comments published to this moment, which assert and offer a goodly amount of evidence that it can't be supported.

    Prefer to see your rejoinder before making a judgment.

  115. Obama and Trump's alleged hostility toward rigid fealty and loyalty to our allies is not new. This has transpired many times before.

    1) In 1956, the US publically chastised Britain, France and Israel for attacking Egypt.

    2) There is a long record of principled criticism of hawkishness in our Foreign Policy. Arkansas Senator Williiam Fulbright led an investigation into the Vietnam War, and his 1967 book, "The Arrogance of Power," looked askance at the right wing coup we engineered in Greece, the use of the military to quell democratic and socialist rebellions throughout Latin America and our destruction of both North and South Vietnam. In 1968, Robert Kennedy said that America was trying to impose a Pax Americana ala a Pax Romana -- a peace maintained by slavish submission. RFK noted that at Ben Tray the American officer in charge said "We had to destroy the Town in order to save it."(Listen to his March 68 speech at the Univ of Kansas)
    Ditto Gene Mc Carthy, George Mc Govern, Wayne Morse and towards the end of his life, JFK.

    3) Although George Bush Senior was a staunch atlanticist he was chilly towards Israel: During Gulf War One he refused to share air traffic codes with Israel which would have enabled Israel and the allies to refrain from crashing into one another; ergo Israel was compelled to abstain from involvement and some Israelis were killed in scud missile attacks. Jimmy Carter was biased against Israel in ways too numerous to mention.

  116. The ideas of similarities between Trump and Obama are absurd.

  117. Comparing Donald in any way to Obama is absurd. It’s incoherent fabricating bullying twitter twerp versus eloquent, erudite, restrained elegance. Grasping at straws and lashing out at allies versus meticulous preparation and consultation with allies

    Donald did not discuss Otto Warmbier. Always the coward, except in the land of twitter.

  118. President Obama and the SCPOTUS have nothing in common except the office. I would say that you are comparing apples and oranges, but really you are comparing the sublime to the ridiculous.

  119. Oh, come on. There is no equivalency between Trump’s actions and Obama’s. Obama’s hammered out detailed, verifiable agreements, that actually had rational objectives aimed to increase America’s security - that, when achieved, he certainly never oversold.

    At this summit, Trump did everything short of licking the boots of a blood soaked dictator as he tripped all over himself to praise a man who holds 100,000 of his own people in concentration camps, made major concessions that left Our regional allies and our own military stationed in the area dumbfounded, and generally threw any American commitment to human rights and regional security into the garbage, in exchange for a few pictures that put him on exactly the same level as the above mentioned blood stained dictator. And this gets us - what exactly? The promise that North Korea would be nicer in the future? Lord knows I’d like these negotiations for denuclearization to succeed, but right wing punditry is acting as if this depressing spectacle is some unprecedented stroke of genius when it had yielded nothing we haven’t gotten from North Korea several times in the past (and gotten without any past president prancing around humiliating America on the world stage). None of these past promises achieved anything, so all the celebrations of Trumpian genius are premature at best.

  120. build that wall

  121. I'm not sure that this column goes any deeper than "Neither Trump nor Obama is a neocon",

    But Obama is a not neocon out of considered thought about national interests; Trump is not a neocon because he's not anything other than impulses and selfishness.

    It's the difference between a working Iran deal and the Great Singapore Unhatched Chicken Counting that Trump supporters are falling back on ("Hey, as far as we know, Kim is going to come around in six months, about the time the ACA replacement and the infrastructure bill might show up").

  122. There was so much wrong and forced in
    this piece that I simply gave up reading after
    halfway through. The colunnist is an intelligent guy but should stick to a subject he knows something about.

  123. Valid points about the delicate balance needed to try to right the wrongs in this world of ours; unfortunately no country is blameless, witness the blatant invasion of Irak by "W", and the disbanding of Saddam's army (Sunni) causing the emergence of ISIS, the brutal and violent radical Islamist fanatics, creating havoc, and even triumphant in making our life more miserable (air travel, anybody?). And the failed 'Arab Spring', and Assad's murderous spree, and Russia's aggression to deal with (or not), and Iran's rise scaring the Middle East...until the signing of a supervised nuclear deterrence. Each new president has had to deal with the unfinished business of it's predecessors...but no one more ill-prepared that the current ugly American in-chief, his arrogance and vanity notwithstanding. Therefore, trying to compare ignominious Trump with a decent and knowledgeable Obama would be insulting, to say the least. Trump is pure braggadocio, and the only thing that distinguishes him from all others is that he is a superb liar (whenever he opens his mouth). But I digress. I do not see, for now at least, any well thought-out strategy on Trump's side, used as he is in 'shooting from the hip'

  124. Obama and Trump are nothing alike. In fact, to compare Trump to almost any other human being is a stretch.

  125. Obama made real changes to promote economic engagement with the people of Cuba. The Iran deal had actual measures that put the brakes on Iran's nuclear program. Trump's photo op with Kim and love of Putin is ridiculously unsubstantial and illogical in comparison.

  126. This is far and away the best, most thoughtful column that you have written in quite some time. I would only offer one further assessment: “Little Rocket Man” has successfully made stooges of both Obama and Trump. Obama shrank from close engagement because he despises despots, and was weary of more right wing vilification (which he got anyway), and Trump chose it because he assumed that he was Michael Corleone and could cow another gangster. He was correct—Kim knew that Trump would indeed pull the trigger—but when the big sit down came, Trump turned out to be Fredo. A big blustering Fredo, but still, as Michael said, “Stupid and weak.”

  127. Nice try. Conservative intellectuals are twisting into pretzels trying to prove they are still Conservatives in the age of Trump, even as they're rejected by their own party. All of the presidents I've witnessed since Kennedy have more in common with each other than anyone has with Trump. No matter their philosophy or whether their decisions turned out well or not they at least had a plan they could credibly claim was well thought out. As with everything he does, Trump's meeting with Kim was ill-conceived. Advised by sycophants he finds on Fox News and with a child's attention span and sense of history, Kim saw the perfect opportunity to play Trump and get what he's always wanted- legitimacy and the easing of sanctions. I'm sure he couldn't believe his good luck when he realized how easy it would be to manipulate the incompetent Trump.

    All presidents are fallible and make mistakes. But no matter their party or our opinions and allegiances have we seen someone in that office who has nothing but the perverted belief that they are so wonderful that they are always right.

    Your time and considerable talent might be better spent convincing other Republicans, who are more afraid for their jobs than their country, of the peril we all face while this man is in the White House.

  128. Obama was amenable to engaging with America's adversaries because engagement poses more potentials than isolation. (Please note that "engagement" need not entail weak negotiating or giving away something for nothing.)

    Trump is amenable to engaging with America's adversaries because:
    - he enjoys cavorting with autocrats
    - there's no need for him to sweat the substance
    - it's all showbiz
    (Please note that unlike his predecessor, Trump is also amenable to treating America's longstanding allies as though they, too, are adversaries.)

    With all the celebration of Mr. Rogers these days, can you say "false equivalence," Ross? Can you say that?

  129. These two fatmen are peas in an unseemingly pod.

  130. A compliment from Lenin's Bay Area.

  131. It can’t hurt to wrap Trump in Obama for the sake of stubborn Democrats. Covering a bitter pile in peanut butter works well for getting the dog to swallow it as well. Cream cheese works too and doesn’t smell up your hands.

  132. Ross. Well done. Thank you

  133. Wow was that a tortured comprison. You could began the piece with explaining the core difference between the two men.

    Obama and his team of professional diplomats worked out an agreement with allies before getting the Iranians to agree to work within a viable structure. Obama & company worked this treaty out while holding their noses in dealing with the authoritarian regime.

    Trump and his thrown together third-rate employees with no diplomatic skills have tried to make sense of Trump's nutty comments and demands while excluding South Korea and Japan and are willing to believe without verification the non-binding. Trump fully embraces the worst tyrant and institutional murder and holds Kim in envy for what is capable of doing with no restraints.

    Now Ross, use this reality as a platform for your analysis.

  134. What are you talking about? The grand US strategy in the Pacific was the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Pacific equivalent of the Western Alliance. Obama and team spent eight years trying to establish a deal to reorient American power. This despite suffering Bush 43's Middle Eastern legacy. What is Trump's solution? "Little Rocket Man." This about the most twisted historical comparison I've ever witnessed. I've seen analysts fired for less. Good thing columnists aren't required to be accurate in their profession.

  135. There is a reasonable argument here, buried under some very bad understandings of the facts of many cases. I agree that Obama was dealing with the reality of the decline of US power. He was trying to manage that decline while still maintaining American primacy. The outreach to Iran was based on a recognition that much of the US policy towards Iran was irrational and unnecessary and driven by interests in Israel and Saudi Arabia who were trying to use the US to fulfill their own ambitions and maintain their positions. By contrast to Obama's recognition of these realities, Trump is actually trying to expand American power. His worldview, such as it is, however, was formed in the 1970s and reflects very little thought. It is more an explosion of bile from a very jingoistic perspective. Trump hopes to reverse American decline by turning the US into an outright predator state, with no friends, which uses its power to exploit and bully the rest of the world. Arguably, this particular goal has been common to most Presidents, but most felt the best way to enhance American power was through institutions. While the US often broke the rules (far more than other states) it at least paid lip service and it recognized the advantages of cooperation. Trump believes that cooperation is for patsies and that the only way to deal with other states is by bludgeoning everyone else into submission. This cannot work - the rest of the world will turn against the US.

  136. Obama managed to get the financial crisis turned around. Obama started winding down George W's Cheney Wars. Obama created portable, comprehensive healthcare that served those with preconditions equally.

    Trump handed Wall Street/wealthy: the halving of corporate taxes, the elimination of estate taxes, an expiration of the income tax cuts but a retained $1.5T price tag, an annual deficit now rising due to boosted defense spending, the effective closure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the stripping of EPA regulations, and an immigration plan to double the number of new high-skill citizens and to convert the low-skill lottery into an expansion of visa workers (never citizens).

    Working people will figure out that Trump and Sessions are now creating Tent Cities for THE NEW POLICY separations (children) - in order to dramatize a crackdown and get their votes. NO NEW PENALTIES FOR EMPLOYERS, of course.

    In today's WSJ, the Fed has started it's explanation why MORE workers will be needed. Expect another bump in annual work visas, just like last year's 15,000.

    It's a BIG SHOW of a harsh round-up TO GET VOTES! Republican leaders WILL NEVER subject businesses to tightened labor markets that drive wages up.

  137. A bad trip may cause one to find similarities between Obama and Trump. That said, what both of them saw was how the existing priorities had devastated the vast majority of Americans and wanted to change the resources that went to domestic needs.

    What Douthat calls the Pax Americana crowd couldn't care less about the country. Their bread is buttered by oligarchs with foreign interests. So yeah, we rejected Hillary precisely for that reason, but as far as ME, Trump has shown he is bought and paid for by the likes of Adelson as well.

    Obama got a verifiable deal. Trump got jack squat.

  138. Interesting observations--some accurate, most old news, and some odd errors. The de-stabilization of the Middle East and subsequentality, Western Europe, was the criminal invasion of Iraq.

    This war set the world aflame and set us on the course to our own destruction as a democracy. Look around and pay attention.

  139. Usually one is inclined to think Mr. Douthat is at least basically decent and means well.

    But this is transgressive.

    Trump is an abusive president who lies all the time, a cowardly bully, who thinks he is smart but is profoundly ignorant and stubbornly stupid with it. He is in no way fit to be compared to intelligent thoughtful Obama who carefully tried to do his best for the American people, even those who treated him as an enemy and made his job as difficult as they could. One of Obama's greatest achievements was the Iran nuclear pause, which Trump has ripped to shreds, to the danger of humanity.

    Trump is a menace. Obama was a gift.

    I am sick and tired of Republicans doing their best to rewrite history and smear Obama. It is not an alternative version of the facts, it is flat out lies.

    Stop trying to be more catholic than the pope. Go back and read the gospels, and try again. Obama was more of a true Christian than the monsters who pretend their self-worship, otherblaming, violence, greed, and exclusion come from Jesus.

    Like calls to like. Trump's favorites are not leaders of demoracies but tyrants and bullies.

    It's a mad bad dangerous world. Don't add to it!

  140. If Obama was a gift, it was the gift of permitting the world to become a more dangerous and deadly place. I'm glad we sent it back.

  141. Susan, this is one of your best comments ever- really well said.

  142. Here's a difference between Trump and his predecessors that may enable him to succeed with North Korea: Other presidents tried to induce North Korea to denuclearize; Trump will try to induce North Korea to pretend to denuclearize. It's similar to the strategy behind the wall on the Mexican border. The process will take years. By the time we find out that it didn't work, Trump will be out of office, probably resentful that he didn't win a Nobel peace prize.

  143. Mr Douthat is overreaching in trying to cobble together disparate facts to support his tenuous theory.

    "But there is also a mirror-image quality to their gambits and ambitions. Trump is trying to make a deal with North Korea, a last Cold War holdout, much as Obama did with Cuba."

    This entirely discounts the underlying imperatives for these actions. Cuba is a relatively benign island posing no threat to United States. Obama voluntarily chose to open negotiations with Cuba. Had he not done so, the world would not be much changed.

    Trump was confronted with the prospect of a North Korea that could threaten to blow up American cities. He had no choice but to deal with the Hermit Kingdom in some way, and so far he chosen diplomacy ahead of war.

    I am certainly no fan of Trump but if he pulls this off, and that is still far from certain, then he deserves a large amount of credit.

  144. I don't think Trump is anything like Obama. Obama tried a thoughtful approach to foreign policy but was hampered by internal enemies.

    Trump is in a long Republican tradition of blunder in, mess around, pick the worst dictator to install in client countries, make money for American special interests then leave a big mess behind.

    The big difference between the 1950's, 1970's, the Iraq gulf wars and now is that today foreign interests are at the core of the American establishment and manipulating US factions to their own ends whereas in the 1950's - 1970's the aggression was on behalf of AT & T or the Oil industry.

  145. Speaking as a Canadian who once loved the USA. There are essential difference between Obama and Trump. Obama inherited a hopelessly polarized America and tried to unite it with kind words, empathy and understanding. This proved to be a mistake and his term ended with America even more polarized and increased hatred of the other side.
    Trump came to power because he knew America was hopelessly polarized and used that polarization and his ability to exacerbate that polarization to serve his personal desires.
    I fear Obama's love of country did not serve him well and Trump's understanding of country will see him triumph.
    I have never feared North Korea but watching a once great country dissolve brings tears to my eyes and interrupts my sleep.

  146. The difference between the two presidents can be found in your last paragraph. It was so well written, Obama wouldn’t be able to ignore it. While Trump wouldn’t understand it.

  147. I really liked this article. While many might rightly disagree with its ultimate take on the issues (particularly its comparison between trump and obama), I felt that the reasoning was strong which in turn at least rendered its conclusions a candidate for serious reflection. The article was balanced, nuanced and I think a great example of what excellent journalism is.

  148. An interesting analysis or point of view but I doubt its validity. Trump is a transactional person and views everything in his win or lose lens. So I doubt he has done any of the analysis implied here that he has done. To me this is his biggest gamble for the mid term: to have a win, a reality TV moment. We will see how it goes.


  149. Obama didn't belittle and insult Israel or any other allies while he negotiated with Iran (And prevented them from getting nukes) and opened diplomatic relations with Cuba.
    On the other hand we have trump. He's insulted and threatened every ally we have while cozying up to the worst dictators on earth.

    There's absolutely nothing in common with these two men.
    Except perhaps being bipedal males from the same species.

  150. The situation is becoming simpler and simpler. The Chinese state is becoming dominant economically and the politically. Like Great Britain post WWII and the U.S. is in evident decline. Whether or not North Korea keeps its nuclear weapons is not very relevant or important because he will not use them. We strut around as if this is the end of WWII but the times have changed. We cannot dictate to our allies let alone China so we need to develop our own people and state. This summit is simply noise. We need to stop spending money on foreign wars and develop our own society before we turn into a Brazil look alike. Lets hope we figure this out sooner rather than later.

  151. Yes, we need to change our alliance with European democracies. Instead of status quo, how about pay as you go? The next time we need their help...and that day will come....they can charge us too or just decline because we're too deep in debt to be seen as a good credit risk.

    Undoubtedly Dueterte will be quick to come to our aid in the Pacific, especially if he can bash a few heads together. If we don't stand committed to free elections and free press, we can put Putin on speed dial. Xi and friends are already dancing in the streets thanks to the two Dear Leaders finally joining hands.

    Trump has found a new alliance. As long as we stand for nothing, we will have more new friends than we ever thought possible. Who needs old friends anyway?

    It is time for everyone to re-evaluate their financial portfolios. Beach front properties in North Korea are going to be hot. Believe me. Canada is just so last two centuries.

  152. Ross, this essay is one of your best ideas to date. Write an essay contending that President Trump is actually pursuing a foreign policy agenda identical to that of President Obama. Sure the arguments will have to be fatuous. That will not matter in the least to your intended audience of one. Once somebody explains your essay to President Trump (you know there is no chance he will read it himself), he will go into a rage over the notion that he is bound to follow President Obama's approach to foreign policy. With any luck, he will unwittingly reverse his disastrously foolish path and avert a disaster. You are making a valiant attempt at reverse psychology. Right?

  153. Other than the false assumption that Mr. Trump reads and comprehends anything, this is a reasonable notion.

  154. Trump has no policy. It's all, always, about him. Any similarity to Obama's governance is purely coincidental.

  155. Mr. Douthat, Along with agreeing that "any similarity to Obama's governance is purely coincidental", I believe that comparing President Obama to Mr. Trump is, with all due respect, totally ridiculous. President Obama took the high moral road when attempting to make decisions that would have had potential impact on human lives. Mr. Trump generates reckless behavior, makes decisions on the fly without concern for human life for the purpose of getting his ratings up and to protect himself. It appears as if his motivating factors for decision making is how it could benefit him and his family. Comparison???

  156. “And given that Trump is a longtime huckster who’s feeling his way entirely by instinct, there should be a lot of skepticism about how well this is likely to turn out.”

    This is the bottom line. A medical doctor’s assessment of a patient’s condition is far more reliable than someone playing a doctor on TV. And it goes without saying that allowing a layperson to perform a particularly difficult surgical procedure on oneself is reckless bordering on suicidal. And make no mistake... if by some miracle a person with no medical knowledge or experience manages to avoid killing a patient, the risk was still exceedingly foolish and, in most cases, highly illegal.

    Obama at least gave things some thought, but the Trump administration goes into things without preparation and has been burned before. In some cases, their goal was unconscionable anyway, so their incompetence was a mercy. The Muslim ban. The wall (so far). Destroying the ACA (so far). But in others, lack of forethought could become a problem. The Iran Deal, punitive tariffs on allies, improvisational nuclear negotiations... these involve factors and consequences beyond our borders. Some people love the rush of high stakes poker and watching Trump go all-in every hand. That strategy works every time until it catastrophically fails. But it’s not bankruptcy Trump might face now. He’s making uneducated gambles with human lives and livelihoods, both our own and in other countries. He should take it more seriously.

  157. Jaw dropping! So Mr Douthat believes there may be method after all to Trump's madness because what he's doing to bring NK into the family of nations looks like what Obama did in Cuba? Except Cuba wasn't at all a basket case among nations, but a progressive society bedevilled by indefensible outdated sanctions on the part of America (and America alone!) and by normalizing relations with Cuba and reuniting families Obama above all wasn't desperately trying to change the subject from an endless parade of his people (the best people!) being charged with felonies, some pleading guilty and co-operating with the Special Council, others wearing ankle bracelets to prevent flight. North Korea is an abomination of human nature. So is Trump.

  158. Cuba was and is a communist dictatorship. They may seem progressive, but only compared to ghastly N. Korea. I’ve talked to friends who have visited. Armed citizens joined Castro against dictator Batista and, after victory, Fidel confiscated their weapons so he could not suffer the same fate with his dictatorship.

    Obama did the right thing for many reasons. “Progessive “doesn’t quite fit but they do have national health care.

  159. How did this all work out for Iraqi Christians? Boy, I did not expect this argument from Ross Douthat. We get that emerging markets are real. And that the world that the U.S. engineered is coming into place. But it's really hard not to see that this American retrenchment is also a function of what you think Douthat might recognize, which is our decadence. Ben Wattenberg back in the day used to talk about Hollywood, and how it projected American values. As a good thing. Would anyone think that today? Look, if North Korea wants to become a non-pariah state, just do it. Who is stopping them? My guess what is coming from this is people will say, oh, we can live with North Korea, they will always have their nuclear weapons, and unlike East Germany, they continue as a going concern, as trade sanctions are lifted or relaxed. Detente, really, in the French sense of that word, you reduce the tension. But per Cuba, and to a lesser extent Vietnam and China, the dominant party structure will remain in place. Maybe that is not brinksmanship. But it's not an end to the Korean stalemate, and the ongoing threat of war.

  160. Trump is one of a kind. Comparing him to any other American President is wrong. Comparing him to any Democratic politicians undeservedly enhances Trump's reputation. Trump has NO integrity. NONE. Comparing him to any of his predecessors or any Democrats puts him on an equal footing with them. That's FALSE to reality.

    The current New Yorker contains an essay about Kaiser Wilhelm ll that asks "What Happens When a Bad-Tempered, Distractible Doofus Runs an Empire?" That's a sensible comparison.

    Some classicists compare Trump to Nero or Caligula. Both of those cruel, insane emperors are known to have acted generously during their lives with their personal funds -- something Trump has never done. Conservative ideologues (hoping to secure sinecures) have compared Trump to Trajan -- a long lived emperor noted for his success in war and his wisdom in peacetime. That some conservative scholars compare Trump to Trajan proves that no matter a person's age or education, having a healthy fantasy life is always possible. There's hope for you, Ross.

  161. I believe a better comperison is: Trump is and will do to US what Berlusconi was and did to Italy.

  162. Bush 41 won a glorious victory over Sadam in Iraq and was voted out of office. Why?

    Perhaps the reason is that the American fairy tale is taught to all children: how the protection of being isolated by great oceans is god given; how great we are for being willing to save the world, by our heroic and selfless solo actions; We saved the world..... and one else would step up for WW I, WW2 and the Cold War.... AND we were rightous because after the shooting was over... we justify our actions as being founded on our American moral superiority over rest of the world. (never mind the evidence that elites of American capitalism drove us into these conflicts.

    We are taught that being American is about fighting a war, WINNING and then LEAVING... and being more virtuous than everyone ... and its FOUNDATIONAL TO OUR SENSE OF SELF.

    Why was Bush 1 voted out...after the Iraq victory... perhaps Americans judged that nothing good came out of big wars in Korea, and Vietnam and a return to the fairy tale of fortress America and our self serving moral justifications is what we wanted. We were just behaving as we have been taught.

    Bottom line... there is nothing new here ... Douthat's attempt to find an equivalence between Obama and Trump is trying to muddy the water. Trump reflects our ignorant fairy tale history. Obama reflects our actual history and the wisdom of creating a liberal world order.

  163. President Obama was the first African-American president of the United States.

    President Trump is a birther who milked that movement for all it was worth.

    It's very difficult for me to get far enough beyond the core differences to entertain any notions of commonality, even with respect to overarching principles or approaches.

  164. To find similarities between Obama and trump makes no sense. Obama was a scholar with the knowledge of the world, had great foreign policy, and always did his homework before meeting with other world leaders. Trump, on the other hand, uses simple language, meanders all over when he speaks, has no understanding of how to interact with the head of other countries, and as far as foreign policy, he tries to make deals, forever a salesman.

  165. Ross, you completely overlook the issue of intent. Our man-child President's skepticism is not grounded not in any reading of history but in his wildly delusional belief in his own ability to make deals. The rest of the world, who does not need to come to grips with the fact that this uninformed incompetent is running their country, is able to to look clearly and see Trump for what he is - a mercurial buffoon and con-artist who is incredibly uninformed.
    He doesn't have policy or strategy. He has sales pitches.

  166. There are many informed comments and some that are more reactive than responsive. Most seem to miss a key point, for me, in Douhat’s analysis, his desire to understand the Obama-Trump voter and the rejection of Hillary Clinton by Democrats when she ran against Obama (and a sizable minority when she ran against Sanders) and by a large number of otherwise likely Democratic voters when she ran against Trump. Let me say in this context that I supported Clinton in all three races. From that perspective I believe Douhat has a point about the similarities in worldview of Obama and Trump and an important part of the American electorate that supported both candidates. This can be true without denying their significant differences in both substance and style. After all, the former selected Clinton as his first Secretary of State while the latter has sidelined (dismantled?) the State Department while selecting John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. Need I say more?

  167. Point taken.

    I think many of us acknowledge the point of the analysis here.

    It's just that we are taken aback by any attempt to find common attributes, especially when the context of such comparisons are left out of the equation.

  168. The only thing President Obama and trump have in common is a Y chromosome. Other than that, they are polar opposites. One is courteous, cerebral, contemplative, intellectually curious, strategic and honest with real values and integrity. The other is trump.

  169. Not buying it. Trump isn’t making these moves because he’s trying to upend what hasn’t worked, he’s making these moves because it’s the only thing he knows: say everything is going to be great, even if it’s all lies. What matters most is what people believe is happening, not what is actually happening.

  170. It's well past time the media stopped referring to America as a "superpower". Over the past two decades the much smaller and weaker nation of Afghanistan has beaten us and stripped us of the right to call ourselves a military superpower, just as they did to the USSR long ago. And unlike the USSR, we have enjoyed the support of nearly the entire developed world as our allies in this war. And if we were an economic superpower, China and Europe would not be so defiant in standing up to Trump's "take it or leave it" trade policy. When you can't influence other nations economically or through military force, the label of "superpower" has no meaning.

  171. Dear Mr Douthat,

    While the general parallels you point out are convincing, the form could not be more different. The Iran and Paris deals were major successes, alas. At the same time, we should be seeking peaceful democratic solutions in the Middle East while distancing ourselves from the Saudi gangsters. Alas.

  172. One can always find personality similarities or matching actions when comparing people.

    The question is: what is the motivation and what is the outcome? Without question Obama's motivation is diametral to Trump's. The outcome, however, can be the same.

    Quoting Mephisto: "I am the power that always denies and always creates the good." This surely applies somewhat to capitalism (the big picture, not the 'details') and may at times apply to Trump.

    However, nothing to rely upon.