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Trump's New Administration Members Will Lead 2 Major Foreign Policy Strategies

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The nation's new diplomat in chief showed up for work today at the State Department. Secretary Mike Pompeo is so new on the job that when he promised staffers he would be walking around meeting everybody, not just hiding in his office, he had to confess he isn't quite sure where his office is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: I'll spend as little time on the seventh floor - I think it's the seventh floor, right? Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

POMPEO: I'll go up there in a minute

KELLY: Pompeo won Senate confirmation just five days ago. He joins a foreign policy team that includes national security adviser John Bolton - a relative old-timer on that team with a full three weeks and two days under his belt. So a change of guard and a jam-packed month of challenges or opportunities ahead, from Iran to North Korea to the Middle East - seems like a good moment to take stock of where U.S. foreign policy may be headed. And for that, we turn to Walter Russell Mead, longtime chronicler of such matters at the Hudson Institute. He's also a columnist at The Wall Street Journal. Walter, good to speak with you again.

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Good to be here.

KELLY: Do you, Walter, see a common thread, any common thread, emerging in how the Trump administration deals with the rest of the world?

MEAD: I think the big pattern we can see is that when the Trump administration came into office, it looked at two big crises - one, the North Korean missile program developing ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. and then there was Iran and the sort of very unstable war-torn situation in the Middle East. It's very hard to try to manage those two crises at the same time. With China backing North Korea and Russia backing Iran, if the U.S. is pushing hard on both of those, we end up sort of driving Russia and Iran together and into opposition to the U.S. So the question was always going to be which of those two crises do you defer, and which of those do you focus on? And I think what we've seen in the last month is a pretty clear shift. The administration's going to use this as an opportunity to put the North Korea crisis more or less on ice while it intensifies its focus on Iran.

KELLY: Let me ask you about something you could call I guess the chaos principle in foreign policy. I was thinking about this late last night as the midnight deadline on tariffs loom, tariffs on steel and aluminum, which were supposed to take effect for U.S. allies. And then the White House at the last minute put off the decision for a month. So on the one hand, trade war averted. On the other hand, everybody's in limbo for another month.

MEAD: Yeah. Well, that's kind of a rational decision from the standpoint of the White House if what it wants to do is maximize its leverage because it's always better to threaten a trade war than to actually start one.

KELLY: It also, though, continues uncertainty, instability, I mean - and that's not me saying that. The European Commission put out a statement today saying - and I'll quote it - "the U.S. decision prolongs market uncertainty, which is already affecting business decisions."

MEAD: Well, that's true, but I think this is a president who thinks that uncertainty is a tool that you use in negotiation. This diplomatic norm in American foreign policy - and there are a lot of reasons for it - is that the United States should try to reduce uncertainty, make very clear what our intentions are. You never want anybody to misunderstand American policy. President Trump's instincts, which come out of I think negotiating in a private business situation, are no, no, no, you want the other side to be confused, to be mystified, to be scared. That's when you can perhaps get the better deal.

KELLY: At a certain point, does being unpredictable become predictable? Do your allies and rivals alike just start figuring out a way to maneuver around you in advancing their own interests?

MEAD: Obviously, if Trump simply tries to repeat the same tricks, over time they lose their efficacy. One of the things we'll probably find out in the next two or three years is whether President Trump is a one-trick pony or he's a many-trick pony.

KELLY: Walter Russell Mead of the Hudson Institute and The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much.

MEAD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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