Tweeting A Cancelled Meeting
Today Donald Trump just tweeted the following (over two tweets):
“The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers… of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”
Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto responded with a tweet of his own in which he announced his decision not to attend the meeting. Here I set aside the wisdom of either party’s substantive decisions to focus on the idea—and the possible novelty–of foreign policy decision-making conducted, or at least publicized, so directly via Twitter.
In a blog post I wrote last October for another venue, I warned that it would be Trump’s rhetoric as much or more as his policy proposals that would pose problems for governance and constitute threats to the regime:
“Trump’s incapacity to exercise self-restraint in speech poses problems beyond stirring up controversy and hurting feelings. Trump fails to appreciate, or even recognize, that what a President says by its mere utterance can become, or be perceived as, policy. If a president casually notes at a press conference that he is pardoning a person, then those persons have just won a claim to have been pardoned. The saying is the doing.
Presidential utterances are especially crucial in establishing our international posture. If a President declares that the United States is at war with a country, then leaders around the world will understand that the United States is in fact at war with that country. When a President says he recognizes the instigators of a military coup as the legitimate government, then – voila – that is our policy. If the President claims that our defense of allies is conditional, then leaders of the world, ally and rival alike, will take note and act accordingly.”
Trump’s tweet this morning may have been deliberately intended as an official foreign policy proclamation–that is, as a direct message to President Peña Nieto. This would make it a traditional move merely transmitted via a relatively new medium (Twitter). And as such it also may well have been a calculated and shrewd maneuver in a larger game.
But perhaps not.
It may well have been casual bluster posted while sitting at the breakfast table (presumably eating Wheaties®—The Breakfast of Champions). We can’t know. And finally it matters not because what really matters is that it was taken at face value by President Peña Nieto.
To my (limited) knowledge I do not know of another American foreign policy maneuver of this magnitude (or at least at this level of publicity) which was played out so openly on Twitter. I confess to being surprised that it occurred so early in Trump’s administration. It will surely not be the last such occasion, and the prospect is troubling.
As an addendum, I acknowledge I may be mistaken about the unprecedented nature of the tweet. So here I call on political nerds and history junkies to think of other precedents or parallels for a Twitter-driven foreign policy maneuver involving the United States. Perhaps I’m overlooking something. But whether truly precedent setting or not, today’s events are surely a harbinger of a very different kind of foreign policy process going forward. Our Twitter jitters are just beginning.
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