Trump’s Foreign Policy Moments

2017 – 2018

Donald J. Trump’s presidency has marked a profound departure from U.S. leadership in areas such as trade and diplomacy, as well as an across-the-board toughening of immigration policies.

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama stand with President Donald J. Trump and Melania Trump at the 2017 inauguration. Reuters

In his inaugural address, President Donald J. Trump announces an America First approach to foreign policy and trade, which centers on reducing U.S. trade deficits and rebalancing burden sharing within alliances. Trump promises to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism” and emphasizes that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

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Trump signs an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Getty Images
TPP Withdrawal

Trump directs the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-country, Asia-focused trade agreement the United States had championed under the Obama administration.

Kate Munsch/Reuters
Demonstrators protest outside San Francisco International Airport. Kate Munsch/Reuters
Travel Ban

The president signs an executive order banning nationals of six Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States for ninety days. The order, later amended to include an additional two countries, also indefinitely freezes refugee intake from Syria. Days later, a federal judge in Washington State blocks part of the order, beginning a series of judicial challenges. That same week, President Trump signs two other executive orders concerning immigration. One directs federal funds to the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the other bars so-called sanctuary cities from receiving federal grants.

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Satellite imagery shows the Shayrat Air Base, outside of Homs, following a U.S. missile strike. Digital Globe/Getty
Striking Syria

In retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of the chemical weapon sarin in an attack against civilians, Trump authorizes a limited cruise missile strike on the regime-controlled Shayrat Air Base. U.S.-sponsored measures against the regime at the UN Security Council are blocked by Russia, part of a long-running trend.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer meet on NAFTA in Ottawa. Chris Wattie/Reuters
Revisiting NAFTA

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notifies Congress [PDF] of the White House’s intent to “modernize” the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The administration seeks to renegotiate the agreement, whose other parties are Canada and Mexico, to address the U.S. trade deficit in goods, eliminate subsidies it sees as unfair, restore manufacturing jobs, and ease intellectual property restrictions.

Anadolu Agency/Getty
Trump and Arab leaders inaugurate a counterterrorism center in Riyadh. Anadolu Agency/Getty
Trump Goes Abroad

Trump makes his first trip abroad as president, traveling to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, Italy, Vatican City, Belgium, and Italy. He attends a summit in Riyadh with leaders from more than fifty Arab- and Muslim-majority nations, where he delivers a speech calling on the Muslim world to unite against terrorism. In Brussels, Trump addresses North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) heads of state and government, calling on each of them to “finally contribute their fair share” to the alliance. He does not, however, explicitly state his support for NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause. In Italy, Trump participates in the Group of Seven meeting, where the United States joins a joint declaration on fighting protectionism but withholds its support from one reaffirming the Paris climate accord.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Trump refers to the magnitude of global climate change as he announces his decision to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Leaving the Paris Agreement

In a speech, President Trump announces that the United States will withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate accord, another agreement negotiated by Obama. Trump criticizes the 195-country agreement, under which the United States would have voluntarily limited its carbon emissions, for constricting U.S. sovereignty, harming American workers, and disadvantaging the United States economically.

Naseem Zeitoun/Reuters
A girl holds a picture depicting Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Naseem Zeitoun/Reuters
Navigating Qatar's Crisis

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt sever diplomatic relations with Qatar, alleging it supports terrorism and Iranian adventurism. Trump initially welcomes the move even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis work to reinforce the U.S. relationship with Qatar, which hosts the al-Udeid Air Base, the regional headquarters of U.S. Central Command.

Carlos Barria/Reuters
Trump prepares to deliver a speech on U.S.-Cuba relations. Carlos Barria/Reuters
Rolling Back Ties With Cuba

Trump announces a partial rollback of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba. Under the newly announced guidelines, the United States will reinstate restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba without severing diplomatic ties. In September 2017, the Trump administration reduces the U.S. embassy staff in Havana by half.

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Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Saul Loeb/Getty
Trump Meets Putin

In a visit to Warsaw, Trump delivers an address in which he emphasizes a civilizational struggle for the West and, for the first time, explicitly references NATO’s mutual defense clause. In Germany, Trump attends the Group of Twenty leaders’ meeting, where he meets for the first time as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting is highly anticipated amid ongoing investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Trump speaks about North Korea during a briefing. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
A War of Words With North Korea

After Pyongyang threatens to launch ballistic missiles into the waters around Guam, Trump warns that North Korea will be met with “fire and fury” if it continues to threaten launches. The remark initiates hostile rhetorical exchanges that culminate with Kim Jong-un insulting Trump.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Military personnel watch as Trump announces his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Joshua Roberts/Reuters
A New Afghan Strategy

Trump, in a speech, announces a counterterrorism-focused approach to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. He announces that he will deploy more U.S. troops there and loosen their rules of engagement. He avoids mentioning deployment timetables.

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Protesters demonstrate against the Trump administration’s announcement that it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Zach Gibson/Getty
Winding Down DACA

Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce that the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will begin winding down in six months, leaving approximately eight hundred thousand beneficiaries vulnerable to deportation. Trump encourages Congress to legislate a successor to DACA.

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Trump waits to address the UN General Assembly in New York. Drew Angerer/Getty
A UN Debut

Trump, addressing the UN General Assembly for the first time, threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States is “forced to defend itself or its allies.” Echoing his inaugural address, Trump emphasizes sovereignty and tells the gathered world leaders that the United States does “not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.”

Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal. Reuters
Revisiting the Iran Deal

After months of deliberation, Trump announces that he will not recertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to Congress (JCPOA), saying that Iran’s behavior violates the spirit of the agreement. Trump does not take steps to abrogate the JCPOA; instead, he asks Congress to deliberate on reimposing sanctions.

Trump is welcomed to Tokyo by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Reuters
Trump Goes to Asia

Trump travels to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines on his longest trip yet. In addition to introducing a new vision for U.S. involvement in the “Indo-Pacific,” North Korea and trade dominate the agenda. In Vietnam, Trump attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and delivers an address reinforcing his America First vision on trade. In Manila, on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits, officials from the United States, Japan, Australia, and India convene a quadrilateral meeting of like-minded democracies with concerns about China’s rise.

Ahmad Gharabli/Getty
Palestinians protest following the first Friday prayer after Trump's recognition of Jerusalem at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ahmad Gharabli/Getty
Recognizing Jerusalem

Trump breaks with decades of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He justifies the move as a recognition of the reality that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters
A congressional aide stands next to a slide presenting the administration's 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Joshua Roberts/Reuters
Releasing Strategic Documents

The administration releases a series of strategy documents, including ones on national security and defense, both of which highlight China and Russia as major strategic competitors. Soon after, it releases its Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which calls for the creation of two new nuclear missiles for submarines. The NPR also broadens the circumstances under which the United States may use nuclear weapons to encompass cyberattacks.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
A worker takes control of the loading of steel channels at the Ariel Metal steel trader warehouse in Podolsk outside Moscow, Russia. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Announcing Tariffs

Citing national security concerns, President Trump announces on March 1 that the United States will impose tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum. The administration imposes the restrictions on China but exempts Canada and other U.S.-aligned states, as well as the European Union, as trade negotiations continue.

Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang. KCNA/Reuters
Accepting Kim Jong-un's Invitation

President Trump accepts an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet for what would be the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and his North Korean counterpart. South Korean National Security Advisor Chun Eui-yong, in Washington, D.C., announces Trump’s decision to accept the invitation. The Trump administration says the summit will be an opportunity to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Presidents Trump and Xi meet at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
U.S.-China Trade War

In early April, China imposes retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products worth about $3 billion, escalating a trade war between the world’s two largest economies. By November, the United States has levied tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, while China has imposed tariffs on $110 billion worth of U.S. products. At the Group of Twenty summit in Buenos Aires in early December, Presidents Trump and President Xi Jinping agree to a cease-fire, as well as to strike a broader trade agreement within ninety days.

Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian man carries a child in Eastern Ghouta. Nazeer al-Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
A Second Round of Syria Strikes

President Trump orders the U.S. military to strike three facilities in Syria linked to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program. The air strikes, a response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, are carried out in coordination with forces from France and the United Kingdom.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
A migrant woman from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America, runs from tear gas with her five-year-old daughters at the U.S.-Mexico border. Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
Tightening the Border

President Trump institutes a blanket “zero tolerance” policy in May that results in the U.S. Border Patrol separating more than 2,600 children from their parents, before reversing the policy in August. In response to a spike in Central American asylum seekers, Trump sends five thousand troops to “harden the southern border.”

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Vice President Mike Pence await remarks from President Trump on the Iran nuclear accord. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Withdrawal From Iran Nuclear Agreement

President Trump announces the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Trump says it did not sufficiently curb the country’s civilian nuclear program or its regional aggression. Without citing any material Iranian violations, Trump announces that the United States will reinstate two sets of sanctions on Iran that had been waived with the deal’s implementation; they will take effect in August and November and range from aircraft imports to oil and petroleum product exports.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Ivanka Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attend the dedication ceremony for the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
U.S. Embassy Moves to Jerusalem

After recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, the Trump administration moves the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move upsets Arab and Western allies, and brings Washington’s neutrality as a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process into question.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Trump and Kim shake hands during the Singapore summit. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Trump Meets Kim

Trump and Kim meet in Singapore. Their joint declaration steers the U.S.-North Korea relationship from confrontation to cooperation, but it establishes few means to enforce its ambitious commitments, which include the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

Toya Samo Jordan/Reuters
Haley announces the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council. Toya Samo Jordan/Reuters
Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council

Ambassador Nikki Haley announces that the United States will withdraw from the Human Rights Council, citing “a chronic bias against Israel” and the human rights abuses of various sitting members, which include China and Venezuela.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Presidents Trump and Putin at the Helsinki summit. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Trump-Putin Summit in Helsinki

Presidents Putin and Trump meet in Helsinki for a two-hour meeting behind closed doors, accompanied only by two interpreters. Though the leaders claim to discuss the Syrian civil war, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine, the substance of their discussion remains largely unknown. The meeting culminates in a press conference during which Trump casts doubt on U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Trump delivers remarks on the USMCA at the White House. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The United States, Canada, and Mexico settle on a number of changes to NAFTA, renaming it the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The trade deal contains new labor stipulations, stronger protections for U.S. intellectual property, and higher standards for the auto industry, including rules of origin and minimum wage hikes that benefit American manufacturers.

Osman Orsal/Reuters
A demonstrator holds a poster of Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Osman Orsal/Reuters
Alliance Under Strain

In early October, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, is assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. As evidence incriminating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman mounts, Trump expresses support for the Saudi leadership, touting Saudi Arabia as a major U.S. regional partner, oil supplier, and purchaser of U.S. arms. The decision draws backlash from U.S. allies and Congress.

Trump’s Foreign Policy Moments