When Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, nervous commentators warned that he would pursue transactional relations with foreign powers, eschewing America’s traditional values and alliances. To the extent that he has disdained many of the principles that guided U.S. engagement with the world after 1945, they were correct.
But the Trump administration has also proved strikingly averse to genuinely transactional diplomacy, if you define that term as making and delivering concrete bargains that all sides can afford.
Foreign diplomats, not least among U.S. allies, have made strenuous efforts to satisfy the president’s widely publicized love of deal-making. Rather than simply reject Trump’s criticisms of the international system, other powers have repeatedly endeavored to identify concessions to satisfy him. Yet while U.S. officials have been willing to discuss these offers, the administration has often ended up walking away in a huff.