We have to talk about Donald


With friends like this ... did Donald Trump hang up on Malcolm Turnbull?
With friends like this ... did Donald Trump hang up on Malcolm Turnbull?
Two weeks in, it is probably understating the issue to say world reaction is divided on the new president

Two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, it is fair – and probably understating the issue, just a little – to say that world reaction is divided.

His American support base loves him even more than before his inauguration, if that were possible. Outside the US, handling his quixotic approach to international relations is proving a major headache for governments, and even more so for everyday citizens.

In Washington today, Trump defended his approach to foreign policy. “The world is in trouble – but we’re going to straighten it out, OK?” he said at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it.

“They’re tough. We have to be tough, it’s time we’re going to be a little bit tough, folks. We’re taken advantage by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen any more.”

Trump painted a vision of a world in chaos, scarred by “unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion”. He spoke of the brutalization of “peace-loving Muslims”, the “threats of extermination” against the Jewish people and a “genocide against Christians, where they cut off heads – not since the Middle Ages have we seen that”.

Trump said he is days away from finalising “extreme vetting” for immigrants and refugees.

“We want people to come into our nation, but we want people to love us and to love our values, not to hate us and to hate our values.”

(Fact check: The US has one of the longest and most rigorous vetting processes for refugees in the western world. It can take up to two years for refugees to be settled and it is unclear how he intends to toughen this.)

Trump did not announce an executive order expanding “religious freedom”, which had been expected. A leaked draft could have allowed LGBTQ people to be fired or refused service by individuals or companies claiming a moral objection.

The bullish speeches and hardline orders play well at home, but not so well abroad. The fear across the international community has been summed up as: everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

This week, the world heard about the extraordinary phone call between Trump and Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which Trump allegedly hung up on probably America’s staunchest ally (see Trump v Turnbull below).

Trump apparently threatened to send troops into Mexico to stop the “bad hombres down there” in a call with Enrique Peña Nieto. He also threatened unspecified action against Iran.

So, the question of how to handle Trump is proving to be a major headache for governments around the world, and there is no agreement on how best to do it.

UK prime minister Theresa May was criticised for her allegedly fawning behaviour during and after her US visit. Her government believes, pragmatically, that Trump’s views and actions, such as support for torture and the travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, must not be allowed to undermine the “special relationship”.

Saudi Arabia, curiously not on Trump’s hit list, is also taking a practical approach. King Salman did not raise the travel ban when he spoke to Trump and his oil minister also emphasised the positive. Pakistan, also exempted, is keeping its head down too.

In Europe, French president François Hollande has been visceral and emotional. German chancellor Angela Merkel was cool and rational, even patronising, is her opposition to Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees.

The European parliament’s main political parties are making an unprecedented attempt to block his likely choice as EU ambassador from EU buildings, describing Ted Malloch as hostile and malevolent. The startling move threatens a major diplomatic row.

Malloch’s view on the EU: “I had in a previous career a diplomatic post where I helped bring down the Soviet Union. So maybe there’s another union that needs a little taming.”

Some countries may feel they have little to lose. Iran described Trump’s ban on Iranian travellers as “a shameful act”: North Korea has been behaving itself, perhaps waiting to see what happens.

For hard-headed leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and China’s no-nonsense Xi Jinping, how to handle Trump comes down to how best to flatter, manipulate and then hoodwink him.


The phone call took place on Saturday, one of four the US president had with world leaders, including Putin.

The Washington Post quotes senior US officials, briefed on the call, as saying the conversation was scheduled to last an hour.

The president bragged about the size of his electoral victory – despite losing the popular vote – but grew cross when Turnbull insisted the US should honour Barack Obama’s agreement to accept up to 1250 refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

The Post reported Trump called the conversation “the worst by far” of his calls that day, and cut it short after 25 minutes. He later tweeted that he would “study this dumb deal”.

The president reportedly said accepting the refugees would be like the US accepting “the next Boston bombers”. (They were from the Caucasus region of Russia.)

The US’ brief, official version of the call said both leaders had “emphasised the enduring strength and closeness of the US-Australia relationship”.

On Monday Turnbull confirmed he had spoken to Trump and thanked him for agreeing to uphold the deal.

After details of the call emerged, Turnbull said he was disappointed that it had become public. He told a Sydney radio station that “the report that the president hung up is not correct”.

Trump tweeted yesterday that he was reviewing the deal, incorrectly labelling the refugees as illegal, and incorrectly saying “thousands” might come to America.

Fact check:

Australia announced in November 2016 that the US had agreed to a one-off deal to resettle refugees being held on Nauru and Manus Island, PNG. In return Australia agreed to resettle refugees from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The UN refugee agency would oversee the deal and the most vulnerable would be prioritised.

No numbers were given. Australian immigration department secretary Mike Pezzullo told a Senate inquiry the US would decide how many people it wanted to take.

At 30 November 2016 the Australian government listed 1254 people being held: 871 on Manus Island and 383 in Nauru.

About 80% of those held have been found to be genuine refugees (those found not to be are not eligible for the US deal).

All the Manus Island refugees are male. The largest number are from Iran, then Afghanistan and Iraq, and smaller numbers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The Nauru camp holds men, women and children. The largest number are from Iran, followed by Sri Lanka and those who are stateless.

Some of those being held have spent several years in the camps awaiting a decision on their fate.

Australia has faced fierce international criticism for its offshore detention policy. Conditions in the camps have been roundly condemned. The UN and rights groups say the policy is punitive and inflicts harm on refugees.



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