Donald Trump Goes It Alone Against the World

(Bloomberg) --

The world's last line of defense against Donald Trump's “America First” doctrine is gone.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's abrupt resignation is sparking fears that there’s no one left to restrain the president’s most combative and isolationist impulses amid his rapid-fire moves to reshape the U.S. military footprint abroad.

Already the floodgates are opening, Nick Wadhams writes.

U.S. forces in Syria will be quickly withdrawn — the very issue that provoked Mattis’s resignation — as the president declares victory over Islamic State. American troop levels in Afghanistan will be slashed in half even as peace talks founder. Both decisions signal Trump’s willingness to abandon key allies on the battlefield.

In a Washington that had grown accustomed to White House chaos, this week's developments forced even Trump’s most robust defenders to question his thinking. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — usually loathe to criticize the president — said he was “distressed” over the departure of Mattis, who he said had a “clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes.”

McConnell's comments underscore how perilous even Trump's Republican brethren view the U.S. position as the president heads into 2019 increasingly left to his own devices.

Donald Trump Goes It Alone Against the World

Global Headlines

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Wall brinkmanship | The U.S. government is hours away from a partial shutdown, with Congress at an impasse over funding Trump’s border wall. House Republicans last night sought to meet his demands, adding $5 billion for wall construction to a stopgap spending measure. But senators from both parties have indicated the modified legislation won’t pass when the chamber votes today, leaving lawmakers facing a politically perilous funding lapse over the holidays.

Plan B | U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May insists her Brexit deal is the only one available to avoid potential chaos from leaving the European Union in March. Behind closed doors, her inner circle is discussing options if she fails to win Parliament’s approval for the plan in the new year. Increasingly, the idea of sending the question back to the British public to answer is gaining ground, either through another referendum or even a national election.

Spy spat | The U.S. announced indictments accusing Chinese officials of coordinating a decade-long espionage campaign to steal intellectual property from dozens of companies. China demanded the “baseless’’ charges be withdrawn “to avoid serious damage to bilateral relations.” Coming less than three weeks after agreement on a fragile trade truce, the case illustrates the complexity of renegotiating the world’s most important economic relationship.

Islands dream | The dream of Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe's dying father is driving him to seek agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin over four disputed islands, Henry Meyer, Isabel Reynolds and Stepan Kravchenko report. Cancer-stricken Shintaro Abe, an ex-foreign minister, made a last pitch for peace to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Tokyo in 1991. Officials say Abe and Putin, who’ll meet in January for the 25th time since 2012, may be closer than ever to a deal.

Democracy delayed | For the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence has been the standard means of political change, Sunday's elections were set to herald the mineral-rich nation's first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960. But the vote was postponed yesterday for a week after a warehouse fire destroyed election materials. That's left Congo’s longest-serving leader, Joseph Kabila, to serve a little longer.

What to Watch

  • London’s Gatwick airport reopened today while cautioning that it’s still hunting for illegal drones that buzzed the hub for almost 24 hours, disrupting travel for 120,000 people.

And finally…After French President Emmanuel Macron transformed from Grinch to Santa to try to appease Yellow Vest protesters with a series of financial concessions, business executives are lining up to become his little helpers, Gregory Viscusi and William Horobin report. Some of France’s biggest companies are among those that have pledged to pay special year-end cash bonuses of up to 1,500 euros that Macron promises will be tax-free.

Donald Trump Goes It Alone Against the World

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