President Donald Trump is emerging as a "credible leader in foreign policy" following his changing positions on key issues including Russia, China, and North Korea, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said Friday.
"He is on one level the king of the flip-flop," Ignatius said during an MSNBC "Morning Joe" panel discussion. "His positions on key issues are radically different from what they were during the campaign. He's also becoming a credible leader in foreign policy with a strong team, and I would say some real successes.
A Marist College poll released Friday showed ratings went up just one point after U.S. airstrikes were ordered on a Syrian airstrip in response to a chemical weapons attack days earlier. Ignatius said the numbers show there is still a great deal of "misgiving" from the public, while there is some greater support for Trump.
"I think the public is right to be skeptical," Ignatius said. "Those numbers were interesting, [and show] greater support, but still a lot of misgiving is reflected in those numbers."
It's also clear that Trump has bonded with the core group that worked with him through the chemical weapons attack, his first foreign policy crisis.
"You list his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, certainly his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a kind of in-house whisperer to the president," said Ignatius. "You list the new deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, and her boss, H.R. McMaster. When you have a crisis and do well at solving it, there's something that happens. We all know that. You bond with the people you're with."
The matter of chief strategist Steve Bannon still remains unresolved, said Ignatius, and Trump can still "come back to being the disrupter," but for now, Trump s getting approval.
But Trump is now getting approval, Ignatius said,
In his column for The Post on Thursday, Ignatius wrote that Trump's gains have come because he has not only assembled a competent national security team, but is listening to its advice.
"There was a consensus among his top advisers for a quick, limited strike on a Syrian air base, and Trump took the recommendation," Ignatius wrote. "He didn't amplify, augment or otherwise disrupt it with his own tweets. He allowed the process to work."
Ignatius noted on Friday's show that there has been a significant shift from Trump on Russia as well.
"Somebody in the White House said to me over this last week, so the Russians are catching for a change rather than pitching," Ignatius said. "The Russians have been pitching, calling the shots. Now they're having to react to U.S. policy. That's precisely what Trump wanted, and I think it has real benefits."
Trump also had to "pay the ticket of admission" on China, said Ignatius. He'd started out talking about destabilizing China and questioning Taiwan, but has now backed off some of his early rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Trump's people would make the argument that disruption was "necessary" because people were comfortable with their expectations on the United States, said Ignatius.
"I'm struck by the way in which Trump is playing a game that I remember from Richard Nixon,which is the game of a triangular world with the U.S., Russia and China," said Ignatius. "You play one off against another. You move back and move forth. Constant dialogue, leverage one against the other."
That strategy, said Ignatius, is what former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger thought to be the heart of good policy after the Vietnam war, when the United States was struggling to find its way back.
"Kissinger had this vision, and I think he's been feeding some of that to Jared Kushner, who I can't help but see as Kissinger's kind of protege in this White House and saying this game of nations is the way you want to try to gain greater leverage," said Ignatius.
"This is absolutely lesson one of Kissinger's statecraft," he said. "I think it's also clear that President Trump has understood that, internalized that."
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