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Trump’s Victorious Retreats

Why does US President Donald Trump keep making empty threats against other countries? While his detractors think he is simply a braggart, a fool, and an ignoramus, there could be a less unflattering, though equally depressing, explanation.

LONDON – Will Donald Trump back down in his trade war with China, or will he win it? The answer is probably both. Trump’s characteristic sequence of blood-curdling threats – “fire and fury,” “squeeze Iran’s exports to zero,” “tariffs on everything Chinese,” “consequences the likes of which few have ever suffered” – followed by a handshake, a hug, and a sudden outbreak of mutual understanding, is now a clearly established pattern.

The most dramatic example was Trump’s abandonment of any genuine effort to remove nuclear weapons from North Korea. More recently, there was Trump’s suspension of tariff threats against the European Union after his love-in with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the offer of a US-Iran summit “with no preconditions,” and then signals that escalation of tariff threats against China is actually a device to reopen negotiations.

Why does Trump keep making empty threats? His detractors respond that he is simply a braggart, a fool, and an ignoramus. But there could be a less unflattering, though equally depressing, explanation.

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