By Ryan Lizza / The New Yorker
Last Saturday, in his first public announcement from the White House, Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary, noted that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto would visit Trump on Jan.31st for a meeting “on trade, immigration, and security.” (This was after Spicer finished berating the press for accurately reporting on the relatively small crowd size at Trump’s Inauguration.)
This week, Peña Nieto dispatched several ministers to lay the groundwork for the summit, including Luis Videgaray, his new secretary of foreign affairs. Last fall, Videgaray, then the finance minister, and one of the few people in Peña Nieto’s administration with links to the Trump campaign, recommended that Peña Nieto invite Trump to Mexico. Trump’s visit became such an embarrassment to the unpopular Mexican government that Peña Nieto was forced to sack Videgaray.
But, after Trump won, Videgaray was welcomed back into the government in his current role. “He was the only one who had diplomatic ties to the Trump Administration,” an official at the Mexican Embassy noted.
On Wednesday, when Videgaray and his colleagues came to the White House for a day of meetings with Jared Kushner and other senior Trump aides, Trump signed one executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border” and another greatly expanding the categories of undocumented immigrants who will be prioritized for deportation. The Embassy official said the team of diplomats at the White House was furious and despondent at the timing. “They were like, ‘What the fuck are we going to negotiate?’ ” the official said. “ ‘You’ve done the job. What are we going to negotiate if you’ve signed this? What’s wrong with you?’ ”
Peña Nieto made an emotional televised statement to his country on Wednesday evening condemning Trump’s executive orders. “Mexico will not pay for any wall,” he said. He promised to turn Mexico’s fifty consulates in the United States into “true ramparts in defense of migrant rights.”
The relationship between the two leaders completely ruptured. In one of his first instances of Twitter diplomacy as President, Trump wrote on Thursday morning, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.” Not surprisingly, Peña Nieto cancelled.
This depressing episode confirms several of the worst fears about Trump. The first is that he is not a good negotiator. Rather than waiting a week before he issued his executive orders on immigration, Trump signed them at a moment that maximally embarrassed Videgaray, the Mexican official who is the most sympathetic to him. The moves left the unpopular Peña Nieto with no choice but to cancel next week’s visit, and poisoned the relationship with one of America’s closest allies and our third-largest trading partner.
Furthermore, it showed that with his impulsive use of Twitter to make foreign-policy statements, Trump is turning American diplomacy into a series of personal relationships unguided by strategy or forethought.