WASHINGTON -- The transactional approach to foreign affairs and security advocated by new U.S. President Donald Trump may be good news for Russia and China, which are openly challenging the American-led international order.
Trump's overtures toward Russian President Vladimir Putin -- who has sought to forcibly expand Russian territory, as exemplified by the annexation of Crimea -- have raised many questions. Sanctions imposed on Russia by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama through the framework of the Group of Seven industrialized nations should be difficult to lift unless Russia returns Crimea to Ukraine. Yet Trump has mentioned a proposal to remove some sanctions in exchange for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
Obama came out against the proposal Wednesday. "The reason we imposed the sanctions, recall, was not because of nuclear weapons issues," he told reporters. "It was because the independence and sovereignty of a country, Ukraine, had been encroached upon, by force, by Russia."
Some worry that an approach informed by Trump's business background, focused on short-term gains and losses, could be exploited effectively by Putin, a veteran of the diplomatic battlefield.
China is another concern. Trump's suggestion that the U.S. could rethink the "one China" policy -- the understanding that Taiwan and mainland China are a single country -- has riled Beijing, which considers Taiwan a core interest.
Trump's goal is likely to push China to boost investment in the U.S. and create more jobs. Whether this will go according to plan is unclear. Beijing, seeking to avoid direct conflict with Washington, will turn its ire on Taipei first.
The concern is that Trump will play and discard the Taiwan card as he pleases. Should the U.S. step aside while the island is under Chinese pressure, frayed cross-strait ties will be the only result.
Diplomatic maneuvering may not prevent a clash between American and Chinese forces over the South China Sea, where Beijing has made inroads in defiance of international law, if tensions escalate. Though Obama's lack of assertiveness served to embolden China, going face to face without a broader plan is dangerous as well.
Trump will also need to deal with a chaotic Middle East. The fight against the Islamic State radical group has dragged on. Though airstrikes alone can only do so much, Trump's views on sending in ground troops remain unclear.
The new president has also vowed to scrap the Iran nuclear deal -- a signature achievement of the Obama administration -- seemingly without fully thinking through the consequences. This shift in favor of Israel, which is critical of the deal, has alarmed the Palestinian Authority and others in the Arab world.
Situations where the costs and benefits cannot be determined quickly, or are simply unknown, are part and parcel of politics. Whether a diplomatic approach based on a business mindset will succeed remains to be seen.