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America's “travelling clown show” — something to laugh at…

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Author Topic: America's “travelling clown show” — something to laugh at…  (Read 13 times)
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« on: November 14, 2017, 10:29:36 pm »

from The Washington Post....

The clown goes abroad

President Trump's Asia tour has been at times a disaster, at times a farce.

By EUGENE ROBINSON | 7:40PM EST - Monday, November 13, 2017

President Trump, center, reacts when he realizes he is incorrectly doing the “ASEAN-way handshake”. — Photograph: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press.
President Trump, center, reacts when he realizes he is incorrectly doing the “ASEAN-way handshake”.
 — Photograph: Andrew Harnik/Associated Press.

WE ARE RUNNING a terribly unwise experiment: What happens when you replace U.S. presidential leadership with the slapstick antics of a clown?

On Saturday, President Trump issued the following statement: “Why would Kim Jong Un insult me by calling me ‘old’, when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat’? Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe someday that will happen!”

There is a natural tendency to become inured to Trump's gushing stream of nonsense. Resist the urge. Read that statement again. The president of the United States, in the midst of a trip to Asia, taunted the nuclear-armed dictator of North Korea in a manner most sixth-graders would consider juvenile.

There was a time when the world looked to the U.S. president to speak clearly in defense of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. I refer to the entirety of modern U.S. history before January, when Trump assumed the high office he now dishonors.

His Asia tour has been at times a disaster, at times a farce. What was the most shameful moment? Perhaps when he announced that he has a “great relationship” with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has encouraged police and vigilantes to fight the trade in illegal drugs by assassinating suspected traffickers without the bother of arrests or trials. At least 7,000 and perhaps as many as 13,000 people have been slain.

The White House claimed that human rights came up “briefly” in a private meeting between the two leaders, but Duterte said it didn't come up at all. In fact, during a gala dinner, the buffoonish Duterte serenaded Trump with a Philippine ballad that includes the lyric, “You are the love I've been waiting for”.

The spectacle was simply appalling. One might argue, however, that Trump's kowtowing to Russian President Vladimir Putin was even worse.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Russian government directed a multipronged campaign to meddle in the 2016 election, with the aim of helping Trump win. Putin denies having committed this hostile act, and Trump, for some reason, takes the former KGB officer at his word.

“He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, flying over Vietnam from Danang to Hanoi. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn't do that’. And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Putin's office claimed that Trump didn't raise the issue at all. It is astounding that we have to wonder whether the White House or the Kremlin is telling the truth.

Unbelievably, Trump described former U.S. officials who say Putin is lying — fired FBI director James B. Comey, former CIA director John Brennan and former director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. — as “political hacks”. Trump later said grudgingly that he has confidence in U.S. intelligence agencies “as currently constituted” — now that they are led by Trump appointees.

Someday we will learn why Trump, usually so full of bluster, becomes as deferential as a puppy dog whenever he's around Putin. Maybe special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will provide the answer.

It is reasonable to assume that all the governments whose leaders Trump encountered during the trip have consulted psychologists for advice on how to push Trump's buttons. The host nations all came up with the same answer: pomp and circumstance.

“It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever seen,” Trump said — ridiculously — of the overall welcome he received. And yes, there were red carpets everywhere. And glittering banquets. And opportunities to review the troops.

Chinese President Xi Jinping laid it on thickest, personally taking Trump and the first lady on a tour of the Forbidden City and hosting a state dinner — Trump called it “state-plus-plus” — in the cavernous Great Hall of the People. Xi clearly understands how much Trump loves flattery and ceremony, as opposed to substance.

Meanwhile, as Trump incomprehensibly pursues a policy of “America first” neo-isolationism — refusing even to adequately staff the U.S. diplomatic corps — China moves globally to fill the vacuum. Japan and South Korea wonder whether the U.S. nuclear umbrella still protects them. And the nations Trump abandoned when he nixed the Trans-Pacific Partnership have moved forward to form a trade pact of their own — without us.

This is what happens when a very big nation is led by a very small man.

• Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture for The Washington Post, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's Style section.


Related to this topic:

 • Richard Javad Heydarian: This is how a superpower commits suicide

 • The Washington Post's View: Trump's trip to Asia is a festival of flattery

 • Josh Rogin: Trump reverses course, decides to attend the East Asia Summit

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« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2017, 05:45:16 pm »

from The New York Times....

Trump Is Making China Great Again

By SUSAN E. RICE | Monday, November 13, 2017

President Trump met with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Monday during the last leg of his trip to Asia. — Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.
President Trump met with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Monday during the last leg of his trip to Asia.
 — Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

PRESIDENT TRUMP's recently concluded trip to Asia had the potential to advance important American security and economic interests. Played correctly, his ambitious five-country, 12-day trip could have steadied his administration's rocky start in this vital region. Instead, it left the United States more isolated and in retreat, handing leadership of the newly christened “Indo-Pacific” to China on a silver platter.

The trip began with solid performances in Japan and Korea, where Mr. Trump's relatively measured words left key allies reassured of the United States' commitment to their security. The president largely shelved his belligerent trade rhetoric, called for allies to buy more American military hardware and reopened the door to diplomacy with North Korea. Weather curtailed his surprise trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone, but that may have been a blessing, since hostile words might have prompted hostile action.

But in China, the wheels began to come off his diplomatic bus. The Chinese leadership played President Trump like a fiddle, catering to his insatiable ego and substituting pomp and circumstance for substance.

China always prefers to couch state visits in ceremony rather than compromise on policy. This approach seemed to suit President Trump just fine, as he welcomed a rote recitation of China's longstanding rejection of a nuclear North Korea and failed to extract new concessions or promises. He also settled for the announcement of $250 billion in trade and investment agreements, many of which are non-binding and, in the words of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “pretty small”. Missing were firm deals to improve market access or reduce technology-sharing requirements for American companies seeking to do business in China.

Mr. Trump showered President Xi Jinping of China with embarrassingly fawning accolades, calling him “a very special man” and stressing that “my feeling towards you is an incredibly warm one.” He blamed his predecessors rather than China for our huge trade deficits and hailed Mr. Xi's consolidation of authoritarian power. Such scenes of an American president kowtowing in China to a Chinese president sent chills down the spines of Asia experts and United States allies who have relied on America to balance and sometimes counter an increasingly assertive China. Their collective dismay was only heightened by Mr. Trump's failure to mention publicly any concerns about the disputed South China Sea or even to insist that the American press be allowed to ask the leaders questions.

According to Mr. Tillerson, these stunning displays of Trumpian affection for Mr. Xi were complemented by more concrete discussions behind closed doors. With the notable exception of climate change, the administration wisely seems to have committed to continue cooperation with China in several key areas. But intensive diplomacy in the run-up to these critical leader-level meetings could have yielded real results to advance mutual interests and bypass the Chinese penchant for show over substance. This time, it is unclear whether such diplomacy was undertaken, and the result is that no new policy ground appears to have been broken.

By contrast, President Barack Obama sent his national security advisers to China before summit meetings. In 2014, we agreed on military confidence-building measures, cooperation to fight Ebola, extended visa validity and a historic United States-China deal on climate change, which led to the Paris Agreement. In 2015, we secured agreement from China to curtail cyber-theft of United States intellectual property for commercial gain and to cooperate on development and global health security. In 2016, China stepped up its commitment to crack down on fentanyl precursors, support United Nations peacekeeping and strengthen nuclear security.

President Trump's last stops in Vietnam and the Philippines proved the most problematic. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting, he delivered a vitriolic, nationalistic speech on trade that made the United States look angry and rendered us more isolated. He made no progress toward the bilateral trade agreements he says he wants to replace multilateral deals.

Instead, the leaders of the 11 remaining Trans-Pacific Partnership countries announced a framework to remake their deal without the United States, leaving America outside the largest trade agreement in the world — one that the United States had previously championed to solidify its economic and strategic leadership in the region. Notably, President Xi followed Mr. Trump's hostile speech with a paean to open markets, fair commerce and the benefits of globalization, ideas that might have been cribbed from previous American presidents.

Finally, the president's always fragile self-discipline evaporated with his outlandish tweets over the weekend, including some about Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that undercut his sober message in Seoul. So, too, Mr. Trump's hubristic offer late in his trip to mediate China's disputes with its neighbors in the South China Sea, his failure to mention human rights and, above all, his disturbing defense of Vladimir Putin's lies about meddling in our election, combined with his insulting the United States intelligence community on foreign soil, overwhelmed any effort to assert credible American leadership.

President Trump's lighthearted embrace of a self-proclaimed killer, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, was the nadir of a high-stakes trip that set back American leadership in Asia. But it was, perhaps, the perfect if unintended coda to the president's Make China Great Again tour.

Susan E. Rice was the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and the United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.

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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2017, 05:46:03 pm »

from The Sydney Morning Herald....

The truth Donald Trump's Asia trip confirms:
Asia is side-stepping his clown act

By PETER HARTCHER | 12:05AM - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Illustration: Dionne Gain.
Illustration: Dionne Gain.

IS A CLOWN ON TOUR ANY LESS A CLOWN? No. That's a truth that Donald Trump's Asia trip affirms. The region's nations are moving on, shaping a world where the US is still present but not leading. And that includes Australia.

If you'd ever wanted to see a case study in the soft bigotry of low expectations, it was the first part of Trump's trip. Because he didn't start a fistfight or insult his hosts, quite a few commentators gushed about the new serious Trump, the measured Trump, the strategist Trump.

Of course it was only a matter of time until the clown resumed his regular performances. He was soon in his element, exchanging schoolyard insults with the criminally despotic leader of a rogue regime. North Korea called him a “dotard”.

So the US President did Kim the honour of giving him equivalence. Trump tweeted: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat’?”

The Pentagon had coordinated a major display of US military might to coincide with Trump's visit to Asia. Three US aircraft carrier battle groups converged on the Korean Peninsula on Monday in an obvious effort to awe and intimidate Kim. Then Trump called him short and fat. Which rather spoiled the effect.

So it's hardly surprising that the region's governments, while outwardly courteous to the American President, refused to take him seriously.

US President Donald Trump, center, reacts as he does the “ASEAN-way handshake” with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, left, and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines. — Photograph: Andrew Harnik.
US President Donald Trump, center, reacts as he does the “ASEAN-way handshake” with
Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, left, and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte
during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines.
 — Photograph: Andrew Harnik.

For instance, when Trump offered to mediate the dispute between China and its south-east Asian neighbours over their clashing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

“If I can help mediate or arbitrate, please let me know,” Trump told  Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang​ in Hanoi. “I am a very good mediator.” In another time, such an offer from a US president would have been taken very seriously. No longer.

Vietnam ignored the offer. Within hours China and Vietnam announced they had reached a “consensus” on handling the disputed waters. Their leaders had agreed on a proposal to allow “joint development and jointly strive to uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea,” China's official Xinhua news agency said.

So did the Philippines. In brushing aside the Trump offer, Philippine Foreign Affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano​ buttered him up outrageously. “We thank him for it,” he said. “He is the master of the art of the deal.” Cue guffaws across the capitals of the world.

Instead, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte​ said he had discussed the dispute with China's President Xi Jinping on Saturday. Duterte told reporters: “He assured us again: ‘Do not worry, you have all the rights of safe passage. That will also be applicable to all countries’.”

Duterte said he would “not touch” the dispute in the larger leaders meetings he was to host, which is exactly as the Chinese like it.

Donald Trump, left, talks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the gala dinner marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary. — Photograph: Associated Press.
Donald Trump, left, talks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during the gala dinner
marking ASEAN's 50th anniversary. — Photograph: Associated Press.

In a further sign of China's ascendancy, it has reached agreement with the larger group of all 10 south-east Asian countries of ASEAN that Beijing will soon be ready to discuss a code of conduct for the disputed zone.

The Chinese first agreed to such a code a decade ago, then successfully stalled while they took disputed marine territory by force, built islands and installed runways and military facilities.

Now China has agreed that it'll be ready to start negotiations “sometime next year” and, at China's insistence, any agreement will not be legally binding, according to a Philippines government spokesman.

The US has been sidelined in all of this. Which has been tremendously valuable to China. Without credible US backing, the ASEAN nations are much weakened, with no great power to turn to, while totally overmatched by China.

Without a reliable US to provide some backbone, South-east Asia is turning to jelly. “And who could blame them?” says ANU south-east Asia expert, Nicholas Farrelly. “So the Chinese come in, they look rational and coherent and they're providing an alternative to the chaos coming out of the US.”

The Chinese, says Farrelly, are “playing the ASEANs like a fiddle”. Australia, in the meantime, is acting on its own interests and getting on with regional affairs without waiting for any lead from Washington.

US President Donald Trump speaks at the APEC CEO summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. — Photograph: Bloomberg.
US President Donald Trump speaks at the APEC CEO summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.
 — Photograph: Bloomberg.

Malcolm Turnbull's visit to Manila's military headquarters in Aguinaldo​ on Monday showcased an Australian initiative to put some backbone into the Philippines in its fight against Daesh, or the so-called Islamic State.

Daesh's easy conquest of the Philippines city of Marawi earlier this year deeply alarmed governments across the region. Australia, to its credit, acted swiftly. By supplying P-3 Orion spy planes during the Marawi crisis, Australia played a key part at a vital moment.

Defence Minister Marise Payne says that her Philippines counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana​, “assured me on a number of occasions that the value of the vision provided by the P-3s was pivotal to their effort in Marawi,” which defeated the Daesh insurgency after five months of fighting.

Now some 80 Australian troops are providing training to Philippines forces in urban warfare, which turned out to be a deficiency in their fight in Marawi. Turnbull visited this training exercise on Monday to affirm Australia's support.

Australia also has three naval vessels converging near the Philippines this week as part of a new effort to help with maritime surveillance. The insurgency-racked Philippines island of Mindanao is wide open to anyone with a speed boat — more surveillance is vital.

Nor is this isolated. Payne is leading a more active Australian campaign to support militaries across ASEAN. One measure — she has become the first Australian defence minister to visit Laos. “To add this connectivity between countries you can't just create it out of thin air — you have to be there,” she says.

Despite Trump's antics, this is no time for clowning around.

• Peter Hartcher is the political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He is a Gold Walkley award winner, a former foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Washington, and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. His latest book is The Sweet Spot: How Australia Made its Own Luck and Could Now Throw it All Away. His 2005 book, Bubble Man: Alan Greenspan and the Missing Seven Trillion Dollars, foresaw the collapse of the US housing market and the economic slump that followed.

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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2017, 06:21:37 pm »

from The New York Times....

China Could Sell Trump the Brooklyn Bridge

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN | Tuesday, November 14, 2017

President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing last week. — Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.
President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing last week. — Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times.

THERE IS A SAYING — “When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there” — and it perfectly sums up the contrast between China's President Xi Jinping and President Trump.

Xi has been brilliant at playing Trump, plying him with flattery and short-term trade concessions and deflecting him from the real structural trade imbalances with China. All along, Xi keeps his eye on the long-term prize of making China great again. Trump, meanwhile, touts every minor victory as historic and proceeds down any road that will give him a quick sugar high.

Trump literally has no idea what he's doing and has no integrated strategy — because, unlike Xi, Trump's given no thought to the big questions every effective leader starts his day with: “What world am I living in? What are the biggest trends in this world? And how do I align my country so more of my citizens get the most out of these trends and cushion the worst?”

What world are we in? One in which we're going through three “climate changes” at once.

We're going through a change in the actual climate: Destructive weather events and the degradation of ecosystems are steadily accelerating.

We're going through a change in the “climate” of globalization: from an interconnected world to an interdependent one; from a world of walls, where you build your wealth by hoarding resources, to a world of webs, where you thrive by connecting your citizens to the most flows of ideas, trade, innovation and education.

And, finally, we're going through a change in the “climate” of technology and work: Machines are acquiring all five senses, and with big data and artificial intelligence, every company can now analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automatize more and more jobs, products and services. And those companies that don't will wither.

So how's China responding? To deal with the change in the climate, it's massively investing in clean power and electric vehicles — because its own people won't be able to breathe otherwise and because it knows that in a world that will add another one billion people by around 2030, clean power and transportation and energy efficiency will be the next great global industry, or nobody anywhere will breathe.

In response to a more interdependent world, China is deepening its trade ties to all the fast-growing Asian markets around it through its “One Belt, One Road” project and its Asian Development Bank, while tightly controlling its own market. I call it “globalization for me but not for you.”

Because while China hails globalization, it imposes a 25 percent tariff on imported cars (while America imposes only 2.5 percent) and 50-50 joint ventures and technology transfers for big companies that want to gain access to China's giant market. But China gets away with it.

In technology, China has embarked on a plan called “Made in China 2025” that’s plowing government funds and research into commercializing 10 strategic industries while creating regulations and swiping intellectual property from abroad to make them all grow faster. These industries include electric vehicles, new materials, artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, biopharmacy, quantum computing, 5G mobile communications, and robotics.

And Trump? On the change in the climate, he's promoting coal over clean energy, like wind and solar, and has appointed climate-change deniers to all of his key environmental posts. While China is run by engineers, Trump doesn't even have a science adviser. He's refused to fill the White House Office of Science and Technology, which, as Newsweek reported, “has been without a boss for the longest stretch since its establishment in 1976.”

On globalization, Trump tore up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which would have put him at the helm of a 12-nation Pacific trading bloc (without China), built on U.S. interests and values, and would have eliminated as many as 18,000 tariffs on U.S. exports to countries that, together with the U.S., control 40 percent of global G.D.P. And then he went to China and praised Beijing for beating us at our own game! Well, Donald, when you unilaterally disarm, that tends to happen.

By the way, the 11 other TPP nations are now trying to create their own free-trade zone — without the U.S. So after decades of America trying to push all their markets open, they're going to open without us. Nice going, Mr. President, China thanks you, because these countries will be much more vulnerable to Chinese economic pressure with our presence diminished.

On the change of the climate of technology, Trump is pushing a tax bill that is based on no analysis of emerging technologies and how we might reform our tax laws to incentivize more investment in them. Actually, the bill would eliminate the $7,500 tax credit for electric cars; shrink the tax credits vital for enabling wind projects; and impose a tax on the endowments of our wealthiest colleges — i.e., our science and engineering treasures — endowments that colleges use to fund research and extend scholarships for the neediest students.

“This will be wounding to one of America's gems,” its institutions of higher education, Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, said to me. And it's basically being done to cut taxes for the wealthy.

Moreover, at a time when China's roads and rails increasingly look like the Jetsons' and ours increasingly look like the Flintstones', the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials complained in a November 9th letter to House leaders that their draft tax bill — in order to raise more money for corporate tax cuts — “makes significant changes to some of the federally supported financing mechanisms used for transportation” — specifically the “proposed termination of tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs),” which serve “as an important infrastructure financing tool that attracts private sector investment to … large transportation projects across the country.”

So the Chinese are focused on the giant winds of change, and Trump is betting on his gut and a grab bag of tax cuts based on no take on the world, other than dubious trickle-down economics. No surprise. When you don't know where you're going any tax cut will get you there, any replacement for Obamacare will get you there, any wall will get you there, any trade concession will get you there.

Personally, I am not persuaded China's top-down industrial policy will make China great in the end; it has created huge domestic debt challenges related to its state-owned industries and real estate bubbles. In fact, I'm certain our economic system is better than theirs — in theory.

But China, with its ability to focus, is getting 90 percent out of its inferior system, and it has brought China a long way fast. And we, with too little focus, are getting 50 percent out of our superior system. If that persists, it will impact the balance of power.

Now you know why the Chinese were so happy to throw a bash for Trump in Beijing.

• Thomas L. Friedman became The New York Times' foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist in 1995. He joined the paper in 1981, after which he served as the Beirut bureau chief in 1982, Jerusalem bureau chief in 1984, and then in Washington as the diplomatic correspondent in 1989, and later the White House correspondent and economic correspondent. Mr. Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Lebanon) and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Israel). He also won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Mr. Friedman is the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem, which won the National Book Award in 1989. He has written several other books, including Hot, Flat and Crowded, an international best seller. Born in Minneapolis, Mr. Friedman received a B.A. degree in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University in 1975. In 1978 he received a master’s in modern Middle East studies from Oxford. His column appears every Sunday and Wednesday.

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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2017, 06:51:02 pm »

from the Los Angeles Times....

Trump proclaims success of his Asia trip but cites no major breakthroughs

By BRIAN BENNETT | 4:04PM PST - Wednesday, November 15, 2017

President Trump speaks about his trip to Asia in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Wednesday. — Photograph: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.
President Trump speaks about his trip to Asia in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Wednesday. — Photograph: Evan Vucci/Associated Press.

PRESIDENT TRUMP on Wednesday proclaimed “the tremendous success” of his five-nation tour of Asia, but his message was undermined by the lack of significant accomplishments he could point to from the trip.

The president, who had returned to the White House the evening before looking fatigued, boasted that he projected “a strong, proud and confident America” and argued for allies to provide more support to confront North Korea over its nuclear threats while demanding from them fairer trade with the United States.

Yet Trump announced no significant new agreements on either trade or North Korea. He pointed to new business deals with Asian companies and increased spending from allies for American-made military equipment, but such announcements are common on presidential trips abroad.

Though Trump returned to a number of domestic concerns — an accelerating special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the election and his campaign's possible involvement, Republicans' troubles passing a tax cut bill, and concerns over the party's prospects in the 2018 mid-term elections — Trump seemed buoyed by his reception in the Asian nations.

The president said he was received with “incredible warmth, hospitality and most importantly, respect” at each stop — “further evidence,” he added, “that America's renewed confidence and standing in the world has never been stronger.”

In remarks to reporters before leaving Asia, and in a tweet on Tuesday, Trump had billed the event as a major statement about achievements from the tour. It turned out to be something of a recap of his first year in office, a familiar review of what he considers his economic accomplishments and a travelogue of not only each stop on the Asia trip but also on an earlier one to Saudi Arabia and European capitals.

His 23-minute review was delivered with a teleprompter from the Diplomatic Reception Room, in front of a portrait of George Washington, suggesting the trappings of a prime-time address, though in late afternoon. Given Trump's advance buildup, the speech was carried live on cable news networks.

Afterward, Trump walked out and didn't respond to shouted questions from a reporter about whether he believed the accusers of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has lost many Republican leaders' backing over sexual misconduct allegations, and whether Moore should drop out of the race.

His remarks included stinging criticism of his predecessors for the problems they'd left him, echoing Trump's attacks on unnamed presidents several times in Asia. In China, standing next to President Xi Jinping in Beijing, Trump blamed mounting trade deficits and North Korea's advance toward advanced nuclear weapons on past presidents.

Such criticism is rare, and all but unprecedented for a president to make overseas. Trump said of his predecessors, “Some mistakes were born of indifference and neglect, others from naive thinking and misguided judgment.”

The “common thread,” he added, was their “failure to protect and promote the interests of the American people and American workers.”

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, Trump said, his message on “fair and reciprocal” trade “resonated.” At the conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the Philippines, Trump said he emphasized freedom of navigation: “We made it clear that no one owns the ocean.”

At one point, Trump stopped to look for a bottle of water at the lectern, and noting there was none, was directed by a reporter to a bottle on a small table to his right. The moment, and his awkward sip, drew comparisons on social media to his repeated mocking of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida during their Republican presidential rivalry, for Rubio's much-derided water breaks while delivering the party's response to President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address.

After speaking, Trump stopped awkwardly as if expecting applause. But there wasn't an audience in the room beyond a handful of White House staff and White House reporters.

• Brian Bennett covers the White House for the Los Angeles Times and writes about national security and immigration as well. Since starting in the L.A. Times Washington bureau in 2010, he has documented a pattern of excessive force by U.S. Border Patrol agents and revealed the first arrest on U.S. soil using a Predator drone. He reported for TIME magazine starting in Hong Kong in 2000, from Pakistan and Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks and was its Baghdad bureau chief in 2003 and 2004. A native of Riverside, California, he misses being able to pick avocados and oranges in the backyard.

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