Most of the world prefers Biden but is preparing for Trump

Former President Trump’s apparent victory in the presidential debate Thursday night has added urgency to efforts underway by world leaders to prepare for a second Trump administration, despite international audiences preferring President Biden.

Trump claimed during the debate that foreign countries don’t respect Biden’s leadership and don’t respect the United States — claims that run counter to a recent Pew poll that showed respondents in more than 30 countries holding more confidence in Biden than Trump to do the right thing on foreign policy decisions.

Low global confidence in Trump helps explain why U.S. allies are trying to prepare for an America that is turned away from global affairs, either through policy decisions or distracted by internal chaos and partisanship.

Diplomatic protocol dictates that foreign representatives don’t comment on other countries’ elections or internal politics. But senior foreign government officials have, in the past year specifically, made a point to keep up relationships with Trump and national security professionals in his orbit.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April pitching continued U.S. support for Ukraine. Polish President Andrzej Duda spent two and a half hours with Trump in New York in April, calling it a “friendly meeting, in a very pleasant atmosphere.”

And Jens Stoltenberg, the outgoing NATO secretary-general, promoted the alliance’s contribution to the American economy to the Heritage Foundation earlier this year. The Washington think tank is viewed as a holding ground for officials to fill out a second Trump administration.

NATO’s next secretary-general, Mark Rutte, is an affable, disciplined former Dutch prime minister who won Trump’s favor even as he interrupted and contradicted the former president during meetings in Washington.

And while America’s allies in Asia are deeply dependent on political and military backing from the U.S., they are deepening relationships between each other and with Europe to guard against Trump’s threats to scrap security commitments if countries don’t spend enough on defense.

The presence of Indo-Pacific allies and partners at NATO summits — like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand — further demonstrates democracies working to deepen ties in the face of an antagonistic Trump.

“That’s clearly an effort to ensure that even without the United States around that those relationships will continue to grow and those democracies will continue to support one another,” said Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.

Even in private conversations, diplomats tend to eschew anxiety over a second Trump administration. Instead, they focus on where they succeeded working with Trump, and look to that as a blueprint for the future.

While Trump said little of substance on his foreign policy priorities during the debate, he gave some significant, but brief, answers on some issues.

Ukraine’s supporters may take comfort in the fact that Trump, during the debate, rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demands to block Ukraine from joining NATO and recognizing Russian sovereignty over occupied territory, in exchange for ending the war.

But preparations are underway for NATO to take over America’s leading role in coordinating support for Ukraine.

When Biden hosts the NATO summit next month in Washington, allies are expected to announce that NATO will lead the Ramstein grouping — the conference coordinating weapons supplies for Kyiv. NATO is further expected to come together on language laying out Ukraine’s pathway to membership.

And NATO allies point to Congress’s support for the alliance as guarding against Trump’s threats to either pull out or hold back on fulfilling U.S. commitments.

Still, U.S. partnership is essential on a bilateral basis, and European and Asian leaders have for months laid the groundwork for warm ties with Trump’s world in the hope of carrying out a smooth transition to a second, and likely chaotic, term.

Some countries have even sent envoys to America to lobby Republicans at the state level in an effort to guard against some of Trump’s most worrying threats. Michael Link, Germany’s coordinator of transatlantic cooperation, has met with governors across the U.S., Reuters reported.

“It would be extremely important, if Donald Trump were reelected, to prevent the punitive tariffs he is planning on goods from the EU,” he told the outlet earlier this year.

But not everyone is worried. In the Middle East, a second Trump term would be hailed with “jubilation,” said Farkas, pointing to the close ties between Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Trump reportedly held a phone call with the crown prince in April, amid Biden’s push to establish a cease-fire in the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

“I think the Middle East is an area where, if anything they’re hoping for a Trump outcome, they’re not really hedging,” she said.

And even as Trump has criticized Israel as having a “public relations” problem with its war against Hamas in Gaza and is bitter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for recognizing Biden’s win in 2020, his election is likely to bolster the far right of Israeli society.

“The [Israeli] opposition and the Palestinian people would not be happy with Trump because again, he has been happy to give a blank check to Netanyahu and the Israeli government. It’s the same philosophy, I think, for all the Arab states, basically. Trump will let them do what they want to do and do business with them,” Farkas said.

During the debate, Trump did not commit to supporting an independent Palestinian state if it led to peace, and called for Israel to “finish the job” in its war to eliminate Hamas.

But these positions could put him at odds with Arab and Gulf states whose populations are mobilized in support of Palestinian rights, said Gerald Feierstein, director of the Middle East Institute’s Arabian Peninsula Affairs Program and former U.S. ambassador to Qatar.

“If Trump wants to pursue the Saudi-Israel agreement, and if the Saudis stick to their guns about no deal without Palestine, that probably means there probably won’t be an Israel-Saudi deal,” he said, adding that calculations could change if Netanyahu is ousted from government.

Still, Israel and Gulf states are likely to welcome back a Trump administration intent on containing Iran, a policy laid out by Robert O’Brien, Trump’s last national security adviser, who is likely to serve in a senior post in a second administration.

“The focus of U.S. policy in the Middle East should remain the malevolent actor that is ultimately most responsible for the turmoil and killing: the Iranian regime,” O’Brien wrote in a policy position paper for Foreign Affairs.

Trump likes to boast that Putin would not have invaded Ukraine and Hamas would not have attacked Israel if he were president, assertions that are impossible to prove. But his statements underscore how his top advisers are working to craft a foreign policy for a second administration that focuses on looking like a strongman.

“This morass of American weakness and failure cries out for a Trumpian restoration of peace through strength,” O’Brien wrote.

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