ANALYSIS: Donald Trump Roils Foreign Policy Even Before He Becomes President

December 23, 2016, 4:52 PM

— -- Just three days before Christmas, his presidency still a month away from beginning, Donald Trump upended decades of foreign policy without leaving the private confines of his Florida estate.

Unless he didn’t.

There’s no real way to say what the president-elect meant to convey in terms of policy via his latest series of tweets. He isn’t saying, and his team isn’t helping interpret them in a meaningful way.

But what’s already clear is that longstanding precedent that keeps a president-elect from interfering with the sitting president’s foreign policy has been shattered by Trump. He may also be reordering the way presidency works, by design and by tradition, with one-off tweets that leave friends and foes questioning his motives.

Trump can rest assured that his tweets have consequences. His call for the U.S. to veto a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements resulted in a delay in voting, followed by the Obama administration’s decision to allow the resolution to pass -– an action denounced even by the president's allies.

In a separate tweet, Trump said the United States needs to “expand its nuclear capability.” That position, coming just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said something similar, appears to suggest a return to the arms races of the Cold War -– reversing decades where the U.S. has sought to limit, rather than expand, the number of nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

It was left to Trump’s pick for press secretary, Sean Spicer, to try to explain his boss’ thinking when it comes to opining on foreign policy on Twitter, even before he takes office.

“He's not going to sit back and just wait,” Spicer said on MSNBC. “He's getting results.”

That’s indisputable already, if the goal is to roil foreign policy. Trump is bringing his signature shoot-from-the-hip style to international affairs, treating the public aspects of the field like he might a business deal.

The question that will obsess journalists and diplomats will always be whether Trump is playing things strategically or emotionally. But when the president-elect –- and of course the president –- says something, it has policy ramifications, regardless of the medium or method of delivery.

Trump’s Tweets have long been famous. Now they have real-world consequences -– as the president-elect tosses aside conventions and conventional wisdom even before he takes over the country's top job.

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