Hardcore slavish devotees of Donald Trump have set particular store by any utterances he has made over the past two years indicating a foreign policy that would, while projecting American strength, somehow be more astute in avoiding any need to employ that strength. Certainly Laura Ingraham has generally mentioned "not getting us into endless wars in the Middle East" as an addendum to her two-note-Johnny focus on trade and immigration as, in her mind, the most pressing issues facing the country. And Trump himself has provided his minions fodder with remarks like the one about "letting Russia fight ISIS."
The fact that the United States has two superpower adversaries - China and Russia - is so obvious that it has not been lost on even Trump. True, he has publicly fallen for Putin's subtle flattery, but he's not oblivious to Russia's machinations on the high seas, the skies or cyberspace. Concerning China, while he couches his remarks in his trademark winners-and-losers terms, saying we get the short end of the trade-deal stick with them, he has also referenced China's massive military buildup, which has taken place as America's defense capabilities got stretched unacceptably thin during the just-concluded era of planned decline.
This week, it seems that he is coming to that moment that presidents inevitably face - when any kind of outlines of a doctrine they hinted at on the campaign trail are subjected to the hard realities of the world stage.
Of course, he meets with President Xi today at Mar-a-Lago, and, along with trade, North Korea will surely be discussed at length. Just what kind of influence can he exert with his counterpart? For one thing, Xi is facing a Communist Party leadership-selection process at home this year that may determine the degree of his influence. He probably does not want to appear overly conciliatory to an American president at such a moment.
It's often said that China has complete control over North Korea. If that's so, would we not have to conclude that China really has no problem with the Kim dynasty amassing a nuclear arsenal and testing missiles with ever-greater frequency? At what point, and in response to what kind of goading, does China show the same kind of alarm about it that is shown by Japan, South Korea and the United States?
Then there is this week's use of sarin gas by the Assad regime in Syria against its own citizens. Given that regime's alliance with Russia, not to mention with the inarguably evil regime in Iran, it's clear that a passive American response to this barbarism sends signals to all world-stage observers.
The president is surely discovering that no administration gets to make a completely fresh start. The fruits of red lines crossed in Syria -or, going back a bit further, Assad-Kerry dinners, or Hillary Clinton pronouncements that Assad was a stabilizing force in his region - and Agreed Frameworks and Six-Way Talks regarding North Korea, are now being made manifest.
Blank-slate foreign policy is just not possible.
Relations with Russia and China, and, more immediately, what to do in the proxy situations of Syria and North Korea have come to a head.
We know certain things about Donald Trump, largely because he is not shy about revealing his character, such as it is.
Still, there is more to find out, and we soon will.