Trump’s lack of diplomacy threatens to derail U.S.-Mexico relations

It’s not a stretch to say that throughout his presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s favorite lines was “I will build a wall, and Mexico will pay for it.” Now, more than a year into his presidency, we are starting to see who is footing, at least, a political price for that promise. It turns out it is none other than Trump himself.

We refer, of course, to the recent news about the president’s call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The elected leader of the nation to our south wanted Trump to publicly affirm that Mexico in fact would not pay for the construction of a border wall. When Trump refused, the conversation broke down. Pena Nieto then canceled a planned visit to the United States this month.

If this were just another break in communications between the president of Mexico and a man who is comfortable with Twitter and adept at ruffling feathers, it would just fade into oblivion like so many tweets. But in this case there is a real potential long-term cost — and a realization about where this president has placed himself on the world stage.

World leaders — particularly allies — are typically keen to find opportunities to stand next to the president of the United States. Doing so builds prestige and adds to their influence at home and abroad. That Pena Nieto sees it as politically advantageous to publicly cancel a visit to the U.S. should alone raise concern.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Trump’s policies and broader leadership approach, the United States is generally better off if other world leaders feel it is in their best interests to fly to our soil and meet with our president.

Beyond the symbolism, there is another critical issue involved — the North American Free Trade Agreement. It is difficult to overstate the importance of NAFTA to the U.S. and, specifically, to Texas. It is critical for the U.S. to maintain strong relationships with the two other countries that are party to the trade agreement, Mexico and Canada.

It is particularly important right now. We’ve gone through six rounds of NAFTA renegotiations, a process made more difficult given Trump’s panache for calling the agreement “the worst trade deal in history.” As chronicled extensively in numerous publications over the first year of this presidency, this agreement has led to an integration of supply chains throughout North America. Pulling it apart now will be costly to our economy and leave us less competitive in the world.

And beyond NAFTA, this country needs to maintain strong bonds with Mexico as it deals with immigration, combating drug cartels and national security issues. News that the U.S. ambassador to the country just quit only increases the importance of those strong bonds.

Trump painted himself into a corner with Mexico during the campaign. Now as president he needs to find a way out of that corner and into a position where he can make progress on important issues with our neighbor to the south.

— The Dallas Morning News