The new US President is off to a chaotic start, writes Nicola Lamb.

"She's not even president yet, why not give her a chance," pleads a character in the new series of Homeland, which is following a fictional US president-elect in the transition period.

"Presidents don't get chances, they get tested," snarls a gnarly spy chief in reply.

In his first term, now former US President Barack Obama faced difficult policy challenges both foreign and domestic.

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He had an immediate recession to deal with through an (overall) US$840 billion stimulus package. There was also the auto industry crisis and bailout and the historic healthcare scheme to pass.

Dealing with the ongoing Afghanistan war, Obama sent an extra 30,000 troops there in 2009. North Korea was testing rockets. Iran's first nuclear power plant opened in 2011. Obama chose to ramp up former President George W. Bush's policy of drone strikes in northwest Pakistan.

Those were problems in plain sight and legacies of the past. But Obama's first term was also full of events.

With some, even if specific incidents surprised, the general conditions made them unsurprising: Sudden strikes by terrorists, tragic spikes in gun violence, political eruptions in iron dictatorships.

The events included:

• A foiled terror attack on a Detroit-bound plane.

• Fort Hood base shooting.

• Green revolution in Iran.

• H1N1 virus pandemic.

• Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion.

• Haiti earthquake.

• The raid on a compound in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

• CIA contractor diplomatic incident with Pakistan.

• A Moscow terror bombing.

• The Arab Spring uprisings.

• Libyan intervention.

• Syrian civil war.

• Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

• Sandy Hook school shooting.

• Benghazi, Libya, attack.

• Colorado cinema shooting.

A crowd marches in protest through the streets of Portland, Ore., following Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. Photo / AP
A crowd marches in protest through the streets of Portland, Ore., following Donald Trump's presidential inauguration. Photo / AP

It's safe to say that new US President, Donald Trump, will have many, varied and mostly foreign tests. Some of them will be lurking in view.

At the moment, news of the Trump Administration is all - understandably - focused on Washington and the wider US.

A difficult inauguration - an underwhelming crowd, bare parade stands, protests - has been followed by the charismatic challenge of the women's marches across the country.

Trump's team also found time on his big day to ban the Interior Department from tweeting after it retweeted photos showing the difference in sizes between the 2009 and 2017 inauguration crowds.

Reports which emerged on the eve of the inauguration suggested that the new Administration is more collecting itself than settling in.

Josh Rogin wrote in the Washington Post: "As the Trump Administration gets underway, its most influential foreign policy figures are not its Cabinet nominees, or even the National Security Council, but a handful of senior people close to the President-elect".

Trump has a cabal "that is shaping his policies and setting itself up as the centre of power for all matters of international significance".

Rogin wrote: "When Trump's Cabinet members are confirmed and their staffs are in place, heads of national security departments and agencies could be in a position to exert great influence. But for now, incoming chief strategist Stephen Bannon, senior adviser [and Trump son in law] Jared Kushner and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus comprise an informal council ... No major decision can go forward without their sign-off".

Donald Trump arrives for his Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol. Photo / Getty Images
Donald Trump arrives for his Presidential Inauguration at the US Capitol. Photo / Getty Images

New York Times

writer Maggie Haberman tweeted that "two advisers to Trump are increasingly involved in national security/defence/FP apparatus - Steve Bannon + Kushner". The

New York Times

reported that Trump's team was "still scrambling to fill key administration posts [having] to retain 50 essential State Department and national security officials".

It said that Trump had named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments. Only two of his cabinet nominees had been approved - for Defence and Homeland Security.

Former Obama Administration housing official Brandon Friedman tweeted: "State Department employee just described to me what he heard today about Trump's careful planning to bring in 'the best people':

'There's no senior leadership at State right now. No Secretary, no Under Secretaries. We're hearing that [tomorrow] we'll get 50 former Trump campaign staff and we just have to find places for them.'"

Even in this chaotic situation, the Administration has, with the help of congressional Republicans, already picked a mammoth fight over healthcare - an issue that (when it is freed of its 'Obamacare' labelling and becomes personal) cuts through geographical, partisan, racial and class lines.

Trump is, at least for the moment, deeply unpopular. He has a RealClearPolitics.com average approval of 41.8 per cent at what should be the highpoint of his popularity. Harry Enten, an analyst at FiveThirtyEight, tweeted: "The average mid-term loss when the president has an approval rating below 50 per cent is 36 House seats."

The now-rudderless Democrats haven't recovered their organisation yet. Leadership is spread over a handful of senior politicians. And the Republicans have 59 more seats in the House and six extra in the Senate.

Donald Trump waves to supporters as he walks the parade route with first lady Melania Trump. Photo / Getty Images
Donald Trump waves to supporters as he walks the parade route with first lady Melania Trump. Photo / Getty Images

But as New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait writes, the weekend's inauguration and marches show that key conditions that helped elect Trump are gone.

"One was the imbalance in political passion between the two sides. Not only did many Democrats distrust or dislike Hillary Clinton, but eight years of Democratic control of the White House had created complacency (as it did in 2000). Republicans were starving for power and willing to overlook their candidate's glaring, grotesque flaws. A number of Democrats would not forgive Clinton's smaller ones. The events of the last two days have made clear that Trump's victory wiped those conditions away overnight."

Chait believes this will have an impact on how the Republicans govern: "Republicans assuming they could rush through [Speaker] Paul Ryan's agenda, while allowing Trump to obliterate long-standing governing norms, will rethink. The kind of backlash Democrats eventually mounted against Bush, which drove landslide victories in the 2006 mid-term and the 2008 election, is a plausible possibility ... The governing party had probably assumed the clock would not start for months on the liberal backlash. Now the clock is ticking already."

Amid these conditions, the possibility of a major foreign crisis isn't getting much attention. Yet the Trump team is vulnerable.

Trump's contentious nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, a businessman, is yet to be confirmed. Tillerson's foreign experience involves being head of ExxonMobil and dealing with Russia and the Middle East.

The governing party had probably assumed the clock would not start for months on the liberal backlash. Now the clock is ticking already.

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Trump himself has been a businessman and reality TV star. Of his key advisers, Priebus was chairman of the Republican National Committee but has a background as a lawyer. Bannon and Kushner are businessmen. All have no foreign policy experience.

The new Defence Secretary, retired General James Mattis, is now on the job. Despite his "Mad Dog" nickname, Mattis is being greeted with breath-holding hope as a sane influence on Trump by some in Washington.

Yet, Trump is the boss, Mattis will have to work in a varied team, and secretaries come and go. Obama had four defence secretaries, George W. Bush two, Bill Clinton three.

In his final press conference last week, Obama talked extensively about the support system around a president.

Of Trump, he said: "I think a lot of his views are going to be shaped by his advisers ... This is a job of such magnitude that you can't do it by yourself. You are enormously reliant on a team. Your Cabinet, your senior White House staff, all the way to fairly junior folks in their 20s and 30s but who are executing on significant responsibilities. And so, how you put a team together to make sure that they're getting you the best information and they are teeing up the options from which you will ultimately make decisions."

Obama added: "If you find yourself isolated because the process breaks down or if you're only hearing from people who agree with you on everything or if you haven't created a process that is fact-checking and probing and asking hard questions about policies or promises that you've made, that's when you start making mistakes."