Bystander in chief: Trump’s hands-off response to Hong Kong fits a pattern

Trump positioned himself in similarly benign fashion against Saudi Arabia after the killing of dissident columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the detention of womens’ rights activists, and against Russia for its continued detention of Ukrainian ships and sailors.

He initially resisted blaming Moscow for poisoning an ex-spy on British soil, writing off the 2018 attack as an unpleasant but remote event, even as close ally Britain pressed for solidarity from Washington. Trump later sided forcefully with Britain and imposed sanctions, but his first instinct to remain at arm’s length alarmed British leaders and members of Congress of both parties.

Trump fails to see the ripple effect of a Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong or how Beijing would leverage it, said Evelyn Farkas, a former senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

“He doesn’t understand world history or the dynamics at work here, and he’s probably not very interested,” said Farkas, now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “He was only made interested by the criticism of his silence.”