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Allies, Trade and Military Activity: American Foreign Policy Under Donald Trump

July 20, 2018

The past several weeks have spotlighted President Trump’s forays into implementing his foreign policy vision. High-level meetings including long-term allies dealing with economics and trade, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (including his meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim), the NATO military alliance and the Helsinki summit meeting between President Trump and Russian leader Putin all placed great emphasis on Trump’s decidedly unconventional means of communicating with friend and foe alike.

As far as dealings with our long-term economic, political and military allies are concerned, the G7 meeting in Canada was fairly universally seen as a failure when Trump chose to use the same personally insulting rhetorical methods that helped him ascend to the Presidency after the 2016 campaign on the leaders of the United States’ main economic and political allies since at least the Second World War. His instituting punitive tariffs against targeted industries in many countries to boost those industries in our country are deemed unfair at best in those countries and insulting in others. Putting in place tariffs while claiming to do so in the interests of national security when the target is Canada or the European Union stretches the imagination, to say the least.

When combined with the budding trade war that Trump has decided to wage against China, the trade war with our allies is seen by many economists to be risky. Raising taxes (which is in essence what the tariffs really are) makes many goods and services more expensive for consumers. Whether they will in fact accomplish the major economic gains they are intended to achieve – saving or increasing good paying jobs in key industries in this country while stemming the flow of such jobs to overseas factories, etc. – remains to be seen. Increasing the prices of goods at the level of consumers would tend to slow down the economy, even worldwide.

At this point, the trade war has not been in place long enough and is still in the process of potentially even expanding in the future – particularly with regard to China, to know what the long term consequences will be.. Agricultural products are also involved in this process, threatening the livelihoods of farmers as well as well as industrial manufacturers. Many of the economic sectors most directly seen as threatened by the imposition of these trade barriers involve people living and working in states that voted heavily for Trump in 2016. Whether impacts are felt in time to affect this year’s elections is uncertain, but the 2020 election cycle could most definitely be influenced.

As for the sojourn to Singapore and the ongoing soap opera that has become the Trump/Kim relationship, with the rocket man insult parried by the dotard comment, among others, the on-again/off-again. on-again meetings finally did take place, with Trump predictably declaring them to be successful. It seems that nothing concrete is in place (at least not even up to the level of the Iran nuclear deal which he referred to as one of the worst ever agreed to when he announced the US would be pulling out of it) concerning when and how the North Korean weapons program and the existing weapons would be dismantled, to be accompanied by removal of sanction that have been imposed on North Korea. He unilaterally agreed to cancel joint American/South Korean military exercises. Along with the prestige he lent Kim as a result of his direct meeting between the leaders of the two nations for the first time ever, it appears to many that Kim got more than he has given, at least so far.

The NATO summit was another case where our President chose to berate our allies and publicly cajole them again for not contributing adequately to meeting the costs of the ongoing organization. He wanted to get many of them to increase their defense spending to more closely approximate that of the US in relation to percentage of GDP being allocated for defense expenditures. That appears to be happening, though whether that is because of or in spite of Trumps antics is an open question. In keeping with classic Trump lack of class, he seemed to taint with the faintest praise (an a great deal of ridicule) the two most prominent women heads of state – Theresa May of the UK and Angela Merkel of Germany. His diatribe about Germany being owned by Russia was particularly ironic when placed next to what he would do a few days later with Putin in Helsinki. (I’m not positive Trump doesn’t think irony is something they do at the Dry Cleaners’)

Perhaps the biggest debacle of all happened most recently in Helsinki and afterward. The main events were a two hour meeting attended only by Trump and Putin and their respective interpreters. This was a mistake on Trump’s part for a number of reasons, at least in my opinion. Having an extremely widely publicized meeting where nobody other than the main protagonists have a clue as to what transpires may be a good thing in the culture of a former high-ranking KGB official not noted for presiding over  open government, but it surely is not a part of American political tradition. What was the point of the secrecy? We can only guess. Were they discussing important matters such as election meddling, the war in Syria, Iran, North Korea, the weather, sports? Were they there as equals or was one being read the riot act by the other?

The subsequent press conference certainly shed little light on the matter, other than showing Trump as a bumbling buffoon incapable of doing anything but fawn over his Russian counterpart and disrespect his own hand-picked intelligence and national security experts as often and publicly as he could possibly have done. The attempted walk-backs and explanations which have occurred since have done nothing to clarify the situation he created with the awkward statement he made in Helsinki making it plain to those watching and listening that he’d sooner sell out his own cabinet members than say one word challenging Putin on anything. I for one cannot understand why some of the American officials involved have not resigned in disgust, especially Dan Coats, after he was informed of a proposed visit to DC by Putin via a tweet sent by his Press Secretary and read to him by Andrea Mitchell while she interviewed him on national television.

One big takeaway from all this is that President Trump is continuing to lead the press around by the nose, constantly creating new controversy to distract from the old controversies which never seem to get resolved. The Helsinki performance and its aftermath were pure theater signifying nothing. All the networks spent lavishly on coverage of basically nothing at all. Hours of nothing but speculation that will probably never be definitively reported at all. This was done at the expense of covering other real news. Congress might as well go on recess when Trump is performing, at least as long as the TV networks insist on hanging on Trump’s every word, tweet or not. He’s basically giving McConnell, Ryan and the rest a free ride. Not only do they get away with not questioning him on anything of substance, they get to not go on record about about much of anything at all. Immigration, refugees, wars, gun control, health care, the budget, the economy, you name it. If Trump is talking about something else, that gets covered first and foremost, at the expense of just about everything else.

Very few members of Congress are doing anything at all to put checks and balances on the Executive Branch or the Commander-in-Chief. If I want to live in an autocratic society I’ll move to North Korea or any other number of totalitarian societies. We don’t need to bring that from of government here. In less than four months, I hope others’ displeasure at the way our government is being run is expressed loudly and clearly at the ballot box. Hopefully the oligarchs’ attempts at suppressing the vote and gerrymandering have not reached the point where this unrepresentative and increasingly undemocratic government has become unfixable (see, Mr. President, it is possible to use a double-negative to convey a point).

Bullying our friends with  insults and policies that aim to advance our interests to their detriment is no way to conduct international relations. Dropping out of the UN group dealing with human rights, while it expresses Trump’s contempt for such a concept perfectly, does not reflect the values of most Americans at all. Nor does his treatment of the other G7 and NATO leaders. We need leadership in Congress and at the state and local levels to call out our out-of-control President when he screws up. We’ve gone more than long enough with only one dysfunctional branch of government calling most of the shots.

Suggested Further Reading:

“Psychopath’s Trade War”: Critics Denounce Trump’s Reckless Tariffs on Mexico, EU, and Canada

‘Insulting And Unacceptable’: Justin Trudeau Delivers Stunning Rebuke of Trump Labeling Canada a National Security Threat

Justin Trudeau just dropped the niceties and hit Trump in a new interview

Trump throws G-7 into disarray with tweets after he leaves

This photo tells you everything you need to know about Trump’s presence at the G7 Summit

Trump seen as threat to Western alliance, likely delighting Putin

Trump’s alienating disdain for U.S. allies defies explanation

Justin Trudeau Fires Back at Trump with Retaliatory Tariffs: Canadians ‘Will Not Be Pushed Around’

Petulant, Whiny Trump Cuts Short G-7 Early, France Effectively Declares U.S. Irrelevant

Leaked Transcript Shows Trump Throwing a Fit at US Allies During Private G7 Meeting — And Trashing NATO as \’Bad as NAFTA\’

\’This Is Much Bigger than Harley\’: General Motors Shows How Trump\’s Trade War Could Deal a Devastating Blow to His Presidency

Ketchup, pizza and lawn mowers: Canada begins imposing tariffs on U.S. goods

Assess: Supreme Court this year gave a preview of things to come: Wins for Trump, employers and Republicans

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3 Comments
  1. Your article makes a good letter to your member of the Congress and letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Especially when you lay out the domestic effect. Another blogger went on a “the media is correct rant” and picked up lots of readers. He also censored many comments including mine where people stated he had gone over the cliff. As you stated there are domestic issues waiting to be dealt with such as infrastructure. I wish more of your readers would post their thoughts by commenting. Happy to share your thought with others.

    Cheers and Canada will not be increasing its military budget until current trade agreements are upheld.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Journalism as Art and commented:
    Trump’s instituting punitive tariffs against targeted industries in many countries, to boost those industries in our country, are deemed unfair at best in those countries and insulting in others. Putting in place tariffs while claiming to do so in the interests of national security when the target is Canada or the European Union stretches the imagination, to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m Canadian, and I have to say, these tariffs do feel like we’ve been stabbed in the back by a friend. Sean and I are big travelers but we’ve modified our plans to stay away from U.S. destinations and now there’s a huge push to educate the public on how to buy strictly local – whether it’s at a restaurant, a grocery store, or online. These are building new habits that will likely last longer than Trump does as president. He’s doing long-lasting damage, and a trade war with us is the least of it.

    Liked by 1 person

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