America First? Or America Alone?

UN building

With the resignation of Nikki Haley as the US Ambassador to the UN, it is time to reflect upon the state of the US foreign policy under Donald Trump. First, congratulations to Nikki Haley for her efforts at the most difficult job of representing this nation’s suddenly altered foreign policy on the largest international stage available. She did an admirable job of trying to convert otherwise unintelligible tweets (covfefe anyone?) into a coherent set of talking points for discussion at the UN. Even when she was patronized by other White House officials, she stood her ground.

Theodore Roosevelt was famous for his maxim: Speak softly, and carry a big stick. Although he has not codified his policy to date, Donald Trump’s equivalent statement would be:  Carry a big stick, remind everyone loudly and repeatedly that you carry it, and threaten repeatedly to use that stick if you don’t get your way. That’s one heck of a foreign policy, certainly one that hasn’t come from a US President for a very long time. Along with the vocal and twitter pyrotechnics, go out and meet foreign dictators in person, and claim victories for your policies even though the foreign dictators make zero real concessions. Oh, and send your son-in-law out to solve the Palestinian problem, while backing the Saudi administration since they did such a wonderful job of feting you on your visit to their country. You know, the Saudi administration that is still prosecuting an endless war against Yemen (with our weaponry – don’t you feel proud to see how effective our armaments are?). The Saudi administration accused of murdering one of its critics at its Turkish consulate in Istanbul? Yes, they will be wonderful allies in assisting with solving the Palestinian problem that has been intractable ever since the formation of the country of Israel in 1948.

Of course, everyone else in the world must recognize the absolute wonderfulness of the US, and feel honored to do business with us. In fact, trade is a privilege that we can and will withdraw even from our longest-standing and strongest allies if their leaders dare to diss our leader. Thus we have the image of Donald Trump loudly calling for the evisceration of Justin Trudeau after Trump left the G7 conference early, when Trudeau dared to say that Canada would not be bullied. How Dare He Put Canada First! Everyone in the world knows it is America First! Thus Donald exemplified his first principle of foreign relations in his administration – I am the state, and if I’m unhappy, everyone will be unhappy. And your country will pay the price.

One of the largest problems the US faces over the next few decades will be the escalating tensions between the US and China over economic and military matters. And since the Trans Pacific Partnership was intended to form a group of nations pledging to use common trade as a way to keep China contained, of course Donald Trump welcomed the arrangement even though it was developed before his inauguration. WRONG-OH! Come on now, a multi-national agreement negotiated by Obama? That’s two of Donald Trump’s bête noires in one single agreement. That didn’t even survive two days of the Trump administration. Likewise, NAFTA was repeatedly denounced and the terms were renegotiated with both Canada and Mexico.

Now, nearly two years after the administration repudiated decades of trade policies, what successes does the Trump administration have to show? Well, there’s a joint agreement with Korea. And we have rebranded NAFTA into USMCA, which tinkered around the edges of NAFTA but didn’t dismantle the basic structure. Just think what we could have done had we begun a process to renegotiate NAFTA under a banner of cooperation, instead of threatening massive tariffs if our demands were not met.

Did I say tariffs? The signal economic accomplishment of this administration has been the implementation of protective tariffs against most of the rest of the world. This, of course, is in line with the belief of this administration that the country to whom the tariffs apply are the ones who pay the tariffs, thus exporting our payment of tariffs to other governments and countries. Oh wait! You mean that’s not how it works? You mean it is the customer within our country that has to pay the tariffs, and then they have to decide whether to eat the tariff cost themselves, thus reducing profits, or add the tariff cost to their finished good cost, thus raising prices to the American public? And not only that, the other countries can retaliate and apply tariffs of their own on US exports, thus making our products less competitive and reducing the demand for US exports. Boy, it is such a good thing that trade wars are easy to win.

Well, let’s move on from the economic sphere and enter the world of diplomacy. The success of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State will long be remembered as a high point in this administration’s efforts. The close relationship between Trump and Tillerson was reflected in the high prestige that the State Department is held within this administration. Oh, Darn! You mean I’ve got it wrong again? Trump fired Tillerson via twitter? And his replacement, Mike Pompeo, is still awaiting many ambassador and other senior State Department officials to be named and confirmed by the Senate? Well, at least the lack of qualified and experienced personnel in the State Department has not caused the standing of our nation to decline in the eyes of the rest of the world. Oh, wait. You mean that the ambassadors of the world had the audacity to openly laugh at our President as he spoke at the UN General Assembly? Did they not get the memo that this administration has restored our swagger and caused the rest of the world to once more fear American power?

I could go on and on with the signal accomplishments of this President and his administration in their activities outside of the US borders. Perhaps the best compliment I can give them is that the success they have had in their international activities is on a par with the success they have had on implementing their family separation program at our southern border. There we saw a totally amateur effort aimed at displaying a tough man bravura against illegal immigration, while totally ignoring the logistics and information systems needed to process and track families that were forcibly separated. After all, when ignorance and disdain for expertise forms the core of an administration, one expects incompetence in one area to be matched by incompetence in others. And so far, this administration has an almost perfect record of incompetence.

Good thing our leader is so humble and gracious.