No one could ever accuse Donald Trump, in all his 70 years, of playing well with others. Unless, of course, he was being feted, praised, his ego stroked and he was the total center of attention. Saudi Arabia spent $68 million to do just that, rolling out the red carpet and raising the swords.
But the situation sure was different as he moved on to meetings with our longtime NATO allies. He was a bull in a china shop.
Just listen to his words and watch as he pushes aside the leader of Montenegro to assume center stage. Look at his body language with other NATO leaders and watch their reactions. He tells the Saudis “we are not here to lecture” and yet he does just that as he attacks NATO leaders, our allies, who have been with us in the foxholes since World War II. He refuses to endorse Article 5 because he is fearful of antagonizing his friend Putin but berates our allies over money. Every president since Harry Truman has affirmed the mutual defense of any NATO member, but not Trump. These were the NATO allies who were “all-in” after the attacks of 9/11. In short, he acted very much like the Ugly American, depicted in the famous 1958 book of that title by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, as he gripped and grinned from meeting to meeting.
He opened up the door for more violations of human rights by General Sisi of Egypt and the Bahrainis who stormed an opposition encampment two days after he told them there would be no more “strain” in the relationship. After decades of America trying to encourage open democratic governments and a respect for the basic rights of women, minorities, the poor, Trump tossed it all aside. He doesn’t understand the balancing act that is necessary for an American leader to achieve in the Middle East; he doesn’t understand the history of the religious factions or the effect of tipping the scales to one group or another. When he thinks only in terms of billions in arms sales that he cannot control or who throws him the best welcoming party, we are all in trouble.
This isn’t a game of cops and robbers, good guys against the bad guys, this is, as Trump might say, “complicated.” So to throw in totally with the Saudis, to ignore the landslide victory of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in Iran, he stokes more fires than he puts out. Failing to understand the effects of Wahhabi terrorism or what is happening in Yemen or even the basic conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites is one very big problem.
An American president must use the leverage that our country and our allies have to achieve reduced violence, to encourage increased acceptance of human rights and pursue more freedom, not less, around the world. What we have seen from President Trump so far is a foreign policy based not on those principles but bellicose rhetoric blasting our allies and cozying up to many who export terrorism and discord. This is not a policy that is either pragmatic or consistent with American values. “Nuance” is not exactly Donald Trump’s middle name.
The sad truth is that this president is viewed overseas by our allies as more of a hindrance than a help in achieving peace and prosperity. The Europeans, and others, are gearing up for one very rocky road.