Two weeks into Donald Trump’s belligerent presidency, one must ask: Where will this administration’s launch its first serious international conflict?
The White House’s announcement Friday of narrow economic sanctions against Iran, in response to its dumb test firing of a missile, came after Trump made it sound like Iran had done something outsized and horrific. It hadn’t. Still, the president tweeted hours before announcing the sanctions, “Iran is playing with fire” and, “They don’t appreciate how ‘kind’ President Obama was to them. Not me!”
Diplomats and foreign policy experts see an emerging pattern of needless spats, provocations and threats coming from Trump, and they’ve already labeled it. “I think we are just facing a normal Trump tantrum,” Graham Richardson, a senior cabinet minister in a previous Australian government, told Sky News, in response to Trump’s telephone tirade with the prime minister of one of the U.S.’ most loyal allies. Apparently Trump hit the roof when he learned that the Obama administration had promised to take 1,250 war refugees stranded offshore in Australia—if they passed U.S. federal immigration review.
But Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, just as Mexico’s president did days earlier, covered for Trump, saying, no, the U.S. president didn’t hang up on him. Mexico’s presidential spokesman said no, Trump didn’t threaten a military invasion—rather he offered troops to combat crime. This is what seasoned diplomats do, when bulls stampede in the china shop.
“None of this is normal,” Dan Nexon, a professor at Georgetown University who studies American global strategy,told Cameos from Zion“It’s not just that the president is apparently acting like a petulant bully with these people. It’s also that it’s for no obvious policy purpose.”
Actually, Trump is doing what he pledged to do during his campaign—shake up all the old systems by injecting chaos and instability.
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” he said last summer in his major foreign policy address at the Center for the National Interest. Trump’s complaints about foreign policy—then and now—are the same. The U.S. is overextended with allies taking advantage of us, not paying a fair share, think we’re unreliable and rivals do not respect us, Trump said. “We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.”
Here’s a list of six countries and major international institutions that Trump and his team have threatened—injecting anything but stability into international affairs. Certainly this behavior is silly, unnecessary and stupid. The question is, will these provocations and others to likely follow lead to serious new international conflict.
1. Iran. The Iranian decision to test-fire a ballistic missile this week was an example of the dumb provoking the dumb. Trump took the bait and tweeted early Friday, “Iran is playing with fire.” That reply came two days after his administration put Iran "on notice" about its missile tests and its support of terrorism. While Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tweeted Friday that his country was unmoved by U.S. threats and would never initiate a war, Trump’s martial hardliner, National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn, preposterously claimed that the Islamic Republic was still a major threat to the United States. “Iran’s senior leadership continues to threaten the United Stated and its allies,” his statement released by the White House said. “The days of turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community are over.”
2. North Korea. Here, too, the Trump administration is saber rattling with an isolated nuclear-armed regime that likes to flash its teeth, and drawing eye-for-an-eye lines in the sand. The new Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, on his first trip abroad since taking over the Pentagon, visited South Korea and Japan, and as with Iran, said that North Korea was a bad actor continuing to “engage in threatening rhetoric and behavior.” Speaking to the press before meeting South Korea’s defense minister, he said, “Any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”
3. China. Here, Trump’s administration isn’t just making eye-for-an-eye threats, they are throwing the first punch. During his confirmation hearings for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson called for a more confrontational stance on China’s expansion of military bases off their coast in the South China Sea. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” he said. That came after the president-elect spoke to Taiwan’s president, provoking China, and scuttled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which lessens the clout the U.S. has in the region. “By preemptively eliminating tools like economic statecraft from its foreign-policy toolbox, the Trump administration will be leaving itself with only hard power to counteract China’s ambitions,” ForeignPolicy.com wrote. “That would probably mean an attempted military blockade against the Chinese navy in the South China Sea.”
4. Mexico. Trump’s attacks against Mexico and its people are too numerous to recount, starting with his early campaign slurs smearing Mexicans and continuing with recent boasts about forcing the country to pay for a new border wall, which it has consistently dismissed. But last week, this needlessly fraught relationship took a darker turn when Trump threatened Mexican president Peña Nieto with sending U.S. troops over the border to fight crime, according to leaked transcripts of the phone call. “Trump threatened to send U.S. troops into Mexico to stop ‘bad hombres down there’" said the Los Angeles Times. Immediately afterward, the White House and the Mexican president’s office walked that back, saying no such threat was made—the predictable diplomatic and public relations damage control response. On the other hand, the Mexican president canceled his January 30 meeting with Trump, after Trump kept saying the U.S. would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it.
5. Australia. Trump’s executive order ending U.S. commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has left U.S. allies in the region, especially Japan and Australia, reeling as they saw it as a withdrawal of
U.S. power from the region. As he did in his conversation with Mexico’s president, Trump went ballistic in a phone call last weekend with Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, apparently because he did not know about Obama’s pledge to resettle 1,250 refugees. Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” according to news reports. Later, he tweeted angrily about it, prompting Turnbull to downplay the incident and a former cabinet member there to label it “a normal Trump tantrum.” Obviously, the U.S. is not going to incite a dispute with Australia, a key military and intelligence ally, especially when it’s picking fights with nearby China. But yet another kneejerk and dumb reaction is hardly going to lower the temperature in the region.
6. Germany. This is another example of Trump’s team needlessly provoking a key ally. Trump, of course, supported Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, which does not help that continent achieve more economic and social stability. But his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, went after Germany and accused it of being a currency manipulator, by gaming the euro’s value to “exploit” the U.S. dollar. This is the diplomatic equivalent of an ambush. Allies don’t expect their longtime partners to wage these fights in public and this has a cost that's going to hurt the U.S., because, as in the case in the Pacific, the perception is this American administration is withdrawing and cannot be trusted.
Words Have Meaning and Actions Have Consequences.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world is watching Trump, and apart from Russia—where Trump is portrayed in the press as their new best friend—is not impressed.
On Tuesday this week, the European Council president Donald Tusk sent a letter to the heads of European Union member states with deep misgivings about Trump. Tusk cited Trump questioning NATO’s value, applauding Britain’s exit from the EU, saying other countries might want to leave to reclaim “their own identity,” and tht the EU was a “vehicle for Germany” to assert its power.
Trump has also lashed out at the United Nations, threatening to cut U.S. funding there and for other global organizations by 40 percent. However imperfect the U.N. may be, shrinking it would undermine its peacekeeping and international cooperation efforts. Trump’s advisers have also said they want to walk away from international climate change treaties, which will lead to more—not less—global instability.
Two weeks into his administration, Trump is the proverbial bull in the diplomatic china shop. But his provocations and precedents are serious and are likely to lead to a conflict somewhere that cooler heads would avoid. Writing for Foreign Policy, Stephen Martin Walt, an American professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who describes himself as a realist, said Trump has already blown it, is offending people in every direction, and he doesn’t get it.
“They started to pick several fights with China while undercutting the U.S. position in Asia,” he wrote. “He badgered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an acrimonious phone call—and here we are talking about the leader of the country that has fought at America’s side in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—and he bragged (again) about his electoral win. They picked another pointless fight with Mexico, mostly because Trump can’t admit what is obvious to all: If that stupid wall ever gets built, Americans will have to pay for it. The White House announced an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and rolled the new policy out as ineptly as possible. I mean, seriously: They shut the door on hundreds of extensively vetted refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day (thereby invoking memories of the country’s callous response to Nazi persecution in the 1930s), and then they doubled-down by deliberatelyexcluding any mention of Jews from the official statement on the day itself.”
7.Israel.Trump asks Israel to stop construction
American official tells Jerusalem Post Israel's recent construction announcements undermine Trump's peace efforts.
Trump and Netanyahu (archive)
U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Israel to stop its unilateral announcements of new construction in Judea and Samaria, an unnamed official in Washington told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The official said Israel’s recent announcements, which he said were not coordinated with the White House, undermine Trump’s efforts to reach a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and also added that Trump is committed to a negotiated “two-state solution” to the conflict.
The report follows Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s announcement earlier this week of the construction of 3,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria.
That announcement came after the approval of 2,500 units last week.
While the construction has been criticized by the UN, the EU and France, the Trump administration has thus far been silent on the issue, angering senior PA officials.
Last Wednesday, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said he was "shocked" by the White House's silence on Israel’s construction announcement, and called on Trump's administration to clarify its policy.
The American official’s comments also come ahead of an upcoming meeting in Washington between Trump and Netanyahu. The White House announced earlier this week that the two leaders will meet on February 15.
Settlements is not the only issue that Israel has expressed serious differences with the Trump White House ., Israel was highly critical of the White House Statement for International Holocaust Day that failed to mention Jews at all .
** Canada is 'a massively long piece'
Trump has said he would not build a wall to the north if elected president, but that's fine, because if he's elected, Canadians might build one anyway. During a televised debate in February 2016, he referred to Canada as a "piece" as opposed to a country (whatever that means), and indicated that building a wall between the U.S. in Mexico is a cheaper, easier, smaller project:
"With Canada, you're talking about a massively long piece. You're talking about a border that would be about four times longer," he said "It would be very, very hard to do — and it is not our biggest problem. I don't care what anyone says. It is not our big problem."
** If cool celebrities move to Canada it will be doing a service to America
The loud-mouthed Republican, if you can call him a Republican, has also sneered in the face of thousands of American pledges to migrate north if he becomes president, especially at Girls star Lena Dunham. But he's also shrugged off Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, and Cher, saying that if they left it'd be "a great, great thing" for America. We think we're getting the better end of the deal.
“I’ll be doing a great service to our country. I have to (win). Now, it’s much more important,” he said in an interview with Fox News in April after Dunham joined the ranks of those promising to join the exodus. He even went so far as to insult Dunham by adding:
"Well, she's a B-actor. And you know, has no mojo. You know, I heard Whoopi Goldberg said that too. That would be a great, great thing for our country."
**. Canada costs the U.S. too much
For a man whose name is plastered on at least two luxury hotels and towers in Canada, Trump has whined very loudly about how much his northern neighbours are costing America. At a New York rally in April this year, he said he would change what he calls poorly-negotiated international trade deals, and mentioned Canada in the mix:
“I like free trade, but free trade is not free trade, it’s dump trade because we lose with China, we lose with Mexico, we lose with Japan and Vietnam and every single country that we deal with. We lose with Canada — big-league. Tremendous, tremendous trade deficits with Canada.”
He also thinks the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a "horrible deal" that will send jobs overseas (Canada signed the TPP trade agreement earlier this year, but has not yet ratified it), further promised he would “renegotiate” or “break” the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which includes Canada.
** He "wouldn't want" to copy Canada's gender-neutral cabinet
While Trump is the first person to congratulate Trump on his own diverse work force ("perhaps even more" than half of which is female), he vowed in an interview with an MSNBC reporter last November that he would not follow in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's footsteps by appointing a gender-neutral cabinet if elected president.
“I’m not one that has to make a pledge,” he told interviewer Mika Brzezinski. “I wouldn’t want that. Because I will tell you: I want the best person at each position… I’m going to get the best people for the job.”
The comments are particularly telling, given the slew of Trump's other misogynistic comments about women, which range from saying no one would vote for his former rival, Carly Fiorina, because of of her face, joking about dating his own daughter, and punishing women for abortions.
And here's a bonus: a stupid thing Trump tried to do in Canada
Trump may think Canada costs too much in the way of international trade agreements, but a recent report by The Toronto Star reveals he still has the gall to ask us for money. "Please chip in before midnight tonight,” read emails from his own campaign, sent to Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale in June. As it turns out, the GOP wannabe has been hitting up not only Canadian reporters, but also MPs, and people in countries like Australia and Iceland for cash, according to a complaint filed in June with the U.S. Federal Election Commission.
Former Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell tweeted derisively about the 'chip in' emails, saying she's made it clear on social media what she thinks of Trump: “Aside from fact I am (Canadian), clearly they don’t follow me on Twitter!” she wrote.
In a similar vein, Larry Bagnell, a Liberal MP for the Yukon reportedly received a fundraising letter from Trump's campaign, which was promptly deleted by his staff.
Since it's illegal for foreign nationals to contribute to U.S. elections and for American candidates to solicit funds from foreign nationals, it's unclear why Trump was contacting Canadians for funds (he's also a billionaire, adding to our confusion). According to Capital Economics, a Trump victory would be "very bad" for Canada's economy," so he probably won't be receiving much cash from Canadian politicians anytime soon.