While the news on the TV has been focused on Trump tweets, Stormy Daniels, and various other salacious hot stories, US foreign policy has been careening towards crisis over the past month.
If you or those around you are typical American news consumers, this comes through in snippets between the more mass-market political sleaze. My gym’s televisions have CNN and Fox side by side. Fox will occasionally show a Trump-sympathetic pundit discussing how the Trump trade tit-for-tat with China will usher in a new golden age for the American worker. CNN might have someone on their panel arguing the opposite.
Away from our television screens, more august men and women are discussing the ramifications in boardrooms and capitals around the world. The tariffs are but one concern within the US-led world order. With baited breath, they awaited the result of the tug-of-war between global factions in favor and against the Iran deal. The US reneged on its side of the bargain.
This is only the latest in a litany of diplomatic smacks to the face. All around the world, the Trump administration has fumbled the ball time after time.
South Africa was not included in the list of nations enjoying an exemption from steel and other duties. Perhaps they should have had a famous athlete lobby for them as Australia so used Greg Norman.
More shamefully, the US rescinded Rwanda’s duty-free status as punishment for Rwandan tariffs on US second-hand clothing and shoes. This is done to partially protect the Rwandan textile industry against cheap used foreign clothes.
Rex Tillerson delivered paternalistic warnings to African leaders about the pitfalls of partnering with the Chinese — African nations risked a loss of sovereignty and imperiled themselves with Chinese debt. Hilariously, this address was delivered at the African Union HQ in Addis Ababa. The complex was a gift of the Chinese government to the African Union! This trip to Africa was cut short by Tillerson’s resignation.
South Korea has taken control of the North Korea situation by giving Trump the illusion that he is in charge. This is more likely to lead to comparisons with managing a cantankerous toddler than generate faith in the efficacy of the Trump administration.
Consider all of this from the perspective of the leaders the world. What are they to make of US foreign policy? Even close US allies such as post-Brexit Britain or South Korea now have much to be concerned about. What I’d give to be a fly on the wall in Pyongyang or Seoul! Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal sends multiple terrible signals. Faithlessness, in the short term is one. His susceptibility to lobbying from hawks (Tel Aviv and Riyadh with Iran) is another. Finally, the precedent of undoing a predecessor’s foreign policy now drags US foreign policy into the gutter of US domestic policy in which presidents nullify their predecessor’s mistakes or achievements for practical or political purposes.
Current US African policy is gift to the Chinese. China’s rhetoric is a constant and consistent flow of phraseology with themes of harmony, respect, equality, and mutual gain. Tillerson’s commentary was patronizing and ignorant. Trump’s speaks for itself. African leaders are not ignorant children, and they are all too aware of the perils of debt — those lessons were learnt under the unforgiving tutelage of Western lenders such as the IMF. Trump’s trade policy includes punishing Rwanda. Every leader in the continent from Cape Town to Cairo will take note of Chinese investment vis-a-vis Trump lashing out at a UN-designated “Least Developed Country.”
What are the leaders of the world to think? Imam Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has given us a clue. “I said from the first day: don’t trust America.” And why should they do otherwise?🔷
(This piece was originally published on Medium.)