Despite Donald Trump’s speech to the World Economic Forum in which he attempted to reassure global leaders on his “America First” ideology, the damage to U.S. credibility may already be done, as Alon Ben-Meir explains.
By Alon Ben-Meir
Just one year after Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, the U.S. has already experienced alarming setbacks to its global leadership role and has badly damaged its image.
In short order, Trump has managed to bewilder friends and allies, intensify the enmity between the U.S. and its adversaries, and evoke fear, concerns, and unpredictability to the dismay of the international community. It is difficult to imagine how much further America’s reputation will decline as an increasing number of countries, including traditional U.S. allies, have resigned themselves to the lack of American leadership under Trump’s watch, which will have major adverse repercussions on our national interest and influence the world over.
Although Trump tried to qualify his “America First” approach to global affairs at a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week by saying that “America First” doesn’t mean “America Alone,” his general approach has been to abandon U.S. soft power and America’s longstanding leadership role. His tweets and reckless utterances have deeply troubled countries with strong ties to the United States, enraged those who have been maligned by his reprehensible rhetoric, and delighted U.S. adversaries, while leaving America increasingly isolated.
On the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missiles, instead of engaging Pyongyang in quiet diplomacy to resolve the conflict, he resorted to bellicose rhetoric and threats that only heightened tensions and brought the U.S. and North Korea ever closer to the unthinkable prospect of nuclear war.
On the Iran nuclear deal, rather than trying to renegotiate any changes, especially regarding the prickly issue of sunset provisions, Trump unilaterally decertified the deal and threatened to resume old sanctions and impose new ones, which would torpedo it completely. He demanded that Congress modify the deal, even though the other five signatories to the accord vehemently reject any tampering of the deal because of Iran’s continued full adherence.
Tehran, for its part, rejected any changes, and threatened to withdraw from the deal and resume its nuclear program, which would undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts and subject the region’s inhabitants to living in the shadows of nuclear conflagration.
On immigration, Trump’s racist attitude toward Muslims and people of color has severely undermined America’s “melting pot” image based on its historical status as a nation of immigrants who made America great in the first place. His reference to Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador as “shithole” countries provoked widespread international outrage on perhaps an unprecedented scale.
Scores of U.S. ambassadors in capitals across the world were summoned to explain the inexplicable, which the diplomats themselves could not fathom. Why would a sitting U.S. president utter such filth, in the White House no less? Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, put it succinctly when he said: “What he [Trump] communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn.”
As to international treaties and accords, Trump has completely disregarded our commitment to live up to such agreements. He insists on renegotiating the terms of NAFTA, and effectively withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (connecting the Americas with Asia and Australia). He pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement and withdrew from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing it of holding an anti-Israel because Palestine is a member of the organization.
As a result, he has acutely damaged America’s credibility, making many countries wary of entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with the U.S., as they can no longer trust his administration to live up to its commitments. This leaves a wide opening for adversaries to fill the vacuum he created.
Trump has further shocked all democracies around the world with his incessant assault on the press. Though a few of his predecessors have occasionally ostracized the press, none has mounted such vile criticism. He accuses all media outlets (except for FOX News) of being the enemy of the people, claiming they are biased and spreading ‘Fake News’ to purposefully malign him and deride his policy initiatives.
Sadly, whereas America was seen as the beacon of freedom and democracy to be emulated, Trump is consciously undermining one of our central constitutional pillars—the free press—to the utter consternation of democracies around the world.
On the question of the U.S.’s reliability, many countries who depend on America for their national security are worried about Trump’s real commitment to safeguarding their security. His criticism of NATO, which is the core of West European security, and his appeasement of Russia, which is viewed as the West’s staunchest enemy, raises questions as to where he would stand if they were threatened.
This concern is being expressed by our allies in the Middle East and Europe, which is further diminishing America’s role. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel expressed her misgivings, stating that: “The times when we could fully rely on others have passed us by a bit… we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands… We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”
The fact that Trump lies as often as he breathes deeply troubles countries around the world because they can no longer take his word for granted on issues of major importance to them.
Trump seems to be totally oblivious to the reality that without American global leadership, which spans over seven decades, the world will be even more chaotic than today. Trump has no end-strategy for Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, nor the focus or interest in stemming the widespread, destabilizing violent conflicts and human rights abuses around the world.
It is sad that in the most recent Gallup poll ‘Rating World Leaders’, the U.S. is ranked third, behind Germany and China (and just ahead of Russia). The damage that Trump has caused to American credibility and moral global leadership will not be readily repaired after electing a new president. It will take time and a president who is stable, politically skilled, and intellectually competent with vision and understanding of America’s pivotal role in the international arena before America’s global leadership can be restored.
The Republican Party has become complicit in Trump’s mischiefs and misguided policies. It is now up to the Democrats to get their act together, regain control of the House and Senate, and shackle Trump before he causes irreparable damage to America’s global role and responsibility.