While much of the world is on pins and needles wondering whether President Trump will reach a big trade deal with China and how it will impact the U.S. economy and global commerce, Mr. Trump’s negotiating reputation has also been on the line on another major international front – America’s relations with its top security allies. And the latest reported developments add to the evidence that he’s going to fail miserably.
According to a March 8 Bloomberg.com article, the Trump administration is planning to insist that countries hosting American troops pay the full cost of these deployments, along with an extra 50 percent of that full cost for what’s described as the “privilege” of enjoying American protection.
Predictably, the allies, along with Washington, D.C.’s bipartisan globalist foreign policy establishment are sputtering with outrage – accusing the President of viewing these security relationships as lowly “transactional” relationships focused on enhancing purely American interests rather than as vital pillars of a global liberal, democratic order that since the end of World War II has benefited the United States more indirectly by promoting worldwide peace, prosperity, and democracy. In a journal article last year, I described at length why this quintessentially globalist approach to foreign policy and national security has long been creating many more big problems than it solves for a country as fundamentally secure and prosperous as the United States.
As a result, I strongly sympathize with any efforts to overhaul America’s alliances, however many specific criticisms I may have with the President’s tactics. But the most immediate problem with the Trump strategy is that the President keeps shooting himself in the foot. Specifically, he has repeatedly undercut U.S. leverage by proclaiming that he, too, views these arrangements as crucial for America to maintain.
For example, just two months ago, Mr. Trump insisted that “We’re gonna be with NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which binds the United States militarily to Europe] 100 percent ….” Last July, he declared “…I believe in NATO. I think NATO is a very important — probably the greatest ever done.” And the previous year, he explicitly endorsed the alliance’s Article V, which legally commits the United States to come to the defense of any member under outside attack.
Regarding the American alliance with South Korea, Mr. Trump told that country’s National Assembly in November, 2017 that U.S. commitment to that country’s defense represented a line “between peace and war, between decency and depravity, between law and tyranny, between hope and total despair. It is a line that has been drawn many times, in many places, throughout history. To hold that line is a choice free nations have always had to make. We have learned together the high cost of weakness and the high stakes of its defense.”
And that June he vowed at a Washington, D.C. press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, “the United States will defend itself, always will defend itself, always, and we will always defend our allies.”
Meanwhile, shortly after his inauguration, Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement affirming that “The unshakable U.S.-Japan Alliance is the cornerstone of peace, prosperity, and freedom in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. commitment to defend Japan through the full range of U.S. military capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, is unwavering.”
It’s true that the President has spoken repeatedly, both as a candidate for the White House and as a chief executive, of his desire to withdraw American troops from these countries at some unspecified point. (This archive contains an indispensable, useful comprehensive collection.) But it’s also true that Mr. Trump has endorsed the defining globalist precept that U.S. “security and prosperity [have] depended” on “pushing back” versus threats to the allies.
During his successful White House run, candidate Trump faulted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – a Secretary of State under President Obama – for dooming any prospects for reforming American alliances by continually touting their paramount virtues. One of these critiques (cited in the aforementioned archive) is worth quoting at length:
“Now, Hillary Clinton said: ‘I will never leave Japan. I will never leave Japan. Will never leave any of our–‘ Well now, once you say that, guess what happens? What happens? You can’t negotiate. In a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk. Hillary Clinton has said, ‘We will never, ever walk.’ That’s a wonderful phrase, but unfortunately, if I were on Saudi Arabia’s side, Germany, Japan, South Korea and others, I would say, ‘Oh, they’re never leaving, so what do we have to pay them for?’ You always have to be prepared to walk. It doesn’t mean I want to walk. And I would prefer not to walk. You have to be prepared and our country cannot afford to do what we’re doing.”
In other words, Mr. Trump was making one of his characteristic charges that his opponent – and the establishment foreign policy “Blob” to which she’s belonged — had turned the United States into an “Uncle Sucker” who’d forgotten that Washington’s top priority is looking after the American people, not foreign populations. If he doesn’t get his alliance diplomacy act together soon, this self-described master deal-maker will start deserving the same label.