The bull in the China shop
In the world of diplomacy one should heed the words of our 26th President Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his help in settling the Russo/Japanese War in the early Twentieth Century knew that projecting strength in a gentle adroit fashion yielded positive results. Oppositely, with the deftness of an awkward bull, our current Donald J. Trump projected a defiant attitude and an uneven focus on his recent trip to the Pacific Rim. In this China shop, the dishware potentially broken could be our international relationships.
The significant difference between the erstwhile Teddy and The Donald is that Roosevelt exuded power peppered with appropriate gentility and sure-footed movement.
At first blush, one might deduce that the president’s utterances were spoken in the spirit of an “America First” sentiment. Certainly, we want our presidents to hold our country’s interests in the forefront of his policy paradigms. On the contrary, we citizens do not want our president breaking fragile connections with crucial countries we must deal with in the China shop of international relations.
Easily sidetracked and often driven by personal bravado, Trump not only made comments on trade, North Korea and Russia, but also made peripheral statements about the 2016 US election. Inexplicably, The Donald continues to review the events of the campaign. He continues to criticize the retired political warhorse Hillary Clinton, and laments over a supposed underestimated size and meaning of his election victory – none of which had anything to do with the purposes of his trip abroad. His adolescent fixation with a race he already won is ponderous.
Thus begging the inevitable questions, did he somewhat defuse tensions in North Korea by gaining favor with nations who could assist us with this prickly situation? Did he make strides at lessening our trade imbalance with powerhouse Asian manufacturing nations? Did he forge better relations with the mercurial and untrustworthy Russians in an attempt to thwart their territorial creep and their intervention in Syria? Well, no.
Moreover, is Donald Trump’s personality capable of focusing on the tasks at hand in regard to international relations?
Diplomacy is the art of mediating international relationships with aplomb, having an extensive knowledge of the intricacies of existing agreements. Also crucial is executing a deft ability to garner support from foreign dignitaries. President Donald Trump is a blunt instrument who possesses none of those qualities. Thus prompting the question, can this bull in the China shop stomp his way to better trade deals for our nation? Further, do Trump’s boastful hard line statements of toughness result in a gain for the US or a loss?
These interrogatives were painfully posed by Trump’s accusatory words during the president’s trip to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC) in Vietnam.
The president also traveled to Beijing, China and Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines over a 13-day journey. Notably absent from the president’s remarks were any reference to human rights in the countries he visited. American presidents in an obligatory fashion always speak at least a few paragraphs on the injustices that befall citizens and workers in foreign and especially Communist societies. Mr. Trump was the first president in modern memory to avoid the subject all together.
Consequently, a message was sent that the United States is no longer the conscience of freedom for the world. Instead we are now a terse and pragmatic trading partner whose previous considerations of basic human rights are no longer a priority in international agreements.
Addressing the APEC conference, the Donald used defiant rhetoric in declaring he would not “allow the United States to be taken advantage any more” and that he planned to place “America first.” Furthermore, Trump said, “I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room put your countries first.” Since he had stated the conspicuously obvious, he went on. “I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade,” and “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”
Those comments were related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Trump withdrew from by executive order in his third day in office. A final version was agreed upon by 11 other countries hours after Trump’s combative speech. Those member nations in the agreement were apparently waiting to the last minute for a change of heart from the Donald and a chance to come to compromise on wording for an acceptable agreement to U.S. interests.
However, with Trump it was a non-starter. Because Trump, with his caustic ego, believes he can strike better bilateral deals with each Pacific Rim country individually. Worst scenario, nations in the TPP simply do not trade with the U.S. and preference member states within the pact, and then Trump has significantly injured the American economy for years to come. Pacific Rim countries will run into the trading arms of China even more so than they do now.
In China, President Trump spoke to the China/U.S. trade surplus, which has been 223 billion in China’s favor for the first ten months of this year. He talked about China acting unfairly, and “The audacious theft of (U.S.) intellectual property,” and “[China’s] massive subsidizing of industries through colossal state-owned enterprises,” and “American companies being targeted by state-affiliated actors for economic gain.” All those indictments may be true, however, by extracting the U.S. from the TPP forever instead of working out a favorable deal with eleven nations who wanted to do business with us rather than Communist China we have furthered China’s cause.
Rather than hoisting more rhetorical complaints against the Chinese, we should have renegotiated our participation in the TPP and sought to level trade that way. Now the U.S. is left out in the cold and bilateralism with these nations will likely not ever come to fruition.
Incongruously, Trump had “two or three brief conversations” with Russian President and former KGB hitman Vladimir Putin. When speaking about their discussion afterwards Trump said he talked about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Seventeen American intelligence agencies have confirmed Russian involvement. Trump stated, “He said he didn’t meddle.” and “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times…He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” Of course, when a known murderer and former KGB agent says he didn’t do something, we must believe him!
President Trump went further and attacked American Intelligence Agency heads. Former Director of National Intelligence and retired Air Force General James Clapper, along with Former Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan, have verified Russian interference in the election and Putin’s overall lack of trustworthiness. Trump retorted in defense of his pal Putin that Clapper and Brennan were “political hacks.”
Equally strange, communicating from China, Trump tweeted “Congratulations to all of the ‘DEPLORABLES’ and the millions of people who gave us a MASSIVE (304-227) Electoral College landslide victory.” What a review of the election had to do with this trade trip, no one knows. And why he is still fixated on the election where he lost the popular vote by 2.9 million is for a good psychologist to figure out.
Also baffling was his stop in South Korea, where Trump mentioned the long ago election again and stated, “It was a great victory, and a victory that made a lot of people very happy.” The audience was confounded, as we all are.
In conclusion, a bull in a china shop can do a lot of damage, especially when that bull is the president. If Trump believes that withdrawing from all multinational trade agreements will benefit our nation and that is his policy goal, than as president he can pursue that path. Most economists believe such a stance will lead to economic ruin in the future, but Trump, driven by his own enormous ego, believes he can better bully individual countries bilaterally into beneficial trade deals. Let’s hope he is as good a deal maker as he says he is.
But for goodness sake, stop rehashing old political races, stop defending indefensible tyrants and stop alienating other countries we have to strategically deal with geopolitically. This bull should take Old Teddy’s advice and speak and tread softly.