Friday, July 1, 2022
July 1, 2022

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Milbank: Trump’s verbal assaults make for bad foreign policy


New year. Same old president.

2018 was only seven hours and 12 minutes old when President Trump launched his first verbal attack of the year on a foreign country. His target: the unsuspecting nation of Pakistan, which, he charged, has “given us nothing but lies & deceit” and “safe haven to the terrorists.”

Only 10 weeks earlier, Trump tweeted about a “much better relationship with Pakistan,” saying, “I want to thank them for their cooperation on many fronts.”

Before whiplashed Pakistanis could make sense of it all, Trump moved on. Thirty-two minutes later, he was attacking Iran for “failing at every level.”

Trump has insulted, browbeaten or otherwise abused dozens of countries in his first year, and they are as likely to be allies such as Britain as foes such as North Korea (which, if you haven’t heard, is run by a “short and fat” “madman” known as “Rocket Man”). The BBC has created a feature on its website titled “What has President Trump said about your country?”

Early in his term, Trump turned his wrath on the great Scandinavian menace. “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” he told a crowd, suggesting there had been immigrant violence in that peaceful land. Swedes were baffled: Nothing newsworthy had occurred the previous night.

Trump physically shoved aside the prime minister of Montenegro while making his way to the front of a group of NATO leaders for a photo. But his other assaults have been verbal.

Americans have barely had cross words with the Dutch since New York was New Amsterdam — until now. Trump sent to the Hague an ambassador, Pete Hoekstra, who said that the Netherlands’ terrorism problem was so bad that there were “no go” areas. Hoekstra denied to a Dutch journalist that he said that, and when shown footage of him saying that, denied that he denied saying it.

That’s minor compared with what Trump did to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull — or, as the White House has called him, “Trumbull.” A transcript leaked to The Washington Post showed Trump calling their conversation “the worst call by far” and an agreement between the countries “the worst deal ever.”

Some insults come from ignorance. A White House news release identified the People’s Republic of China as “the Republic of China” — China’s antagonist Taiwan. Trump has referred repeatedly to Tanzania as Tan-ZANY-a, and he has invented a country called “Nambia,” to the likely consternation of Namibia and Zambia.

Less excusable is Trump calling the mayor of London “pathetic” and telling Prime Minister Theresa May to mind her own business when she protested his retweeting of a British white-supremacist group.

Few friends left

Trump doesn’t spare the weak, reportedly claiming all immigrants from Haiti “have AIDS.” But he generally avoids insulting strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and the Saudi rulers.

It’s not unusual that he denounces Cuba and Venezuela. But he seems to take joy in poking the eyes of friends and neighbors, including Mexico (“one of the highest crime nations in the world”), Canada (trade practices a “disgrace”), France (“Paris is no longer Paris”) and Germany (declining to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand).

Now he’s threatening to cut United Nations funding and to punish nations that supported a General Assembly resolution denouncing Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened that “the U.S. will be taking names.”

Hope she brought a lot of paper. Fully 128 nations, including France and Britain, defied the Trump threats, while 56 others abstained or skipped the vote. Only eight supported the U.S. position, and those were mostly microstates in the south Pacific.

That’s quite an achievement: After a year of insults, Trump can now count America’s friends on the fingers of two hands.

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