President Donald Trump’s statements and tweets leave one wondering what should be believed. After his meeting with Kim Jong Un, he commented that the meeting went well, and North Korea’s nuclear disarmament would be a success. Shortly thereafter he stated that sanctions against North Korea would continue as it remains a threat to the world. Soon information flowed that North Korea was speeding up the construction of a nuclear plant.
Pompeo rushed to North Korea and after his visit commented that disarmament would move smoothly. He however did not meet Kim Jong Un, who was reportedly busy visiting a potato farm. North Korea on the other hand accused the US of ‘pushing a unilateral gangster type demand for denuclearization’. Trump to save face claimed he had received a letter from Kim Jong Un and all was moving ahead. Subsequently, at a press conference in London he stated that disarmament was likely to be, ‘a longer process than anybody would like’.
After attending the NATO summit, he took credit for the fact that he had convinced his NATO allies to enhance their contribution towards defence spending from the present to up to 4 per cent. He stated, ‘I told people I would be very unhappy if they did not up their commitments’. In fact, in 2014, well before Trump became president, NATO members had decided to enhance their spending to 2 per cent of the GDP by 2024.
Trump’s comments were denied by the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who stated that members denied boosting spending beyond what was agreed in 2014. So infuriated was John McCain, the head of the US Senate Armed Forces Committee that he tweeted, ‘President Trump’s performance at the NATO summit in Brussels was disappointing, yet ultimately unsurprising.’ Trump prior to landing in the UK had in an interview to a British tabloid, The Sun, criticised Prime Minister Theresa May. He had stated that May’s Brexit proposals, which include an ‘association agreement’ and a free trade area for goods with the EU, would probably kill a US-UK trade agreement because it would leave the UK too close to the EU. He stated, ‘The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one the people voted on’.
After landing in the UK he suddenly changed colours and stated that the interview was ‘fake news’ as it did not include his comments praising her. After meeting her, he apologised for his remarks.
He has repeatedly stated that the US was spending 4 per cent of its GDP on enhancing military capabilities, while the actual figure is around 3.57 per cent. The other fact which he has never mentioned, even when threatening close allies like NATO, South Korea and Japan on sharing costs for their defence is that the US budget and developing military capabilities is not solely for protecting allies but to maintain the supremacy of the US military to enable the nation to enforce its brand of diplomacy, supported by a powerful military, across the globe.
It is also to challenge the growing might of China and Russia, rather than for securing the US. Interestingly, the US has never fought a war in recent history on its own soil. An article in the Washington Post of early June stated that ‘in 497 days President Trump has made 3,251 false or misleading claims’. It averages to 6.5 per day.
Trump has within a limited time of being in power changed international dynamics and pushed the US into isolation. Relationships and regional groupings which had paved the way for the US to be a dominant force are being broken and allies forming their own groups, discarding the US. His trade policies have led to the nations being impacted being forced to chart their own path, ignoring the US.
His direct venture seeking to bring North Korea to heel has almost backfired. He has blamed China for this, which is logical, but his worsening relationship with China would only make them work against him, rather than with him. Ignoring other international powers in dealing with a multitude of crises including Iran and North Korea is leading the US into isolation and could indicate a failure in its foreign policy.
Nations are today evolving means of bypassing US sanctions on Iran and Russia. If they do succeed, it would push Trump into desperation. He may then be rash enough to join Israel and Saudi Arabia into launching military strikes on Iran, pushing the region into greater risk. His terms to Iran for lifting sanctions are obnoxious to state the least and would be demeaning for Iran to accept.
An article in the New York Times of 31 January 2017 stated, ‘From defence treaties to trade pacts, foreign leaders are struggling to gauge whether they can depend on the US to honour its commitments. They are sizing up a fickle president whose erroneous remarks on small issues cast doubt on what he might say on big ones.’ His regular changing of staff has proved that his views and thoughts are neither coherent nor trustworthy.
His trade wars by launching additional tariffs on a host of goods, including steel and aluminium, claiming it would boost internal production and increase job avenues is again based on half- truths. In an article in the CNBC of 1 June John Harwood states that jobs lost in industries that pay more for steel and aluminium inputs (example cars and beer cans) will far outnumber those gained from tariff protection. He adds, counter tariffs would damage American export sectors such as agriculture. That is what the country is witnessing now.
Trade wars between countries, rarely heard of till date are now the order of the day. Nations on whose products additional tariffs have been placed would be forced to respond, or else would be viewed as weak. This would further impact the US and it would gain more enemies than friends.
How many allies the US will retain once Trump finishes his tenure is anybody’s guess.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.