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As Long as We Remember...

July 23, 2018

Internationalism in the Age of Trump

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

There once was time, two years ago, when the jet bearing the President of the United States, call sign Air Force One, would inspire people all over the world as it made its approach into foreign airports.


Leaders of foreign countries would flock to the tarmac, without regard to the ideological differences that country might have with the passenger aboard that magnificent flying symbol of American greatness.


Not anymore.


Now, foreign leaders quake at the thought of the blustery, bigger-than-life personality that disembarks from that big blue and white 747. His arrival is typically preceded by his words, in the form of Twitter tweets sent out which often foreshadow his mission.


First, it was the international economic forum known as the G7. Before he even departed from Joint Base Andrews, President Donald Trump was asking why Russia wasn’t a part of the club any longer. Now it’s NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that collaboration born out of World War II.


Before he left the White House, the president wondered aloud about why the United States is expected to carry the highest cost burden (by far) to protect European countries and keep them safe from Russia when those same countries, especially a unified Germany, are now trading exclusively for their energy with…you guessed it – Russia!


It’s really one of the most refreshing and noble traits the 45th president exhibits. He is completely, totally and utterly transparent, even in times when transparency probably isn’t the most appropriate characteristic.


Take his approach to filling Supreme Court vacancies.


He gave all Americans a list of sitting federal judges that he felt met his own criteria for joining the Supreme Court. His list included some of the most qualified jurists sitting on the bench today, and certainly some of the most conservative. That’s to be expected based on how he ran for the office of president.


Everyone, from his most ardent supporters to his most virulent opponents, know exactly at whom he’d be looking to fill SCOTUS vacancies. That had never happened before, ever! Normally, it was a Hollywood quality production, with reporters camped out to see who showed up for interviews, and White House staff leaking anonymously to their friendly media sources.


So, we wanted to turn the cart over in the 2016 election, and that’s what we have done.


Instead of prime ministers and chancellors hugging, back-slapping and depending on the largess of the American taxpayer to protect them from their hemispheric neighbors, now they have to evaluate their alignment of interests with the interests of a vocal defender of his own citizenry. It’s a whole new dynamic.


He’s less a “citizen of the world” and more a “guy from around the corner.”


Consider President Trump’s conversations at the NATO Summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Normally, this would be one of those lovefests, shaking hands, hugging and cheek-kissing deals followed by statements about the close and precious relationship of the German and American citizens working with and for each other’s mutual interests.


This time it’s different. Mr. Trump confronts Ms. Merkel as German defensive rockets are being moved from important sites in Syria, part of what the German government calls “routine relocations.” Germany has signed onto a huge contract with Russian energy companies (managed by shadowy oligarchs friendly to President Vladimir Putin) for natural gas and liquid petrol through a shared pipeline, and most importantly, Germany is still far below the agreed-upon share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-to-defense ratio demanded by the NATO framework.


President Trump's question to Chancellor Merkel and other NATO leaders is: “Why should the American taxpayer foot the bill for your security from Russia when you are a fiduciary collaborator with the very country we’re paying to protect you from?”


It is both a logical question and a necessary one. It’s good to finally have a president who places the interests of America first, yet is willing to maintain and strengthen international partnerships if the partners equally share the burden.


That idea, sharing the burden for our shared defense, is a foundation of internationalism in the Age of Trump.


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