5/29/17

If you listen to the media, President Trump’s first trip abroad was an unmitigated disaster.
 
If you listen to the more reliable tiny element of the media, it was bifurcated A+ for the Middle East portion and disaster on the European portion.

I find myself in the rare and unusual position of disagreeing, even with the esteemed Charles Krauthammer.

To summarize Krauthammer’s potion:

  • Middle East A+
  • NATO Disaster
  • G7: The Paris accord is not an issue because it is not binding anyway

I totally disagree.
 
The trip to the Middle East was clearly successful. Compared to what came before Trump—the feckless Obama—it was, indeed, a HUGE success. A+ possibly underscores it. However, I was slightly disappointed compared to what I thought he could have, and should have, achieved.

This part of the trip had two major focal points:

  1. War on terror
  2. Iran as the main culprit in the Middle East

The second point, especially, is huge progress. Hearing both the President AND Saudi officials come out with it officially and publicly is a big step forward in restraining Iran. On these issues I agree with the A+ “grade.”
 
So?

What was lacking, however, was the formal integration of Israel into the alliance fighting both these scourges. That would have been, and should have been, a huge milestone; something that is right and correct and should have happened a long time ago. Not doing it is a big miss.

Why not do it?

Why not push and demand that Saudi and others form full diplomatic relationships with Israel? Is it not time already to stop this nonsense of leaving Israel out of the anti-terror and anti-Iran alliances?

Israel is on the forefront of both issues from so many respects. It has been there longer, suffered more, is in more danger and has the most powerful military in the region. So, why not? I suppose the usual excuse was that unless and until there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians, no formal recognition of Israel is possible due to the infamous “Arab Street”: the reference—the excuse—always used by Arab countries and rulers to justify not doing anything they do not want to do. Ostensibly, “public opinion” in these countries matters. However, the Arab Street and public opinion do not matter on anything else and can be—and are—shaped by these autocratic rulers as they wish it to be. So, it is simply that: an excuse. Something to hide behind when it is convenient.

I would have expected Trump to brush aside that nonsense—that Arab version of “politically correct” and demand a change there. He is known as having the will to confront nations on their “sacred cow” issues when truth and justice is on his side, so why not this one?
 
Consider this: The Saudi king and foreign secretary BOTH condemned Iran in their public speeches like never before. They clearly identified Iran as the major risk to stability in the region and to their regimes—Iran, not Israel. But, they have diplomatic relationships with Iran. So, is it not time to establish peace and diplomatic relationships with Israel, whom is not only not a threat to you but, indeed, an ally against Iran? And what about the Palestinian issue? Well, if you can have diplomatic relationships with your main enemy, Iran, you can also have it with those with whom you have serious disagreement on matters such as the Palestinian issue.
 
Trump did not even mention Israel as part of the victims of terror in his speech. Really? Not only was Israel the first country in the region and world to suffer from Islamic terror, but it is still by far the country that suffered most (on a relative per capita basis)—BY FAR. And it is the country that has learned to live with and fight terror better and more successfully than any other country. How could Trump not even MENTION Israel while counting everyone else???

Not great, by any stretch.
 
On the other hand, I give Trump an excellent rating on the NATO issue. The suggestion that just because he did not publicly and specifically reaffirmed his commitment to Article 5, he is not committed to it is pure nonsense.* Starting from VP Pence down through Secretaries of Defense and State, and others, the commitment of this administration to NATO and Article 5 is well established. Already, under Trump’s regime the US deployed additional forces to NATO and, specifically, to its eastern front with Russia, including the most sophisticated fighter jets that the US possesses. Trump spoke IN NATO. He went to the meeting. He berated NATO members for not standing up to their commitments. Is there any doubt, therefore, that he is going to stand behind the US commitments? Rubbish.

What annoys me most is the lack of outrage in the US for the fact that most NATO members have consistently and continuously breached THEIR commitments to NATO and, yet, that is OK. They get a pass on that. It is OK to discuss that breach with them in polite, private conversation but not OK to admonish them on it in public. For DECADES now the US has shown great magnanimity and generosity to NATO countries by total commitment to Article 5 and, thus, their defense while they spent less than their commitments on their own defense budgets. Why is that OK? Why should Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, NORWAY(!! the richest country in the WORLD), and all countries whose macro-economic numbers are better than those of the US in most respects, get away with it? Why should they not be forced to IMMEDIATELY raise their spending levels to the required 2% AND agree to schedule additional spending to cover the shortfall from years past???? Where is the outrage on this point? How can you even BEGIN to justify it?

Trump talked to them and told them, in pretty harsh language (albeit, not enough if you ask me), to put up or expect the US to walk away from Article 5. That is the correct message to have sent in the circumstances. It is up to them. (*Since writing this post, the President on June 9th did come out and affirm Article 5 in so many words and with the same incredulity as I expressed above at the suggestion that he is not committed to it.)

On the G7 talks and, particularly, the Paris accord on climate change, I disagree with Krauthammer’s view that it is a small issue. It is not small at all.

The US should withdraw from the Paris accord for a number of reasons:

  • Trump made that a significant campaign commitment
  • It is unenforceable, but the US is the kind of country that sticks by its commitments (see the NATO item above). You cannot just let it go and assume you will not enforce it, even though most other countries will not enforce it.
  • It is a bad agreement

 
So, on balance, a good trip. Could have been better, but coming after Obama, it was a breath of fresh air!
 
P.S. After I wrote the original post, the esteemed German Chancellor, madam Merkel, came out with a pretty harsh statement about the G7 talks, telling Europe that, due to Brexit and Trump, Europe cannot rely on the US as before and must chart its own course and destiny. I think that it was a pretty rude statement but I actually agree. I recommend that the US responds by demanding Germany start paying for all the US military present in Germany or simply withdraw those troops and either bring them back to the US or deploy them to other European countries that are more appreciative of the US. President Trump, being a businessman, understands the power of leverage. I wish he used it more. I think he is still being constrained and restrained by politically correct establishment/“swamp”-type policies and “truisms.” A demand like that to Germany would really show the world who has the leverage and who is the parasite.

P.P.S. On June 1, Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Accord. I was happy to hear Krauthammer change his view and bless the move. He could have added that this is a change for him, but I guess even he is not perfect…