The Republican Party’s critique of Obama-era foreign policy boiled down to 11 words: “Our allies don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us.”
Dick Cheney, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and virtually every other Republican on Capitol Hill, cable news, or their second drink at the country club recited that phrase verbatim at some point in Obama’s eight years.
Even Donald Trump — when he wasn’t decrying America’s allies as ungrateful freeloaders — found time to chastise Obama for alienating our best geopolitical buddies.
“To our friends and allies,” the GOP nominee said in April, “America is going to be reliable again.”
It was never clear how, precisely, Obama had lost our allies’ trust (unless one defines “America’s allies” as members of the Likud government). Nonetheless, if there was one thing every Republican could agree on, it was that the measure of a president’s foreign policy was the free world’s faith in American leadership.
Two weeks into the Trump presidency, the British parliament has barred America’s commander-in-chief from addressing the House of Commons; a leading German newspaper has called on all freedom-loving peoples in Europe and Asia to mobilize against the United States; a senior cabinet minister in the Australian government has coined the phrase normal Trump tantrum; Israeli intelligence agents are (reportedly) unsure if they can safely share information with the White House; the Mexican president can’t meet with the U.S. president without inviting a political backlash; members of the global economic elite have started referring to China as “the leader of the free world”; and Canada won’t stop putting its southern neighbor to shame.
Those first two developments are new, and, thus, worth unpacking. British prime minister Theresa May recently invited Trump to the U.K. for a state visit. One million Britons promptly signed a petition telling Trump to sod off. Eventually, the speaker of the House of Commons — former Conservative Party MP John Bercow — was asked to weigh in on the matter.
“If a state visit takes place, that is way beyond and above the pay grade of the Speaker,” Bercow said. “However, as far as this place is concerned I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons.”
It isn’t clear that Trump had any intention of addressing the House of Commons, but, regardless, Bercow’s rebuke reflects a profound decay in the British public’s enthusiasm for the“special relationship.”
One day earlier, Der Spiegel implored Germany to mobilize the free world against the United States:
Germany must stand up in opposition to the 45th president of the United States and his government. That’s difficult enough already for two reasons: Because it is from the Americans that we obtained our liberal democracy in the first place; and because it is unclear how the brute and choleric man on the other side will react to diplomatic pressure. The fact that opposition to the American government can only succeed when mounted together with Asian and African partners – and no doubt with our partners in Europe, with the EU – doesn’t make the situation any easier.
… It is literally painful to write this sentence, but the president of the United States is a pathological liar. The president of the U.S. is a racist (it also hurts to write this). He is attempting a coup from the top; he wants to establish an illiberal democracy, or worse; he wants to undermine the balance of power. He fired an acting attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of “betrayal.” This is the vocabulary used by Nero, the emperor and destroyer of Rome. It is the way tyrants think.
That Europe should unite with Asia against Trump’s America isn’t merely the idle fantasy of a German columnist.
“We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup, told the New York Times last month. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then of course Europe will look for new friends … China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”
To be fair to Trump, it would be difficult to say that America’s enemies don’t fear us, now that an emotionally volatile demagogue has his hands on the nuclear codes — it’s just that everybody else does, too.
“I have no friends, as far as I’m concerned,” Donald Trump told supporters in New Hampshire last February. One month later, the New York Times ran a feature that suggested this claim was mostly true.
“He’s the kind of guy who likes throwing hand grenades in the room,” real-estate tycoon Richard LeFrak told the paper, in explanation of his fellow mogul’s lack of close ties. “There’s a lot of intensity and energy, a lot of publicity and other stuff. Being friends with Trump is like being friends with a hurricane.”
Trump is well on his way to remaking America in his own image.