One of the outcomes of populist electoral rebellions is that the people end up with the types of political leaders for whom they wish. But, as the old saying goes, «Be careful of what you wish for». From the Philippines and the United States and Turkey to Guatemala, «populist» leaders have engaged in troubling name-calling and anti-democratic antics. In fact, the leaders who hammered out the ill-fated and hostility-ensuring Munich Agreement of 1938, including German chancellor Adolf Hitler and Italian prime minister Benito Mussolini, demonstrated more civility and decorum toward one another and for public display than many political leaders of today.
One now must look to Moscow, Beijing, Havana, and Santiago to find leadership that continues to abide by diplomatic tactfulness and public relations restraint. Although British prime minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London from Munich waving a worthless Munich Agreement that he dubbed «peace for our time» – later telling those gathered outside his Number 10 Downing Street residence that the agreement constituted «peace for our time», adding, «we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep» — World War II would begin on September 1, 1939.
With war being the outcome after all the diplomatic niceties and gestures in Munich, what will be the result of all the bellicose statements now seen regularly among national leaders? The answer is war and one not limited to conventional weapons.
Speaking to Central Intelligence Agency employees at their headquarters in Langley, Virginia shortly after his inauguration, President Donald Trump boasted that the United States might «have another chance» to seize Iraq’s oil supply. That statement was followed by an immigration order that prohibited Iraqis, among six other nationalities, from entering the United States, even if they possessed valid U.S. visas or had permanent residency in the United States. After a Republican-nominated federal judge in Seattle issued a restraining order temporarily prohibiting the government from implementing Trump’s order, Trump tweeted, «the opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!» The order was not overturned.
Trump followed his post-inaugural pomposity and bellicosity by threatening to declare China a «currency manipulator», warning the world’s second-largest economy of trade sanctions if it did not take steps to lower its trade surplus with the United States. Trump’s warning was followed by anti-Beijing comments from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis. The U.S. Navy was ordered to send the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer into the South China Sea in a show of force and a warning to China about the buildup of Chinese fortifications on disputed islands in the maritime expanse claimed by China.
In the nearby Philippines, its president, Rodrigo Duterte, continued to demand the U.S. military to depart from his nation. Duterte has governed on a platform of extrajudicially executing tens of thousands of criminals he calls «drug dealers». Duterte has threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations and form a new international organization with African nations and China. So far, Duterte has no takers for his «alternate U.N.» However, some of Trump’s closest advisers are known to favor «getting the U.S. out of the U.N. and the U.N. out of the United States». On December 1, 2016, in a phone call between Duterte and Trump, Trump wished the Philippines leader «success» in his war on drugs. The drug war saw 4,800 extrajudicial assassinations since Duterte took office on June 20, 2016, and may see a total of 100,000 executions during Duterte’s term. Duterte has been referred to as the «Donald Trump of the Philippines».
In a phone call with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto in early February, Trump told his Mexican counterpart that he would send U.S. troops into Mexico to stop «bad hombres down there» unless the Mexican military does more to control them. Trump apparently told a startled Pena Nieto that «You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it». The call followed sharp words about Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border from former Mexican president Vicente Fox who tweeted, «TRUMP, when will you understand that I am not paying for that f**ken wall. Be clear with US tax payers. They will pay for it». Even though Munich sold out Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, there was never a hint of that sort of language being used among Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, French premier Edouard Daladier, or even Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes, whose country was being served up to Hitler on a silver platter.
To Mexico’s south, Guatemala is suffering under another «populist» candidate who was elected president. He is Jimmy Morales, a former comedian who once painted his face black and wore an Afro wig, along with a white painted mouth. One of Morales’s first acts as president was to speak of going to war with tiny neighboring Belize and «recover» all or part of that nation as land claimed by Guatemala. Of course, it does not help that Morales is a demonstrated racist and that Belize’s population is primarily Afro-Caribbean. Morales is known as the «Donald Trump of Guatemala».
In South America, a war of words has broken out between Peru’s president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and Venezuela’s foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez after a White House meeting between Kuczynski and Trump. Rodríguez said, «He [Kuczynski] goes ‘round, poor thing, with my respect because he is an elderly man, a good dog who wags its tail at the empire and asks for an intervention in Venezuela. He’s alone, going ‘round like a crazy man, with no one paying attention». The comments came after reports that the Peruvian leader pressed Trump for «regime change» in Venezuela.
Trump became unhinged when speaking on the phone with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, an erstwhile U.S. ally. Trump expressed frustration over a refugee swap of 1250 predominantly Muslim refugees housed by Australia on the islands of Nauru and Manus in the Pacific who were to be accepted into the United States in exchange for 1250 refugees being housed in Costa Rica. The deal had been negotiated between Turnbull and President Barack Obama. What was to be an hour-long phone call became a terse 25-minute conversation after Trump bellowed to Turnbull, «This is the worst deal ever», accusing the Australian prime minister of sending the U.S. the «next Boston bombers». Trump told Turnbull that of the five phone calls he had that day with world leaders, who included Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe, Angela Merkel, François Hollande of France, «this was the worst call by far.»
After the German and Dutch governments refused permission for Cabinet ministers of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to campaign among Turkish expatriate workers in both countries, Erdogan accused both countries of «Nazi» policies. Erdogan was fishing for voters among over a million Turks in Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland to vote in favor in a Turkish referendum design to prolong Erdogan’s almost-dictatorial powers. Erdogan called Germany’s refusal to allow members of Erdogan’s government to campaign among Germany’s Turks a «fascist action reminiscent of the Nazi era» and said the Dutch are «Nazi remnants and fascists.» Erdogan has often threatened to allow more Muslim refugees to sweep Europe in a deluge. Such talk is promoting greater support for anti-Muslim political parties in Europe.
The award for being among the first to recognize the existence of «IPI» or International Political Insanity» goes to Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. In response to Erdogan’s statement that the Dutch are «Nazi remnants», Rutte said Erdogan’s comments were «crazy». Perhaps, the U.N. should organize a special committee to deal with insane political leaders.
Gambia managed to get rid of its dictator, Yahya Jammeh, who predicted he would rule for a «billion years». However, other insane leaders still rule and undiplomatic «wars of words» have broken out around the world, between Serbia and Kosovo; Iran and the United States; and the always-reliably antagonistic North Korea and South Korea, Malaysia, Japan, and even China. Crazy political leaders have soaked the world in gasoline. The only thing that awaits is the striking of a match – anywhere.