During his fleeting visit to a US military base in Iraq on December 26 President Trump declared “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world. It's not fair when the burden is all on us, the United States... We're no longer the suckers, folks. We’re respected again as a nation.” The world then fell about laughing at the irony of this bizarre declaration, made in a country that had been invaded and reduced to chaos by the burden-laden international policeman.
The President of the United States was visiting a war-torn foreign country in which there are some 5,000 US troops stationed by mutual agreement, and the New York Times reported that “about 100 American servicemen and women, some of whom were wearing red ‘Make America Great Again’ caps, greeted Mr Trump with a standing ovation in Al Asad Air Base’s dining facility, which had been decorated for Christmas. He and Mrs Trump spent about 15 minutes there talking with the troops.”
He had spent eleven hours flying 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometres) to Baghdad and after that lengthy journey he delivered an inappropriately political harangue and then devoted fifteen minutes to talking with the troops of whom he is commander-in-chief. And he didn’t meet one single Iraqi, which is an even more serious matter.
Trump has no idea about how to behave in a situation demanding decorous behaviour or plain ordinary good manners. He cannot comprehend that diplomacy requires expertise and civility and is unable to understand that the conduct of international negotiations rests largely upon basic courtesies.
It is essential that any head of state visiting another country should pay respect to that nation by calling on its head of state. (There are some carefully contrived exceptions : between the US and Germany, for example, this is not necessary, which accounts for the fact that Trump could stopover at the US base at Ramstein for refuelling and more photo-ops without any inconvenient Germans poking their noses into his territory. (Was the German government even informed that Trump was passing through?) But during Trump’s three hour stay in Iraq he didn’t meet President Barham Ahmed Salih.
Nor did he see the most important political figure in Iraq, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who had expected to meet the President of the United States when he lobbed into his country for a hurried public relations fandango with US military personnel. But he didn’t. It wasn’t convenient for Trump to meet citizens of the country in which he spent so little of his valuable time.
According to CNN, the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office stated “There was supposed to be a formal reception and a meeting between Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the US President, but a variation of views to organize the meeting led it to be replaced by a telephone conversation.” What actually happened was that the President of the United States did not meet the Prime Minister of Iraq because the prime minister refused to obey the summons to go to the US air base to call on Trump, and it was too dangerous for the president to travel to the prime minister’s office.
It could not be guaranteed that President Donald Trump, the commander-in-chief of the largest and most potent military forces in the world, to cost 716 billion dollars in 2019, would be safe if he travelled a few miles from an American military base to the centre of Baghdad.
The insult to the Iraqi nation and the astonishing indicator of military impotence were little mentioned in the western mainstream media, which focused on Trump’s speech to the soldiery. In this he delivered a crassly inappropriate denunciation of his political opponents and told a downright lie in claiming he had arranged a pay rise for members of the armed services. He told the troops “You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years — more than 10 years, and we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one. They said: ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent.’ I said: ‘No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent.’ As reported by the Washington Post, the truth is that “the pay raise Trump authorized this year amounted to 2.6 percent, not 10 percent. And the troops have received a pay raise every year for decades.” The man appears to be a pathological liar, and it is interesting to reflect on an expert's observation that “a 2016 study of what happens in the brain when you lie found that the more untruths a person tells, the easier and more frequent lying becomes.”
Trump’s Iraq jaunt was a sad embarrassment. Sad, because the United States does not deserve — no country’s citizens deserve — a head of state whose behaviour is erratic to the point of being clinically disquieting and whose blatant lies seem to be unchallenged by even his closest staff and advisers. On December 21 the Washington Post noted that Trump had made 7,546 “false or misleading claims” which is undoubtedly an all-time world record, but one that must cause anxiety and grave disquiet rather than derision (which is probably the first reaction of most people), and give rise to speculation about what might come next.
The Post’s Glenn Kessler opined that “The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favourable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.”
But it isn’t only “national” — because the international community is worried about Trump’s erratic pronouncements and impulsive behaviour.
Trump has insulted many countries and their leaders, notably Germany in the context of defence spending, and after a series of malicious remarks about NATO and Europe in mid-2018 the European Council President Donald Tusk was moved to advise Trump to calm down. He appealed semi-jovially for America to “appreciate your allies. After all you don’t have that many,” and more seriously pointed out to “Dear President Trump” on July 10 that “America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today Europeans spend on defence many times more than Russia and as much as China,” which of course is not the answer wanted by Trump or the Washington Establishment which is intent on confrontation with both Russia and China.
When Trump unilaterally voided the international agreement with Iran that successfully prevented it from developing a nuclear weapons programme, he attracted a joint statement by French President Macron, Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister May of Britain which noted that the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the accord is the “binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute.” But this means nothing to Trump, who pays no heed to what is felt and said by his allies in response to his pronouncements and actions.
France and Britain have troops in Syria (which is illegal and most ill-advised) but Trump did not consult or even inform these countries’ leaders before issuing a statement indicating that the US would withdraw its contingent of over 2,000. President Macron’s reaction was to say bluntly that “being allies means fighting shoulder to shoulder, and so an ally must be reliable and coordinate with other allies,” but such expressions of disapproval mean nothing to Trump whose tweeted policy is that it’s “time to focus on our country and bring our youth back home where they belong!”
Quite so. And for a change he’s right. But national leaders should not take such fundamentally important action without discussing its implications with allies who have taken considerable risks of all sorts — and by far the most important of these being hazarding the lives of their soldiers — in supporting Washington’s wars.
Trump is careering from crisis to crisis, and the next drama will be Afghanistan from which chaotic country that was invaded by the United States in 2001 he has apparently decided to withdraw some of the 15,000 troops deployed. He did not consult any of the 38 other countries that (mistakenly) also have military contingents there, and nobody knows what comes next — least of all the Afghan government itself. While it is a good thing that the US is getting its military out of countries where they had no business to be in the first place, it is a recipe for disaster to keep allies in the dark about Washington’s strategic intentions.
The picture for the world is grim. An arrogant individual with a proven compulsion to tell monstrous lies is arguably the most powerful person on the planet.
Happy New Year.