It wasn’t this way when baby boomers were kids but everything’s changing so fast! Including America’s role in the world, and its relationships. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs, an Emmy Award-winning former foreign correspondent, points out what he sees as the perils of the new version of American foreign policy.
It is the nature of the news cycle in the Time of Trump that at the rat-a-tat pace of an AK-47, as this spiteful president shoots one bullet after another into the heart and soul of American alliances and American diplomacy and American prestige and American leadership, one woeful wound swiftly is smothered by another.
It is the nature of the cycle, but it shouldn’t be.
Yet while the impact of Donald Trump’s behavior at the Canadian summit will bedevil us for a long time, the news about it will be smothered by the Singapore summit. It shouldn’t be. Because we can’t afford it.
The news is, Trump disdainfully declined in Canada to sign the traditional joint statement by the seven allies of the G7, shorthand for the Group of Seven democracies that have long shared common values and common causes. But because Donald Trump shows no respect for tradition, let alone practical partnerships, realists now ruefully call it G6+1. What’s worse, Trump didn’t just disagree about major issues with our long-supportive allies, which is his prerogative as president; he insulted and threatened them, which isn’t.
How can it be that the few serious, capable, and world-weary people in this president’s orbit don’t read him the facts of global life? What they need to teach him is, more because of the expansion of the economic and military strength of other nations than due to any self-imposed decline of American power, the United States no longer is the undisputed 900-pound gorilla on the planet. And more important, that if we push them away, they can survive on their own.
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I don’t even have to think hard when I scroll through stories I covered around the world to come up with examples of the import of alliances. I shuttled around the Middle East with President Jimmy Carter as he won the support of Arab and European nations to solidify the peace treaty he achieved between Egypt and Israel at Camp David (which against countless challenges has endured to this very day). He couldn’t have done it alone.
I patrolled with foreign soldiers during the civil war in Beirut as President Ronald Reagan cobbled together a force of peacekeepers which, although ultimately not so successful, showed the anxiety of the international community about the war that was ripping that nation apart. We couldn’t have shown it alone.
I did stories, in both Saudi Arabia and at the United Nations, about President George H.W. Bush methodically assembling a coalition of 39 countries to confront Saddam Hussein, which eventually routed his troops after they took up residence in Kuwait. We might not have pulled it off alone.
I’ve traveled with local military units in Colombia and in Bolivia as they attacked drug cartels at the behest of the United States. I’ve covered campaigns for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, where the U.S. was the lead mediator but was not operating in a vacuum. I’ve reported on our multinational agreements and alliances from Libya, from Vietnam, from South Africa, from Afghanistan. As a superpower, we can lead the way, but we can only lead if others choose to follow. If we insult and threaten them, we risk going it alone. Which would cost us dearly.
Does it really take a dying American hero to bring us to our senses, to publicly (and not for the first time) scold our president for his damaging, dangerous, and disgraceful behavior? Maybe it does, and maybe others will follow, but for now, it is the weakened but not silenced voice of Senator John McCain that shines. After Trump haughtily tweeted from Air Force One after leaving the summit in Canada that the host nation’s prime minister Justin Trudeau was “very dishonest & weak” (because Trudeau had criticized Trump’s trade policies, which is his prerogative), Senator McCain sent out his own tweet: “To our allies: bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values.”
70 years of shared values. With friends and neighbors who have stood by us just as we have stood by them. 70 years, or more like a hundred, for as Trudeau told reporters, Trump’s national security rationale for tariffs against Canadian steel was “kind of insulting” to a nation that has backed the United States in wars dating back to World War One.
McCain ended his tweet with what our steadfast allies ought to know: “Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.” They ought to know, and they need to know, because one day — hopefully sooner rather than later — we shall have a new president. A new president who understands who our friends are, and understands how friends should be treated.
Donald Trump doesn’t. Which we cannot afford.
Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available from Amazon.