In a phone call Saturday with the prime minister of Australia, a nation that has long been one of our strongest allies, President Trump was combative, belligerent and confrontational, and angrily hung up on his counterpart less than half way through the scheduled one-hour conversation.
Based on what I’m seeing from the Australian press, the performance is not going over well. Bob Carr, former Australian foreign minister, was blunt in his description to the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Declaring Mr Trump’s behaviour would lead to a wholesale reassessment of ties to Washington, Mr. Carr said: “It forces us to drop romantic notions of the alliance and now be more realistic.”
“It liberates leaders to say no to Washington if it seeks to recruit us for any reckless adventure,” he said. “America has taken a nationalist direction and won’t be returning to global leadership as we’ve understood it.”
Picking fights all over the planet while alienating the allies we might need to win those fights does not exactly seem a smart, well-thought-out strategy. Australia has been key to our Pacific alliance to offset China’s growing power, for example, just as the European allies that Trump continues to denigrate have been key to restraining Russia.
On the other hand, the approach is certainly consistent with Trump’s personality, which resists the idea of “win-win” outcomes and insists on “I win, you lose.” A day earlier, in a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Trump had taken much the same course.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told the Mexican president in a transcript of the call leaked to the Associated Press. “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.”
Mexican officials now say that it is “absolutely false” that Trump threatened to send troops into Mexico. That denial is understandable. Acknowledging such a threat, especially coming on the heels of Trump’s ongoing attempt to intimidate Mexico into paying for a border wall, would put Pena Nieto in an impossible political situation. However, independent reporting by the Mexican press confirms the accuracy of the AP transcript. A White House official also told ABC News the comments were accurate, but had been offered as “lighthearted” by Trump.
I have a hard time imagining those particular words, exchanged between two heads of state, as “lighthearted.” I have an even harder time when the person is Trump, whose sole attempts at humor are to denigrate somebody else. For example, at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning in Washington, Trump thought it appropriate to remind the audience that “a big big movie star,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, had been brought in to replace him as star of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“And we know how that turned out,” Trump told the group of faith leaders. “The ratings went right down the tubes, it’s been a total disaster … and I just want to pray for Arnold, if we can, for those ratings.” Funny guy, that Donald.
And for those who might be worried, fear not, as our president also told us this morning:
“The world is under serious, serious threat, in so many different ways, and I’ve never seen it so much and so openly as since I took the position of president. The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK? That’s what I do, I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having, don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. It’s time to be tough, folks. We’re taken advantage of by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen anymore.”
And while Trump is playing tough guy with countries such as Mexico and Australia, Russian-backed forces in Ukraine have launched a new offensive against government forces there, deploying tanks and artillery that can only have come from the Russian military. The Ukraine government has asked for diplomatic assistance, but so far the American response has been silence.
No angry phone call to Vladimir Putin. “The president has been kept aware … of what’s going on in Ukraine,” is how Sean Spicer puts it.