By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times.
SEOUL, South Korea — President Trump’s trip to Europe was truly historic.
He left our most important allies there so uncertain about America’s commitment to their security from Russia and to shared values on trade and climate change that German leader Angela Merkel was prompted to tell her countrymen that Europe’s days of relying on America are “over to a certain extent,” and therefore Germany and its European allies “really must take our fate into our own hands.”
No U.S. president before had ever put a crack in the Atlantic alliance on his inaugural tour. Historic.
Merkel is just the first major leader to say out loud what every American ally is now realizing: America is under new management. “Who is America today?” is the first question I’ve been asked on each stop through New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. My answer: We’re not the U.S.A. anymore. We’re the new U.A.E.: the United American Emirate.
We have an emir. His name is Donald. We have a crown prince. His name is Jared. We have a crown princess. Her name is Ivanka. We have a consultative council (Congress) that rubber-stamps whatever the emir wants. And like any good monarchy, our ruling family sees no conflict of interest between its personal businesses and those of the state.
So any lingering Kennedyesque thoughts about us should be banished, I explained. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay no price, bear no burden, meet no hardship, support no friend, oppose no foe to assure the success of liberty — unless we’re paid in advance. And we take cash, checks, gold, Visa, American Express, Bitcoin and memberships in Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea. Threats to democracy, free trade, the environment and human rights are no longer on our menu. Therefore, no matter how unsavory you are as a foreign leader, you can be the United American Emirate’s best friend if you:
1.) Pay us by buying our weapons. I warn you, though, Saudi Arabia has set the bar very high, starting at $110 billion.
2.) Pay us in higher defense spending for NATO — not to deter Russia, which is using cyberwarfare to disrupt every democratic election it can, but to deter “terrorism,” something that tanks and planes are useless against.
3.) Pay us in trade concessions. And it doesn’t matter how lame those concessions are. All that matters is that Emir Trump can claim “concessions.” See the recent “trade concessions” to Trump from China. (Pay no attention to that laughter from Beijing.)
4.) Pay us by freeing any U.S. citizen you arrested on trumped-up charges to annoy Barack Obama and to intimidate human rights activists. See Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s release of a U.S.-Egyptian charity worker, Aya Hijazi, who was working with homeless children.
5.) Pay us by grossly flattering our emir about how much of an improvement he is over Obama. See President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Bibi Netanyahu of Israel.
6.) Be Russia, and you pay nothing.
Now, if you do any one of these six things the United American Emirate’s commitment to you — and it’s ironclad — is that you can do anything you want “out back.” You can deprive your people of whatever human rights you like out back. You can be as corrupt as you want out back. You can steal as many elections as you like out back. Just keep the arms purchases coming, the NATO dues rising, the phony trade concessions flowing and the compliments gushing — or be Vladimir Putin — and anything goes.
Too harsh? Not at all. Being in Korea and seeing how much this country has grown out of poverty over the last 50 years by adopting all of our values — so much so that it just impeached its president for corruption after a peaceful “candlelight” mass protest based entirely on American democratic software — it makes you weep to think that virtually the only thing Trump’s had to say about Korea is that it’s a freeloader on our army (not even true) and needs to pay up.
Does Trump have a point that German economic policies have dampened its imports and disadvantaged southern Europe? Yes, he does. And NATO members should fulfill the alliance’s long-term spending targets. But how much is Germany spending to absorb one million Syrian refugees so they won’t be joining ISIS? How much security is that buying the world? The U.S. took 18,000 Syrians. Trump’s friend Putin took zero, but Trump never thinks about such things.
It took us decades to build the Atlantic alliance and it has brought us so many tangible and intangible benefits in the form of security, stability, growth and friendships. Trump could actually break it, not just crack it.
This week for the first time I saw the official photographs that now grace the entry halls of all U.S. embassies. Vice President Mike Pence is smiling warmly. Trump is actually scowling. If his picture had a caption, it would be: “Get off my lawn.”
It could also say: “Let all who enter this embassy know: We don’t do alliances any more. We only do Master Limited Partnerships. Interested? Call 1-202-456-1414. Operators are standing by.”