Thursday, December 21, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened 192 countries.

The United Nations voted 192-9 today to condemn Trump's decision to proceed with building a US embassy in Jerusalem. Prior to the vote, the United States' ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, explicitly threatened to defund foreign aid to countries that voted for the resolution, and suggested that the UN itself was beholden to the US for its relatively large share of membership dues.

Haley's words echoed Trump's from yesterday, when he told reporters: "They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we're watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We'll save a lot. We don't care." The language about the United States being owed deference by the UN because of dues payments also echoes Trump's persistent confusion over how NATO operates. (He believes it is, in effect, a protection racket run by the US.)

Until Trump, US foreign aid had never come with these kinds of explicit strings attached--precisely because the "support" of a country that is being coerced tends not to be worth much. Instead, its purpose is to encourage stability and the growth of robust economies in potential US trading partners and strategic allies. It also includes money to halt the spread of infectious diseases like the Zika virus that might otherwise threaten the US directly.

Under normal circumstances, cutting off aid to countries like Egypt over a symbolic vote would be a completely empty threat, because the aid is only offered in the United States' best interests in the first place. It's not clear how serious Trump is, or whether he understands the implications of what he's saying.

The seven countries joining the United States and Israel were Guatemala, South Sudan, Togo, and four tiny Pacific island nations. None of the seven have any special relationship with either Israel or the Palestinian Authority, and none have any influence on the embassy matter. All seven are severely impoverished and receive foreign aid from the United States.

Why is this bad?

  • The entire world cannot be bought off for a fraction of one percent of the US budget.
  • Presidents who try to bully the world only hurt the United States--especially when they fail so badly at it.
  • If virtually the entire world--including all of the United States' most important military and diplomatic allies--thinks something is a bad idea, maybe the president should listen.