By Patricia H Kushlis
Overall the White House did not have a good week the week before the Olympics opened. After a brief teleprompter read of his State of the Union address which improved his polling numbers in the short run, Trump became Trump again enraging women and many men with his defense of two accused wife beaters who he only reluctantly let go from his troubled staff. This was compounded by Vice President Pence looking like the uncomfortable midget he is, sitting, rather than standing – like everyone else – for the joint Korean team when it appeared at the Pyeongchang Olympics Opening Ceremony. That appearance as one team was a big deal and perhaps the first sign of a thaw in years of frozen and dangerous conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
As the Games closed, the President of South Korea indicated that the North Koreans would be interested in talks with the US. And Ivanka Trump, apparently the lone US government representative in the official reviewing section, stood respectfully as she should have upon the entrance of the joint Korean team. Nevertheless, the fact that the administration has yet to nominate an Ambassador to this important Northeast Asian country sends a different signal. And why the president’s daughter should be meeting with South Korean leaders to discuss substantive sensitive national security issues just makes no sense. Has this country become some kind of Middle Eastern potentate?
Yet, for someone who had all too recently self-righteously castigated black athletes who had dropped to their knee at the singing of the Star Spangled Banner to protest this country’s racial policies under the Trump administration, Pence really should take a long hard look at his petty behavior that Friday night. He needs to understand that pictures often speak louder than words and his disrespectful demeanor came through loud and clear on every television set and video screen at home and abroad.
Bread and Circuses
Then, don’t forget the fanfare that accompanied Trump’s call for a military parade – presumably with him riding atop the front tank – down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Hill to the White House on July 4th. This now several million dollar spectacle seems to have been switched to Veterans Day. Whether one agrees with the questionable optics or not, its costs of an estimated $30 million would be considerable and unwarranted. What would be the purpose? To celebrate what? Why? The US military certainly should have better uses for the money.
But then what isn’t new with this dysfunctional and embarrassing White House?
If anything signaled to the world that America has withdrawn from its multi-century commitment to Asia, then Pence’s appearance at the Olympic Games opening ceremony spoke volumes. That’s the picture that shot round the world: a cowering Pence seated in the reviewing stand while everyone else, including Kim’s sister stood nearby and applauded the athletes in respect to the Korean national anthem.
US relations with Asia, in particular the Pacific Rim countries, had been remarkably stable for decades once we figured out that our projection of military might did not include ground intervention on a continent wracked by civil war. That message got across to administration after administration since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. Until this one. The Trump administration has done much to undermine the policies in place by previous administrations since then and it’s hard to know where to begin or whether they can be undone when this horror of a nightmare government is over.
But let’s start with lasts year’s rejection of TPP or the Trans Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement being negotiated with almost all Asian countries except China. That gratuitous and small minded decision has provided the Chinese with an easy path to far greater influence in Asia from North to South which a more coherent, nuanced and activist US foreign policy had been countering reasonably successfully. That is, up until Trump.
Then let’s move on to Trump’s inane Twitter War with Kim Jung Un. Turns out Kim is as much of a showman as the large Orange One and he certainly out-staged Trump on the world scene in the run-up to the Olympics. Thank heavens neither were personally there.
Whether the North Korean Olympics peace offensive will pay off in the long run is anyone’s best guess but Trump’s over-reliance on US military hardware alone to counter the North Koreans has certainly resulted in nothing to show – and is being promulgated at a far too large cost to the American taxpayer not to mention producing the overwrought nerves of American citizens who live in Hawaii and Guam.
But a major question still remains: what is this administration’s policy towards Asia? Military games played in Korean waters designed to intimidate the North Korean regime do not a foreign policy make. The threat of increased sanctions to be applied after the Olympics won’t work either. And China is flexing its muscles over Taiwan yet again which means additional American military expenses to ensure that the island is not forcibly absorbed by its huge neighbor.
Running up American indebtedness through an ill-thought through tax “reform” which benefits the superrich at the expense of everyone else, increasing our trade deficits with China so Ivanka can market a few trinkets on the Mainland is a classic case of shortsighted, selfish transactional behavior that benefits the Chinese economy and Ivanka’s pocket book – but certainly not ours. Ironically, since Trump took office, the US trade deficit with China has ballooned, not decreased as Trump promised on the campaign trail. and manufacturing jobs have not returned home.
The denigration of Muslins of every stripe to placate a xenophobic and largely ignorant minority here in the US also influences the attitudes of Muslim majority nations in Asia – in particular those in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, not to mention Muslim majority Malaysia and a restive Muslim minority in the southern Philippines. These are island nations with which we have had strong relations for decades.
In short, a policy singularly reliant upon the 21st century’s equivalent of gun boat diplomacy is unlikely to succeed in the long run. If that, in fact, is what American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific has come to be. I’d like to know.