A story is supposed to have two sides, but there is only one when it comes to President Trump’s foreign policy. Most American media treat his every effort as a savage assault on a harmonious world order.
Whether it’s the trade dispute with China, his pushing North Korea to scuttle its nukes or his demand that NATO members spend more on defense, the headlines sound the same shrieking note: “Trump inflames . . . Trump escalates . . . Trump doubles down . . . Trump risks . . .”
The parade of horribles continues to this day, but it will be hard to out-fear-monger a Time magazine headline from May: “By Violating Iran Deal, Trump Jeopardizes National Security.”
But since the world hasn’t ended and since we’re not dead yet, I humbly suggest it’s time to take a deep breath and consider the other side of the story.
We don’t have to look far. Numerous signs are popping up that the impact of Trump’s policies is far from the disastrous scenario the media predict. By wielding America’s power instead of apologizing for it, and by keeping his focus on jobs and national security, Trump is making progress in fixing the ruinous status quo he inherited.
America First, it turns out, is more than a slogan. It is a road map to reshaping America’s relationship with friend and foe alike.
Take China. Despite press accusations that Trump risks a global recession with tariffs on Chinese imports, recent reports from China say there is growing criticism there over how President Xi Jinping is handling Trump. One brave professor published an essay citing “rising anxiety” and “a degree of panic” about Xi’s combativeness on the issue and his autocratic ways.
Others told The New York Times and CNBC that China’s leaders should be flexible toward Trump’s push for a more equal trading system. They said boasts and threats from Chinese officials and retaliatory tariffs on American soybeans and other products are raising fears that Xi is courting chaos by overestimating China’s international clout.
“China should adopt a lower profile,” one foreign-policy expert there told the Times. “Don’t create this atmosphere that we’re about to supplant the American model.”
Turkey is testing Trump by seizing an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, and refusing to release him. Instead of paying a ransom or making concessions, Trump’s team levied sanctions on two Turkish cabinet members and doubled tariffs on steel and aluminum, which sent panic through currency markets. The Turkish lira lost 13 percent of its value against the dollar in one day and inflation stands at an estimated 85 percent.
The erratic Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has silenced nearly all opposition but revealed the pressure he’s feeling when he cryptically declared, “If they have their dollars, we have our people, our God.” He urged Turks to exchange gold and other valuables for the lira in hopes of stopping the rout. Good luck with that.
Then there’s Iran. Notwithstanding Time magazine’s scare claim, Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord and last week’s imposition of sanctions aimed at the government and certain industries are adding to the economic pressure on the mullahs.
For months, demonstrations and strikes have focused on inflation, water shortages and rampant corruption, all amplified on social media. Some protesters criticize Iran’s involvement in Syria and its support of Hamas in Gaza while neglecting despair at home.
Even before the sanctions, the Iranian rial lost 80 percent of its value against the US dollar and Forbes estimates inflation exceeds 200 percent.
Trump tweeted that the sanctions, which had been lifted by President Barack Obama, are just the first step and that a bigger round starts in November. “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” he wrote. “I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”
That was a reference to his offer to talk to Iran’s leaders about a new nuclear deal. So far, the Iranians have sent mixed signals, but some observers believe the bite of sanctions will force them to the table.
Already some European firms that rushed to do business in Iran after the nuclear deal was signed are pulling out because they fear being blacklisted by the US Treasury. And regime attempts to blame everything on Trump are failing, with most of the public blaming the mullahs for the crisis.
As The Atlantic magazine notes, Trump’s approach to Iran resembles his approach to North Korea: “Saber rattling followed by summitry.” The magazine reports that North Korea’s foreign minister visited Tehran last week.
The NATO spending issue is a classic example of media bias against Trump. When President Ronald Reagan was subjected to similar knee-jerk attacks over his foreign policies, the late great William Safire dubbed the critics “Blame America Firsters.”
Of course, Reagan’s policies are now widely regarded as transformative. Unfortunately for the modern Blame America Firsters, the NATO issue shows Trump’s forceful actions can bring results.
The fact that only a handful of the other 28 members meet the agreed goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense rankled former presidents but they could not move the needle. Europe loved Obama but ignored his polite request.
Then came Trump, and, instead of looking for love, he demanded money. His scorching criticism focused on the fact that NATO was designed to protect Europe from Russia, so it’s unfair for the US to pay the lion’s share of costs. Although Trump got his numbers wrong — NATO says the US pays 22 percent of all costs, not 90 percent — his point was correct.
Naturally, he made it theatrically and, naturally, most coverage suggested he was tearing the alliance apart by publicly airing dirty laundry, including his blast at Germany for spending billions to buy energy from Russia.
Busy attacking Trump, reporters ignored the fact that his criticism is bearing fruit.
The European Union agreed to buy more energy from America and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg credited Trump for pushing a “clear message” that members need to speed up defense hikes. He said Trump’s effort led to higher spending this year, though he did not confirm the president’s claim that the increase amounts to $33 billion.
At home, the president’s style spurs mass outbreaks of Trump Derangement Syndrome, but some foreign leaders appreciate his forceful clarity. An unidentified European Union ambassador told The Sun newspaper in London that Trump is “easier to negotiate with” than British Prime Minister Theresa May because Trump is focused on what he wants. May bungled Brexit negotiations by being unclear and indecisive, the official said, adding, “If this had been a rational discussion like we have with Trump on cars,” a deal might be finished.
Even relations with Mexico also look to be improving. The newly elected president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, thanked Trump for a “very respectful” congratulation message and said he wants to “reach an understanding” on NAFTA and other issues.
“We are conscious of the need to maintain good relations with the United States,” said López Obrador, whose populism and nationalism themes are compared to Trump’s.
More so than on any other topic, coverage of Israel reveals how the media either misread reality or simply distort it out of Trump hatred.
The president’s decision to right a historic wrong and recognize Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital was met with such exaggerated predictions of calamity that it seemed as if Armageddon was at hand. I happened to be in Jerusalem on the December day of the announcement, and the minor Arab protests showed how ridiculous those predictions were.
In fact, many Arab leaders are tired of Palestinian rejectionism and some have serious military relationships with Israel focused on Iran and Islamic State. For that and other reasons, by the time the new embassy building opened in May, some media reports described it as a merely “symbolic” move.
How about that — from Armageddon to symbolism in five months! That’s rewriting history in warp speed.
Trump the president is still a work in progress, as illustrated most vividly by his evolving policies on Russia. His quick correction of his mistake at Helsinki over Russian election meddling and the imposition of sanctions last week over the use of a nerve agent against an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in London look as if he is coming to accept the consensus view that Russia is an adversary, not a friend.
Besides, as he is showing elsewhere, weakness does not improve relations. Strength does.
He saw that firsthand when the sanctions sent shocks through Moscow’s stock and currency markets Friday. Russian leaders reacted with fury, as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called the sanctions and the threat of a second round “economic warfare.” We’ll see if the bluster is followed by action.
A final thought: Trump’s big initiatives are in the early stages and remain unfinished. His team is solid but small and they are juggling a lot of complex issues. Time, persistence and luck are needed for success.
Some foreign governments are waiting to see what happens in the midterm elections. While it waits, China is actively targeting red-state industries with tariffs in a clear attempt to punish Trump. If that isn’t election meddling, what is it?
If the GOP loses either house of Congress, Trump would be weakened for the final two years of his term. Foreign leaders would be tempted to hold out for better terms — or a new president.
But if the GOP holds control, the president would be strengthened and command even more attention on the world stage. Then our nation could reap the full bounty of benefits from putting America First.