For good reason, attention is focusing on President Donald Trump’s meeting Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of our most dangerous adversaries.
But to keep America safe and prosperous, Trump needs to strengthen ties with our allies in Europe and Asia, not belittle them.
“America First” can’t mean “America Alone.” No matter if he builds a border wall, he can’t keep the world’s complex problems from coming to our shores. And international cooperation is necessary to have any hope of meeting major challenges, notably climate change and fair economic growth.
Most urgently, it will take a global coalition to defuse the North Korea nuclear threat, near the top of the agenda at the G20 economic summit in Hamburg, Germany. The backing of Japan, South Korea and Europe is essential to try to stop Kim Jong Un from mounting nuclear warheads on missiles that can reach Alaska, Hawaii, and eventually California and the rest of the West Coast. After North Korea launched its first ICBM on July Fourth, the president has been bad-mouthing China, even though it has the closest relationship to North Korea and holds the key to any diplomatic solution.
It also isn’t helpful that in his major speech Thursday, Trump declared a clash of civilizations between the West – leaving out friends outside Europe – and the rest of the globe, especially the Muslim world. He seemed to suggest that some European nations aren’t upholding Western values because they are allowing too many immigrants. And he spoke in Poland, which he praised effusively but which is being run by a right-wing regime that is trampling democratic values, such as a free press and an independent judiciary.
Trump has also clashed with European leaders on climate change and trade. Where there’s a void, others will step in.
With Trump announcing his intent to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord on global warming, Gov. Jerry Brown told a citizen festival in Hamburg via videoconference Thursday that he plans to host a climate action summit in San Francisco in September 2018. Further cementing Brown’s and California’s leadership on the issue, the conference will be the first hosted by a state to support the Paris deal.
With Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan and the European Union on Thursday announced agreement on broad outlines of a trade deal that will cover nearly 30 percent of the global economy and 10 percent of the world’s population. That is not good news for farmers, manufacturers or workers in California and across America.
Trump’s speech Thursday did make some significant advances, however. Sharing the stage in Warsaw with American, Polish, British and Romanian soldiers, he publicly upheld the mutual defense pledge of the NATO charter, and he did so in Poland, which was part of the Soviet Union’s orbit and shares a border with Russia. Leaders and the peoples of the Baltic and Balkan states are probably sleeping a little better.
Of course, a normal and responsible president would have stood behind Article 5 at his first NATO summit in May, when he failed to do so even as he spoke in front of a memorial made of steel from one of the towers that crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001. The only time the article has been invoked was when NATO troops fought alongside Americans in Afghanistan.
Also noteworthy was that Trump leveled his strongest criticism of Russia of his presidency, urging the Putin regime to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes, including Syria and Iran.”
That’s why it’s so disheartening that at a news conference Trump repeated his destructive claim that another country might have hacked the 2016 presidential election. He questioned the U.S. intelligence community, which has concluded that it was Russia and that it was aimed at helping Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
If he takes protecting our democracy seriously, Trump needs to directly bring this issue up with Putin. Unfortunately, he apparently won’t.
With this president, it always seems to be one step forward, but one or two back. It’s bad enough on policies back home. On the world stage, it can be catastrophic.