The United States under Trump is ratcheting up international tensions with disastrous consequences for world affairs.
It was only on July 11, 2018, when during the NATO summit in Brussels, President Trump commended President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying that he was the only NATO leader who actually “did things the right way.” The context was important here. Trump was asking NATO allies to increase defence spending – clearly not required as per Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits NATO members to the principle that an attack against one or several of its members is an attack against all.
If and when members agree by consensus to engage in an operation, they contribute forces on a voluntary basis. Considering that an increase in defence spending is not required for NATO countries, Trump was met with less than 100 percent commitment from the NATO allies. Trump praised Erdogan for taking the defence of his nation seriously by ensuring Turkey was well prepared militarily, and for being a resourceful, pragmatic and decisive leader.
He chastised the other allies for not prioritising the defence of their countries and relying on the United States to protect them. Back in May 2017, he welcomed the Turkish president to the White House, praising his “exemplary valour.” Curiously, that particular page on the White House’s official website has since been deleted.
This deletion highlights Trump’s problematic seesawing at critical junctions. The events surrounding the arrest of the American pastor Andrew Brunson is a case in point. Having lived in Turkey for the past two decades, and accused of having links with the terrorist FETO and the PKK, the American pastor has been associated with the 2016 coup attempt. It is understood that the arrest was made to protect Turkish democracy, the case however is still making its way through the courts.
Trump has demanded the pastor’s immediate release, while ignoring the independence of the Turkish legal system. In the meantime, the United States continues to harbour a fugitive and refuses to extradite Fetullah Gulen, the mastermind behind the 2016 coup attempt.
The same Trump that praised President Erdogan for being a decisive leader willing to defend his country just last month now has imposed additional tariffs on Turkey. In the meantime President Erdogan is following through on reciprocal measures. The US administration has followed a now predictable pattern of behaviour in which inconstancy and double standards now mar its relationship with not only Turkey but the rest of the international community.
This kind of instability is not uncommon in international affairs however Trump’s erratic and inconsistent behaviour increasingly means that America has become a chief exporter of instability.
During the run-up to the 2016 US presidential race, Trump’s Republican rivals referred to Trump as a “lunatic”, “delusional narcissist” and ”utterly amoral.” Mitt Romney, a fellow Republican, stated that Trump did not “have the temperament of a stable, thoughtful leader.” After Trump won the presidency, Republican senators such as Senator Susan Collins admitted she is “worried” about the president’s mental health. Senator Bob Corker claimed that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence necessary for a successful presidency.”
Tony Schwartz, who was the ghost writer for Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” called Trump a “sociopath” and that “there is an excellent possibility” that the Trump presidency “will lead to the end of civilisation.” Perhaps more importantly, one in three Americans themselves say they believe Trump’s mental health is “poor,” while two out of three regularly question his temperament. Four in 10 voters in the swing state of Michigan — which helped deliver the White House to Trump — say they think the president is “mentally unstable.”
The experts have also weighed in. Psychiatrist Lance Dodes, a former Harvard Medical School professor, says Trump’s “sociopathic characteristics are undeniable,” and his speech and behaviour show signs of “significant mental derangement.” In the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” edited by Professor Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine, a group of 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts stated that “anyone as mentally unstable [as Donald Trump] should not be entrusted with the life and death powers of the presidency.” Calling Trump “volatile, erratic and thin-skinned,” Dr Lee hoped to warn the American public of their president’s potential to make disastrous decisions.
Trump’s volatility and thin-skinned nature revealed itself as he tweeted the intention to double tariffs on aluminium and steel coming from Turkey. Was it not too long ago that he was praising President Erdogan for his commitment to his country’s defence? Trump’s rage towards anyone who questions him is evident in his domestic and international engagements, with both audiences worried about the ensuing emotionally charged erraticism.
His long-running battle against Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation looking into Russian intervention in the 2016 US election, which apparently helped elect Trump, has also showcased his volatility. While he first agreed to answer the investigation team’s questions, he has since refused to do so, due to his lawyers’ concerns that he may lie under oath, a frequent occurrence in his public engagements.
That is quite telling, as even his own counsel does not trust him to remain consistent. His volatility again showed itself when, after branding the European Union a “foe” in mid-July 2018 in the context of unfair trade, Trump announced a deal with the EU less than two weeks later, though no specifics were outlined. This appears to be very typical of Trump – vague statements followed by abrupt actions, which may or may not be altered or even scrapped as needed. Perhaps the pressure of the presidency is not well suited to Trump, who has increasingly appeared to be emotionally unstable as documented by his own colleagues.
Trump has not only damaged the reliability of his own word, but has single-handedly destroyed the United States’ international image as a source of stability and dependability for its allies. The Iran Nuclear deal, brokered by the previous US administration, is a prime example of how Trump has single-handedly trampled on international agreements. The deal signed by the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, the United States and Iran has been evaluated by many experts to be meeting its stated objectives. The abrupt US withdrawal from the deal harms the credibility of American diplomacy in general and the trustworthiness of future American presidents in particular.
Despite all of its flaws, prior to this US administration, American foreign policy was at least consistent and predictable, even if one did not agree with it. Today however, that does not appear to be the case.