Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 8:43 AM

US Uses Foreign Aid to Threaten World Over Jerusalem. China Should Call Its Bluff

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

A truly incomprehensible feature of this first year of the Trump presidency is the extent to which he has continually marginalized the United States in world affairs. Critics often caricature his “America First” slogan as America isolated, standing alone. But I suspect this caricature has more truth than even his most informed supporters could have anticipated.

Of course, Trump has used his withdrawal method to abandon such fertile deals as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And he has threatened to use it to abandon others like NATO and the Iran nuclear deal.

The problem is that Trump is too conceited to care that his method portends considerable loss to the United States in terms of international influence and goodwill. Not to mention the disruption of a world order that has overseen an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity since World War II.

Now comes this:

President Trump issued a threat on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes for a resolution at the United Nations condemning his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. …

‘All of these nations that take our money and then they vote against us at the Security Council or they vote against us, potentially, at the Assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars and then they vote against us,’ Mr. Trump said.

‘Well, we’re watching those votes,’ he added. ‘Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.’

(New York Times, December 20, 2017)

Data from the Congressional Research Service show that the United States gives about $50 billion a year in foreign aid. But this represents only 1.3 percent of the federal budget. Moreover, the lion’s share of it goes to countries like Israel and Egypt for military and security assistance, which purportedly furthers America’s own national security. Except that, beyond fattening America’s military industrial complex, nobody can really say how.

In any event, in terms of value for money, foreign aid is probably the most efficient and effective part of the federal budget. This is especially so when one juxtaposes that $50 billion and the international influence and goodwill it generates with the $5 trillion wasted on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, only to have Iran end up wielding more influence and receiving more goodwill.

Incidentally, Trump spent most of his presidential campaign slamming George W. Bush and Barack Obama for these costly foreign entanglements, which include the deaths of nearly 7000 US soldiers. Yet he’s now aping them by doing in Yemen what they did in those two countries.

Enter China!

It is instructive that Russia is playing savior in Syria after the United States wasted billions trying to no avail to overthrow President Assad. Because China can play the same in all countries that lose US aid for daring to vote their conscience. And let’s be clear, there is only one right way to vote on this resolution: member states should vote to condemn the United States in the General Assembly, just as every country has already voted to condemn it in the Security Council.

Mind you, Trump is infamous for making idle threats – like threatening to sue the women who accused him of sexual assault and threatening to rain fire and fury down on North Korea.

And even if he follows through on this one, I’d bet my life savings that he would only punish poor and powerless countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. For nobody expects him to do anything to rich and powerful countries in Western Europe. But such disparate treatment would only reinforce the boneheaded, bullying nature of this threat.

Frankly, this is just another case of Trump showing that, when it comes to the Art of the Deal in world affairs, he’s more checkers and marbles than chess and pachisi.

It’s also just another reminder of the utter fecklessness of his reputed A-team of national-security advisers, which so many sensible Republicans insisted was their only reason for supporting his administration.

I commented on the foreboding willingness of these advisers to enable Trump’s most reckless impulses in commentaries like “Trump Sharing Classified Info with Russians Forces McMaster to Spicer Himself,” May 16, 2017, and on the folly of this decision in “Recognizing Jerusalem: Trump’s America and Netanyahu’s Israel against the World,” December 7, 2017.

This is why China should make a show of announcing that it will compensate (to the dollar) any country that loses US aid over this vote.  It can certainly afford to; after all, China probably spends more than $50 billion a year just bribing countries to shun Taiwan and the Dalai Lama.

China has the black-hat reputation (or is that red-hat?) of giving foreign aid more to curry favor with wannabe despots than to provide humanitarian relief. Whereas the US has the white-hat reputation of giving primarily for humanitarian relief, often making aid to wannabe despots conditional of meeting markers of democratic freedoms and human rights. Well, if China offers to step into the breach as I propose, it would suddenly be the uncontested wearer of both hats.

What’s more, I can think of no better way for China to counter the wanton insult inherent in this from Trump’s declaration of his first national security strategy:

US President Donald Trump on Monday labeled China and Russia ‘revisionist powers’ and North Korea and Iran ‘rogue states’ that, together with terrorist groups, pose security challenges for the United States, as he pledged to ‘preserve peace through strength’ by rebuilding the US military.

‘China and Russia challenge American power, influence and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.’

(ABS-CBN News, December 19, 2017)

Of course, China and Russia could only dream of eroding American security and prosperity the way Trump’s America First policies are doing all on their own.

Still, China would do well to seize this declaration to acquire, for a song, much of the influence and goodwill Trump’s America clearly takes for granted.

The UN votes later today. Here’s to the General Assembly forcing Trump to go home with his marbles and his tail between his legs.

Related commentaries:
McMaster Spicers himself
Recognizing Jerusalem

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