My advice to the new US president
Donald Trump the businessman was impressive. Reality star Trump equally so. But I fear the journey he is taking us on as US president and leader of the free world. I am not alone, as evidenced by the many millions of protesters who banded together from Hong Kong to Houston to register their disapproval.
Too late though! The stable door is shut and the horse has bolted. All we can do now is sit back and watch this showman’s greatest performance in the hope that the world as we know it remains intact.
Our planet needs a strong and stable US more than ever during these turbulent times, especially when the fabric of the EU is fraying due to the specter of upcoming elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany, where far-right populist candidates are poised to emulate Trump’s win.
Never before has an incumbent began work with so much enmity ranged against him from a great swathe of the population to the mainstream media, the intelligence community, ethnic minorities and political elites, both Democratic and Republican.
His executive order overturning former President Barack Obama’s halt to two pipelines due to environmental concerns has already re-ignited protests, and his disdain for climate change may see the US reneging on the Paris agreement.
Never before has a US president raised the hackles of America’s closest friends and partners (the EU, NATO and the UN), or ignited such loathing in the capitals of his country’s neighbors and rivals (Mexico and China) at the start of his 100-day honeymoon period. I am all for giving him a chance, but after reviewing his statements on various issues, regretfully I am not optimistic. Does he imagine his selfish “America first” goals will go unanswered?
Mexico has categorically refused to pay for his border wall that is about to be constructed. China has warned there will be no negotiation on the mainstay of the US-China relationship, the “one China” policy. North Korea is believed to be readying a message, the launch of a sophisticated long-range missile. Iran says it has no intention of renegotiating the nuclear deal, and in the event it is torn up it will resume its previous nuclear program.
Meanwhile, relocating the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will cause a violent backlash and end the very peace talks Trump has pledged to successfully broker with the aid of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been sworn in as senior adviser.
EU ministers have met successive times to discuss the impact of a Trump presidency on US-EU ties. Their fears are not misplaced. The new administration has wasted no time in ordering Brussels to choose between its proposed EU army and US funding for NATO. Nations that have relaxed under the US diplomatic and military umbrella, including several in the Middle East, could decide to go it alone and begin developing nuclear deterrents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who looks to Trump to lift sanctions, and “Brexit” British Prime Minister Theresa May, eying a speedily-negotiated trade deal with the US, are understandably as keen to shake his hand as he is theirs.
Trump’s family says he values loyalty above all, so we can assume that as long as his two new best friends are willing to play ball, those relationships will endure. Should they stray, however, they will join his list of targets.
What worries me, for example, is that the international community is united in its belief that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a blunder of catastrophic proportions. Trump now insists he never supported it. Videos prove that is yet another example of “alternative facts.”
During his inaugural speech, he said the US will not seek to impose its way of life on other countries. I believe him. He does not care what happens in the rest of the world, provided it does not impinge on US national interests. Given the mess Obama made poking his nose where it was not wanted, that sounds like welcome news, but is it?
I was recently shocked by a video cataloguing Trump’s various interviews and speeches, including his most recent message to the CIA, during which he said the US should have taken Iraq’s oil in return for its liberation.
He expected Iraq to pay for its own destruction by impoverishing itself. Such statements almost make his predecessors George W. Bush and Obama look like do-gooders by comparison. If taking Iraq’s oil is still his aim, how does he expect to defeat terrorists? The theft of its natural wealth would be akin to a terrorist-producing conveyor belt. His words are guaranteed to make other states shudder.
Likewise, his seeming wish to impoverish Mexico by repatriating millions of undocumented migrants and threatening multinational manufacturers not to create jobs in Mexico at pain of high import tariffs could lead to a desperate human flood that no wall can keep at bay.
Trump portrays himself as a champion for the little guy, the forgotten people. Yet his proposed protectionist trade policies could spark price increases, inflation and trade wars. China must be chuckling over his tearing-up of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), which took seven years to make, and which Beijing has now been invited to join.
Trump’s America is devoid of all compassion. His executive orders banning refugees from war-torn Middle East countries, targeting “sanctuary cities” refusing to prosecute undocumented migrants, and halting visit visas for nationals from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen will only heighten anti-US sentiment, and be construed as blessing hate speech and xenophobia against American-Muslim communities. It has started. On Jan. 15, a mosque in Seattle was torched.
His rush to dump Obamacare without a suitable replacement could leave millions uninsured. One of his very first executive orders was to roll back Obama’s efforts to reduce mortgage insurance premiums. Trump has also been accused of demonizing food stamps, on which 45 million of America’s poorest — the very people who voted for him — rely.
The US is run on a system of checks and balances. But with a Republican majority in the Supreme Court in the offing, and a Republican-dominated Congress, we can but trust that partisanship will not keep those brakes from being well-oiled.
My advice to Trump is: “You can catch more flies with honey. Reach out to all those you have threatened or offended. Ask them to work with you to make our world better, not just for Americans but for us all. You cannot manage the superpower like a family business.”
At stake are America’s cherished values, and its stature as a beacon of hope for the poor and oppressed. If and when the US loses the world’s respect, its leadership role will be rendered defunct for decades to come.
•Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.