President Trump is taking the correct, diplomatic approach in refusing to take the time to publicly shame the leaders of U.S. partners and adversaries during his overseas trip.
While the president is traveling abroad on the tail end of his 14-day Asia trip, pundits across the political spectrum are taking shots at the commander in chief for what they deem is his unwillingness to stand up to authoritarian leaders.
From The New York Times, to prominent members of Congress, to National Review, to former Obama officials, the foreign policy “smart set” seems convinced that the president is not upholding his duty to stand up for American values while abroad.
They want him to declare, for the 1,000th time, that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the American election. They want him to show up at Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s doorstep and proceed to berate him for his alleged human rights abuses. They’d like him to show up in Beijing and tell President Xi Jinping that he’s an illegitimate, two-bit thug.
This approach would not only fail to yield a positive outcome (unless you consider virtue signaling for cultural “elites” a good way to spend your political capital), it would in all likelihood damage America’s standing in the world.
Sure, Putin, Duterte, and Xi 100 percent do not represent American values. But it’s unclear what exactly these pundits think the president will achieve by having POTUS dress down and talk smack to foreign leaders on their own soil. What will it accomplish in the name of U.S. interests? Absolutely nothing.
Russia is most certainly an adversarial nation, but Moscow is not a lost cause entirely. Russia is a Great Power, and the U.S. maintains extensive cultural and economic ties with Russia. We also have many disagreements with Russia, including how they conduct their internal affairs, and how the Kremlin is known to commit human rights abuses.
However, there is no way that our relationship with Russia will change for the better if President Trump makes it his goal to consistently publicly shame and humiliate Vladimir Putin.
“But Reagan!” I hear some people already claiming.
But times were different back then. Ronald Reagan was leading the front for freedom in a global Cold War against the Soviet Union. Reagan was conducting his messaging as part of a grand strategy that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, It is not remotely in our interests whatsoever for President Trump to start unnecessary hostilities with Russia, or attempt to cause mass devastation in Moscow.
Now, to the Philippines.
The Philippines is an ally of the United States, and there is certainly nothing good that can come out of President Trump undermining the authority of its elected president.
President Duterte has undoubtedly made some concerning comments and implemented some abominable internal policies. But it’s much more likely that the U.S. can achieve a positive result for human rights by communicating our concerns through diplomatic channels, instead of destroying our relationship with the country’s leader, resulting in the severing of those channels.
Over to China.
According to the Chicago Tribune’s Dahleen Glanton, Trump “got played” because he refused to directly confront Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government. It’s true that China continues to take a more aggressive posture against U.S. interests in East Asia. It’s also true that anti-American sentiment continues to rise there.
China is also our biggest trading partner, and again, little good can come out of admonishing a foreign leader in his own country, other than scoring points with the professional pundit class back home.
Imagine if a foreign leader traveled to the United States and proceeded to do nothing but berate our way of life and our duly elected president. Outrage would likely ensue in both the press and in Congress. There would be calls to distance our relationship with that leader’s particular nation. Nothing good would come of it, for either side.
When President Trump comes home, he can (and should) say all he wants about the shortcomings of both allies and adversaries. As an invited guest of foreign nations, he is correct in understanding that he can achieve far more for the United States by acting in a diplomatic, civil manner, in attempts to find and highlight shared objectives with partner countries.
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