President Donald Trump’s performance at the recent G-20 conference has bordered on complete disaster for American foreign policy and relations with our allies. His decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin (who has been blamed for the deaths of 22 Russian journalists) and his team, with only Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with him, let down himself, his party and his country.
Tillerson gave the weakest possible comment, while his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov looked far more persuasive, but there was no apology for the Soviet behavior. Trump did not truly face Putin down over Russian hacking and spying to disrupt our recent presidential elections, and spent only perfunctory time with a few other key leaders.
The most damaging result was that Japan and our major friendly allied European powers, without consulting with us, announced agreement on a trade pact with China, which if signed, will cover 30 percent of the global economy and 40 percent of world trade, roughly the same size as the NAFTA agreement.
The impact will, within a few months, begin to shrink our trade with longtime allies, diminish our exports and complicate our own economic problems.
But those are just the longer-term consequences. Trump poor-mouthed his own intelligence, military and Foreign Service experts, and brought no career intelligence and diplomatic career professionals into his meetings with the Russians — an extraordinary step at any time. Trump’s fawning scenes with Putin on television outraged most of those who watched.
Perhaps to underline the point, the early resignation of the chairman of the U.S. government Ethics Commission, who stated that he was not allowed to pursue the current increase in violations, shows that all is not right in Washington. Nor was he given access to the White House staff. And we just learned that Donald Trump Jr. was soliciting the Russians for information about Hillary Clinton as early as June 2016. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will certainly have his hands full in the day and weeks to come.
The continuation of the wars in the Middle East will pose a long-range danger, but it is now probable that the Syrians will renew their efforts to kill people and recover more territory. Russian assistance will continue, but more quietly — and more threatening to our troops.
These items, combined by a continuation of Trump’s outlandish tweets, are gradually reducing his presidency to a shambles.
What should be more worrisome for the president is that Republican Congress members and senators are beginning to see the danger he is leading them into. Sens. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and John McCain have strongly criticized the president’s behavior along the lines noted above in the past few days. The idea of impeachment has now begun to enter the national dialogue.
As a practical matter, nothing will be done along those lines unless and until Mueller reports results from his investigations. Meanwhile, you might want to write your congressional representatives. As citizens, we do not have to accept the kind of behavior on display for the past week and have the duty to make that point to our politicians.
John D. Stempel is senior professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. He served as a Navy officer in Vietnam, then had a 23-year career in the US Foreign Service including in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. He retired as US Consul General for South India at Madras (now Chennai) in 1988.