The past two weeks have seen the collapse of American diplomacy — first with the imposition of steel tariffs on our G-7 European and Canadian allies and Mexico.
In the process, President Donald Trump alienated all of the leaders he spoke with — Canada’s Justin Trudeau said this was “quite frankly insulting and unacceptable.” France’s Emmanuel Macron called the tariffs “illegal” and the others responded similarly.
This move by the president harkens back to 1929-30 when America tried to solve its problems with tariffs. The Europeans followed, and the result was the Great Depression, which brought the collapse of the word’s economy and the rise of Hitler and eventually World War II.
The imposition of the current Trump tariffs will undoubtedly lead to countermeasures by Europe and a downward spiral of the world economy, including our own. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
All this, coupled with the kissy-face diplomacy of the meeting between Trump and North Korean Maximum Leader Kim Jong Un, has destabilized our whole Korean policy and raised questions in our Asian allies’ minds about whether we can be depended upon.
Kim, who has consistently tried to persuade his people that his military buildup was the only way to force the U.S. to the table, now feels that he has succeeded in getting the upper hand.
The bad news, however, is that the meeting produced no firm agreements that will result in North Korean disarmament, merely empty words of intention, which are far more likely to produce additional trouble than a retrenchment.
Even if the trumpet blasts from Trump continue, America is very likely to come out worse in the end. We have not yet seen the full reaction from the South Koreans or the Japanese. It will almost certainly be to America’s long-term disadvantage, no matter what they may say in public.
Our erstwhile allies in Europe and Asia have lost confidence in us and our president. Our own foreign policy experts are, by and large, appalled. Our diplomats in Europe and Asia are bracing for the reactions to these events, which are likely to be bad and lasting.
Unless our best academics, journalists and politicians can gain the upper hand and lead us away from the president’s “bread and circuses” idea of foreign policy, we are headed for bad times.
The coming elections this fall should give everybody pause and hopefully create an electoral backlash to Trump and his party that will help to stabilize our government. We are in the danger zone, and we need to move out of it. Trump is now a positive menace to world peace and American prosperity.
John D. Stempel of Lexington is a former U.S. Navy Officer, 25-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service and former director and professor emeritus of the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.