While Donald Trump’s “Dancing with Swords” world tour of five nations, featuring an in-house Saudi arms bazaar, is a shot in the arm for Sunni Muslims and a boon to Wahhabist fundamentalists everywhere, his gratuitous insult to Nato and the other 194 nations who have also signed the Paris Climate Accord has commentators scratching their heads.
Bizarrely, Trump proposes a Saudi-led Arab Nato and on Fox and our ABC a big deal is made of his big arms deal. It’s not hard to sell arms to the world’s largest arms importer. Yet it may not be a safe long-term investment.
Saudi Arabia, is so profligate that while it earns half a billion dollars a day from oil it may be broke in five years. While its king travels with a thousand strong retinue, and his son “Deputy Crown Prince” Muhammad bin Salman can blow half a billion on a yacht, a quarter of the population lives on less than AU$20 per day.
The Arab Nato joke adds to Trump’s “kumidia alakhta” or comedy of errors. Middle East “terrorism” groups – Isis and al-Qaeda, aka the Nusrah Front – have their fountainhead in Saudi Arabia, a nation which Hilary Clinton in a Wikileaks cable notes “remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups.”
Even more worryingly, Trump attacks Iran; demonising it for “fuelling sectarian violence”. He rebuffs the new, moderate, Iranian government in its attempts to open up communications with the West. Instead, the US will boost its alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Gulf. Peace in the Middle East? Trump torpedoes his own mission.
Most of the Trump Unplugged tour is puzzling, especially, his minders’ decision to muzzle The Donald and exhibit this astonishing performance artist as if he were merely an amazing dancing bear. No reporters. No press conferences. Even Twitter is forbidden. Nothing beyond his scripted imbecilities and the odd anti-Nato, anti-Teheran tirade.
So sad. This a presidency which can conduct its entire foreign policy in 140 characters. Or fewer.
... like some mute Caliban ...
It’s a big risk, too. The president’s only protection from the weight of expectations; being totally crushed by his role is to shoot his mouth off. Now he’s being paraded, like some mute Caliban, a poor credulous monster on a world stage; terrifying in his manifest inadequacy. You can see all of Europe’s leaders talking behind his back. What is going on?
In the Vatican, Wednesday. A gimlet-eyed Francis is on Trump’s case. He calls the president on his pivot to Potizza.
What do you feed him? Potizza?
“Potizza?” Mrs Trump asks in some surreal catechism. “Yes.” But her monster, Trump, can hear only the word pizza.
Francis teases the First Lady, playfully fat-shaming her husband, after a private audience with The Donald, incredible bulk, deal-maker extraordinaire and fearless leader of a single-page nine bullet point brief irony-free world.
Potizza is a Slovenian pastry. The Donald is a patsy. He’s been sent on a papal visit by his minders to him get out of Washington. Talk up US arms deals with the Saudis. Boost stocks. While he’s at it he can get peace in the Middle East. Above all, there is to be no news. It has to be repeated. No conferences. No reporters asking questions.
Sound like a plan? The Donald’s nine-day, five nation itinerary is put together mid-flight by 36 year-old Jared Kushner, Trump’s spoilt son-in-law, whose expertise in rack-renting and real estate speculation is an ideal fit for diplomacy. The president is confined to Kushner’s wooden script on teleprompter and the odd, informal, social awkwardness.
... the president’s short attention span ...
Kushner is Trump’s chief foreign policy adviser because Rex Tillerson goes on and on. But even his First Roadie cannot fix the president’s short attention span, his lack of curiosity, his aversion to detail or depth. The Donald can wing it in Israel where his attacks on Iran help distract from their settlements and it suits the Saudis to indulge their new champion. Yet even then the president goes gaga with Bibi. The trip is a minder’s conceptual and logistical nightmare.
Compounding his worries over how to manage a testy father-in-law who can’t read briefings, Kushner is accused Friday by Russian Ambassador Kislyak, of trying to set up a secret communication with The Kremlin, using Russian channels, at a meeting attended also by Michael Flynn, December 1 or 2, during Trump’s transition, a move that would shield them from monitoring by US intelligence. The White House declines to comment.
Kushner excuses himself several days early and returns to Washington, subdued but with no intention of standing down.
Nothing to see (or hear) here, National Security Adviser HR McMaster claims later, gamely evading the point.
“We have back-channel communications with a number of countries so, generally speaking about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner,” McMaster says. He doesn’t say that he approves of a private citizen, such as Jared Kushner was at the time setting up such a channel.
Kushner’s alleged push for a secret channel to Moscow is the most damning accusation yet in the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian links. And most difficult to explain. Why would Trump’s team need such a scheme? Why did Kushner leave his meetings with the Russians off his security clearance form? How can his lawyer claim this was an oversight?
Trump’s tour begins and ends with damaging allegations of impropriety. It does nothing to take any of the heat.
... alienates Nato leaders ...
In fact, Trump unplugged, The Tour, turns up the heat. The accidental president alienates Nato leaders by haranguing them for not paying their fair share. He’s incorrect and the rebuke is likely to backfire. Nato nations, may challenge US anti-Russian propaganda; the reality of Russian attack. Those facing austerity budgeting may question the benefit of maintaining an expensive commitment to a Cold War organisation already 25 years past its use-by date.
The president also is at odds with the G7. After three days of lobbying and despite Pope Francis’ prompt last Wednesday in presenting him with his Encyclical on Climate Change, he wimps out of giving the other six members a US endorsement of the Paris Climate Accords. Will the US be the first of the 195 signatories to withdraw? The suspense is not inspiring.
Trump’s excursion into Arab politics is also disturbing. As the Saudis collar him; claim him in a feudal way, the US publicly backs a nation whose Wahhabist fundamentalism helps breed terror, it deepens Shia- Sunni enmity by branding Iran as the real enemy of Mid East peace. For corporations in the war business, however, the trip is a YUGE success.
Lockheed, Raytheon (RTN), Boeing (BA) and General Dynamics (GD) all see their shares rocket Monday following news of the deal. Raytheon, Lockheed and General Dynamics reach record highs, as does defense company Northrop Grumman (NOC). Defence stocks have been soaring for the past year on hopes that US defence spending would continue to increase despite federal budget cuts elsewhere. It has risen $54 billion. Boeing stocks are up 18% this year.
Perhaps the pope was being broadly allusive in his joke about Trump’s gluttony. He would know that this most narcissistic, materialistic president cares only about himself. No-one would need to tell Francis that Trump worships only wealth. Luckily, thanks to his irony by-pass, the joke goes over The Donald’s head. A notorious fat-shamer himself, the newly badged Emir of Mar a Lago misses the dig or the souvenir family photo with Pope could have turned ugly.
Only last year, Trump called Francis “disgraceful” for questioning his faith. Of course, there’s a Church of Gordon Gecko.
Beyond his sly dig at Al Donald’s girth, doubtless, is Francis’ fatherly concern that the easily-fatigued, elderly US president keep his strength up on his first big OS gig. Those Saudi sword dances can take it out of a man. Not to mention the weight of the King Abdulaziz al Saud Collar the Saudis have just thrust upon him. What were his advisers thinking?
Is it dementia?
Francis has foresight. By Saturday, a bewildered Trump will lose the plot. Stand up. Wander off set during a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with Bibi Netanyahu. Is it dementia? Luckily, shocked staffers, rally sufficiently to turn the dazed and disoriented president around and head him back to Bibi for another photo op and yet another bizarro handshake.
What did happen in the Vatican? Did Trump tread on his holiness’ toes? The two leaders are not close given the Pope’s interest in climate change is at odds with the billionaire president’s desire to make more of it. Make money out of it.
Reopen coal mines. “Trump digs coal” was one of his winning campaign slogans. End the war on coal. Jobs. His Energy Independence Executive Order suspends more than half a dozen measures enacted by Obama and boosts fossil fuels.
Mad Matt Canavan and barking Barnaby Joyce have been taking notes for Adani, a local version of the same show.
Other things have inflamed the relationship. Francis’ warned voters last year that Trump is not a Christian.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said publicly during Trump’s lumbering run for office, pointedly, keeping the Church out of US politics.
... look like a mobster’s widow
Treading carefully to observe Vatican protocol, however, are Trump’s women. Their black, funereal outfits, headgear and stiff posture offer an Adams family album look to photographers, while Melania’s long-sleeved Dolce and Gabbana outfit a is almost certainly a nod to local industry, della moda Italiana and not an attempt to look like a mobster’s widow.
Is Trump’s presidency mortally wounded? Impeachment, experts warn, is a long and uncertain process. The White House is getting all lawyered up for a fight. Yet while reports of its death may be premature, this week Trump’s team certainly appears zombified. Trump’s trip, his first big foreign adventure has created more headaches than it cured.
Trump unplugged is a YUGE step away from peace in the Middle East. It reveals a White House in the grip of Neocon hawks who are cynical enough to present arms sales to the Saudis as some kind of peace initiative.
Above all Trump’s tour has cast doubt on US leadership in Europe and revealed the president to be a coward on climate change. In dramatically revealing his ineptitude to the world, his gig has diminished his credibility and his legitimacy.
Nothing good can come of it although it will accelerate his presidency’s demise.
*David Tyler (AKA Urban Wronski) was born in England, raised in New Zealand and an Australian resident since 1979. Urban Wronski grew up conflicted about his own national identity and continues to be deeply mistrustful of all nationalism, chauvinism, flags, politicians and everything else which divides and obscures our common humanity. He has always been enchanted by nature and by the extraordinary brilliance of ordinary men and women and the genius, the power and the poetry that is their vernacular. Wronski is now a fulltime freelance writer who lives with his partner and editor Shay and their chooks, near the Grampians in rural Victoria and he counts himself the luckiest man alive. A former teacher of all ages and stages, from Tertiary to Primary, for nearly forty years, he enjoyed contesting the corporatisation of schooling to follow his own natural instinct for undifferentiated affection, approval and compassion for the young.