Three Things We Learned on Trump’s Foreign Trip

Donald Trump returned to the White House from nine days abroad and began tweeting about “fake news” and other random things today. Americans shouldn’t let the President’s ravings distract us from three very important things we learned last week. The man most Americans rejected on Election Day spent the week upsetting decades of U.S. foreign policy while the Russian connection investigators got closer to the Oval Office.

First, in Saudi Arabia the President stood in front of monarchs, coup leaders and other anti-democratic chieftans to announce the United States was putting away the keys to the democracy building business.

As the Atlantic pointed out, he comforted autocrats around the world with this sentence:

“We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be.”

The United States should be modest in its international relations. Invading countries to impose our will is destructive for everybody, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an interest in having more democracies on the planet, protecting minorities, empowering women and preserving the environment.

We should approach democracy building with humility, looking to empower grassroots leaders to pursue the form of participatory government they deem best. Elections are not the sum total of democracy. People need a broad-based stake in the economy, a free press, and non-governmental groups to organize for their own interests. Traveling the world throughout the 2000's, meeting with international organizations, business leaders and local activists I was impressed by the footprint of Republican political leaders who had positioned themselves as advocates of pro-democracy forces. Democrats do it too, but democracy-building was really the GOP’s jam. Trump is turning his back on a solid tradition among Democratic and Republican internationalists.

Number two. After Saudi Arabia the President went to the NATO meeting in Brussels where he thumbed his nose at our allies. He refused to verbally agree to abide by Article 5 of the NATO charter that assures members that an attack on one will be treated like an attack on all. His aides insisted he was on board, despite the omission, but Trump is notorious for changing his mind about things he’s said and gives no damns about hewing to lines uttered by his aides. Instead he publicly needled them to pay their defense tabs. Talking about money, that’s Trump’s jam.

Trump undermined the NATO alliance and turned away from democracy building. Who else might want that same posture from the United States?

Who else…

Hmmm…

Oh wait, I know! Vladimir Putin! China too.

Both Russia and China pursue a foreign policy that is, let’s call it, “values-limited.” They prefer to engage in relationships that have pretty immediate benefits for the parties involved, while turning away from most human rights problems.

As for NATO, Putin has already shown the world he is willing to snatch back former Soviet territory by seizing Crimea in 2014. Weakening the NATO tripwire in Eastern Europe could send exactly the wrong signal to the Kremlin.

Speaking of sending signals to the Kremlin brings us to the third thing we learned last week. According to the Washington Post, federal investigators are looking into the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner apparently had a conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition about setting up a private communication channel with Moscow using Russian resources to evade the prying eyes of the U.S. government.

Seriously. The Feds think that happened.

This is all incredibly important. We can’t get distracted by the little Twitter birdies.

President Trump may or may not be a Russian tool. Either way it would be great if he stopped acting like one.

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