SLOAN | Is the U.S. losing focus on the world stage?

Author: Kelly Sloan - June 29, 2018 - Updated: June 17, 2018

Kelly Sloan

President Trump’s approach to foreign affairs has been blunt, to say the least, and certainly has not conformed with what has come to be accepted as de rigueur diplomatic behavior. But, while bearing the president’s distinct mark, the approach is not entirely unprecedented, and has even spawned some considerable successes, mostly centered around reversing mistakes of the previous administration and reasserting American strength. But the mutual temper tantrums displayed by the playboys-in chief of the U.S. and Canada at the end of the G-7 meeting in Quebec – on the eve of the North Korea summit – might indicate an unwillingness on Trump’s part to keep his eye on the important ball.

Say what you will of Trump’s diplomatic approach, it is hard to deny that there have been some foreign policy victories in the last two years, following eight years of lead-from-behind directionless bumbling. This has manifested itself in ways major and minor, including the battlefield defeat of ISIS, the newfound willingness of NATO allies to foot larger chunks of the alliance’s defense bill, and, of course, bringing North Korea’s Kim Jung Un to the negotiating table.

A note of caution, however, is due…

The president needs to keep in mind who America’s actual adversaries are. After a week of offering olive branches to communist North Korea and suggesting, ludicrously, that Russia ought to be invited back to the G-7 table while Russian tanks still occupy Crimea, Trump decided to pick a fight with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over, of all things, tariffs.

Now, I certainly have no sympathy for Trudeau, the spawn of probably the worst prime minister ever to reside at 24 Sussex Drive – Canada in some ways has still never quite recovered from the economic damage the elder Trudeau wrought – and whose own clownish reign has been punctuated by one ridiculous misstep after another. And Mr. Trump’s accusations were neither inaccurate nor entirely unjustified; Canada does not have much of a leg to stand on if they want to criticize protectionist trade practices – the centrally supply-managed Canadian dairy industry, for instance, which sports government-set quotas, price controls, and tariffs as high as 314 percent, is indefensible, and only one example of egregious protectionist policies in Canada.

Nevertheless, these are simply ongoing trade issues, fairly minor on the grand scale of international relations, and probably did not merit the highly public hysteria that they attracted. Trump trade advisor Peter Navarro – himself an unrepentant protectionist – seemed positively delirious when he said over the weekend that there was a “special place in hell” for Trudeau for announcing retaliatory tariffs. There may be, but if there is it will most likely not be for engaging in tit-for-tat trade policies; and at any rate, escalating the war of words to the eschatological plane probably didn’t serve anyone’s best interests.

Now, bear in mind that all of this took place just before Trump headed off to engage directly with North Korea’s reclusive and brutal dictator. The U.S. arguably has far deeper and more perilous differences with the nuclear armed communist rogue state than with Canada’s milk mafia.

Underneath all of this is the gravitational pull of China. It is China, after all, who ultimately pulls North Korea’s strings, and keeps the Pyongyang regime propped up economically, since the two states are largely ideologically aligned, and the PRC has no desire to have another capitalist democracy on its border. Trade issues between China and the U.S. dwarf those between the U.S. and any of her allies combined. China is America’s predominant geopolitical adversary, and poses a growing threat to U.S. interests and allies in the Pacific. This is the problem on which the president’s diplomatic energy ought to be focused.

Trump is fully within his rights to pursue, aggressively even, open, fair, and free trade with all nations, friend or otherwise; and while it would be preferable that he would do so without the taint of domestic protectionism contaminating the discussion, countries like Canada do need to be taken to task for their trade malpractice. Perhaps his bombastic approach will even wrench a concession or two from some of our allies.

But when the leader of the free world is in the mood to level the nation’s rhetorical cannon, I would rather it be aimed at a country which has a history of sending tanks to crush protestors, and its citizens to the gulag, rather than at a merely annoying fool to the north whose worst transgression is grievous distortion of the milk market.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.