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Outsiders vs. Insiders: International allies and competitors learn Trumpism transcends borders

It goes without saying, making real change is difficult. In the Washington DC swamp, change is a nearly impossible dream.

Unless you’re President Donald Trump, a relative newcomer to the seat of American politics who doesn’t care much for outdated political traditions, customs and niceties. Trump went to Europe to meet with NATO leaders Trump NATO(and Vladimir Putin) to try and shake the foundations, rattle the status quo and come away with commitments from “allies” to devote a bit more of their national treasures to protect themselves from an “enemy” that shows no imminent signs of threat.

Trump had barely hit the ground on European soil last week and back here at home members of his own party were already questioning his intentions and all-but undermining his mission.

Take soon-to-be-retired Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who didn’t take to Trump’s remarks on Germany. Alexander Bolton reported in The Hill, “Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), the most senior Republican in the Senate, called out President Trump on Wednesday for his harsh criticisms of NATO ally Germany. Hatch called Trump’s comments out of line and overly critical.

“’I don’t agree with that,’ Hatch said in reaction to Trump’s declaration that Germany is ‘totally controlled by Russia’ because it imports so much natural gas from Russia. Hatch called Germany one of the U.S.'s ‘strongest allies’ and praised Germans as ‘a very strong people.’

“Hatch also praised German Chancellor Angela Merkel and said she made a very good impression on him during a meeting last week in Berlin. ‘I have really the highest opinion of her and those who are with her,’ he said. ‘I think sometimes you can be a little too critical of the other counterparts. I don’t think we should be critical. She’s really good.’”

For those who surmised Hatch might be getting a little kooky in his final days under the capitol dome this is just further evidence of the demise of his credibility. No one claims every Republican senator needs to be in lock-step agreement with the Republican president of the United States, but who the heck is Hatch to criticize Trump for his foreign policy views – especially when the New Yorker is exactly right (note: Trump praised Germany later that day).

In his comments Hatch called Merkel “one of the great women leaders of this world [emphasis added].” So, it almost seems as though the Utah senator was engaging in a chivalrous defense of the female German leader, one whose enormous blunder of allowing over a million largely unvetted Middle East refugees into her country is literally changing the face of the continent.

Because of Merkel’s failed policies she’s feeling significant political pressure at home and with Trump making blunt but truthful comments about her tragic executive decisions, the heat will only burn hotter. As one of Europe’s wealthiest and most powerful countries, Germany deserves a big chunk of blame for its failure to keep up militarily in support of NATO. It’s only natural Trump would call them out publicly over imports of Russian natural gas – that’s an awful big bargaining chip when seeking to pacify a vital supplier (and potential enemy), right?

The truth is Hatch is characteristic of a line of thought that pervades the DC ruling class – namely, don’t say anything mean to “allies” regardless of how much truth is contained in the words. Yes, Germany (or West Germany) has been on our side since the conclusion of WWII, but that doesn’t mean things don’t change over time and they need to be called to account publicly. Who would question whether Trump has said the same thing to Merkel numerous times behind closed doors – if the needle isn’t being moved, what’s wrong with saying so?

Good for Trump. Recent surveys show about 90 percent of Republicans now have a favorable opinion of him – and his bluntness and willingness to say things other leaders have shrunk from is a big reason why conservatives like him so much. It shouldn’t be forgotten Trump ran for and won the presidency – Orrin Hatch was nary an afterthought in any of these political calculations.

Hatch isn’t even considered a GOP leader. Paul Ryan is, and he too took issue with Trump’s remarks on Germany and NATO. Scott Wong of The Hill reported, “Hours after President Trump attacked NATO allies in Belgium, Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday called the long-standing alliance ‘indispensable.’

“But the Wisconsin Republican added that he shared Trump’s concerns that NATO allies were not contributing their fair share on defense, and over Germany’s gas pipeline deal with Russia known as Nord Stream 2.

“’I subscribe to the view that we should not be criticizing our president while he’s overseas,’ Ryan began when asked about Trump’s harsh remarks that NATO allies are ‘delinquent’ in paying for defense. ‘NATO is indispensable. It is as important today as it ever has been,’ Ryan continued, noting that the House will hold a voice vote on a resolution later in the day expressing support for NATO allies.”

In other words, Ryan’s wasn’t exactly a sharp rebuke but even the appearance of contradicting the president – especially when you just said he shouldn’t be criticized when he’s overseas representing our country – is outside the lines. That’s fairly typical for Ryan who always seems mindful that the establishment is watching him. And why does it appear like he’s perpetually in fundraising mode?

To his credit Ryan did agree with Trump that NATO needs to bump up its defense spending to match the 2 percent level members agreed to. The United States spends almost twice that commitment every year and no one needs to be reminded we still have tens of thousands of U.S. boots on the ground on the old continent, sitting ducks should Vladimir Putin and the Russians go overboard and decide to use nukes in Europe. Is it likely? No; but never say never when you’re talking about tribes that have historically warred in perpetuity.

What’s so difficult about the concept of paying your fair share? And, what’s the problem with Trump saying so? Do you think Nancy Pelosi would dare to criticize Obama when he was hobnobbing with his NATO pals?

Obama never rocked the boat. If anything, his “I’ll have more leverage after the election” comment to the Russians shortly before the 2012 election proved he was an empty suit when asserting U.S. interests and he gave away the store whenever he felt like it. No wonder the Europeans loved him so much.

In contrast, they must now contend with a brash straight-talking lifelong businessman and master negotiator who understands where he wants to go and even more importantly, knows how to get there. Trump has met with just about everyone of international consequence in his decades of celebrity and real estate development so looking someone in the eye and telling the ugly truth comes naturally to him.

Europeans simply aren’t used to it. Kim Jong Un was probably surprised by it too. Kim’s name has slipped from the news a bit after his groundbreaking meeting with Trump last month, but there are signs the American president will be reviving the subject again soon.

Bridget Johnson of PJ Media reported last week, “South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported last week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brought two gifts when he met with North Korean officials in Pyongyang: a letter to Kim from Trump, and an Elton John CD with the song ‘Rocket Man’ signed by Trump…

“North Korea did not take kindly to the content of Pompeo's visit, which covered what the U.S. definition of denuclearization is and what would be needed for sanctions relief. ‘We had anticipated the U.S. side would come with a constructive idea, thinking we would take something in return,’ a foreign ministry official said in a statement. ‘The U.S. is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that [North Korea] would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset.’”

As would be expected the mainstream establishment media focused on the “Rocket Man” CD and neglected to speculate what Trump’s other “special gift” might be. Trump leans heavily on his sense of humor and ability to forge personal relationships in his negotiations. Perhaps Trump and Jong-un shared a chuckle about it during their hours of conversation during the summit.

It's doubtful Trump the negotiator would risk the success of this major foreign policy endeavor by overtly offending Kim. It may be a battle of egos but Jong-un realizes he’s not the one in position to make a boatload of demands. Jong-un certainly possesses leverage but the status quo on the Korean peninsula is not an impossible-to-fathom outcome. Should Trump and Kim fail to agree the U.S. – and the world – are no worse off than they were under Obama.

And Kim will have to keep eating his cheese surrounded by his people’s abject poverty.

It isn’t clear what China’s role is in all of this but Trump is in the midst of negotiations with them over tariffs and trade. The United States government’s new tariffs went into effect recently and Chinese leaders aren’t happy about it. Jacquelyn Thomsen of The Hill reported, “China on Wednesday said it would strike back against the U.S. after the Trump administration announced it would impose another 10 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports.

“Reuters reported that China’s commerce ministry called the new tariffs ‘completely unacceptable,’ adding that it was ‘shocked’ and would file a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

“China’s foreign ministry said the Trump administration’s actions were ‘typical bullying’ and promised retaliatory action against the U.S., according to the wire service. It’s unclear what that action could include.”

Thomsen’s report indicated China imports “significantly less” than $200 billion in U.S. goods so there isn’t much room to slap retaliatory tariffs. One couldn’t help but chuckle about a communist country like China complaining about the lack of fairness in international trade affairs. What are they going to do, declare an embargo of Chinese consumer goods into the United States?

Doing so would collapse their entire economy. If we stopped buying dumped Chinese products then who would pick up the slack? Similar to North Korea, China doesn’t have much recourse other than to cooperate on Trump’s trade demands or risk a lot of unhappy Chinese manufacturers with idle factories and merchantmen with empty ships at Chinese ports.

Let’s face it, consumer goods aren’t a commodity people have to have in order to live. We need oil for fuel and food to eat. But can you live without a new toaster if yours breaks down? Besides, it would never come to that – the toasters will still keep coming; they’ll just be more expensive until China comes to its senses and plays fair.

None of this is complicated, which makes the establishment’s bellyaching over tariffs all the more annoying. And it certainly isn’t permanent either. No “trade war” is sustainable on that side of the ocean. If you don’t believe it, look at history. When the American colonists imposed their own import ban prior on British goods prior to the Revolution, King George III and parliament blinked.

Trump will make China – and NATO – blink too. Conservative foreign policy expert Harry J. Kazianis wrote at The Hill, “Now is the time for the strategic shift Washington should have made years ago. All NATO members must begin to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. That alone should ensure that any Russian notions of rekindling its aggressive past die a quick death. That also should allow America to truly pivot to Asia and ensure China’s own aggressive desires also are checked...

“NATO, being led by Europe, can handle Russia if properly resourced — and America must handle China. Anything less only compromises both goals.”

Hooray for common sense. Down to the nitty gritty, Europe just won’t pony up the dough to defend itself. Trump senses the pulse of the American public is with him and will pressure NATO members to keep their promises. What’s wrong with doing so?

One of President Trump’s best attributes is his ability to shake off criticism and do what’s right for the American people. Establishmentarians from both sides of the aisle may not appreciate Trump’s style, but he gets results. It’s a lesson NATO allies – and our enemies – are relearning every day.

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