Trump alienates allies on his own calling for defence boost

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Donald Trump’s slash-and-burn geopolitics stokes the sort of chaos that drives the defence spending he has called for.

By Sheila Copps

First published in The Hill Times on July 16, 2018.

OTTAWA—Politics is about making choices. Every country has a sovereign right to make choices in the best interest of its people.

Politicians in the United States of America do not support public health care. Even the watered-down version of so-called Obamacare got short shrift from the Trump administration.

Many Americans erroneously believe that government-funded universal access is a communist concept and that Medicare results in inferior treatment for all. Statistical evidence to the contrary does not matter.

Citizens in many other western countries, including Canada, might prefer investment in heath care to military spending. That is certainly not a viewpoint shared by the United States. Americans have historically and consistently made defence spending a top priority. That position also just happens to align with a domestic jobs agenda dependent on the arms race.

According to U.S. President Donald Trump, the United States just approved the largest defence budget in the country’s history at $716-billion. That is more than double Canada’s total federal budget.

Americans reap tremendous economic benefits from defence spending. At one point during his impromptu NATO press conference, Trump sounded more like a pitchman than a president. After stating he intended to help others meet defence targets by assisting indirectly in equipment purchases, he bragged “The United States makes the best everything. Our (military) equipment is so much better than anyone else’s equipment … everybody wants to buy our equipment.”

While Trump claimed victory, Canada and other countries diplomatically reiterated their existing commitments to additional defence financing.

The two per cent benchmark by 2024 was a target set four years ago. Only days ago, the American president was demanding that all NATO countries double that commitment to four per cent. He had no takers.

While Trump pussyfoots with Russia, he derides America’s best allies. After the G7 attack on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, last week Trump added Germany and the United Kingdom to the growing list of countries on the receiving end of a Trump dump. So why take his advice on where Canadian public expenditures must be made?

The two per cent defence target for NATO mirrors another two per cent promise made by many of the same countries.

That is the amount of money every country should devote to foreign aid.

Assistance to developing countries is one way of making the world a safer place, without the use of military might. But soft power also includes a vision that embraces the world.

Instead, Trump launched an anti-immigrant rant at his presser, crediting his own electoral victory and that of the Brexiters to an anti-immigration platform. Trump is the son of an immigrant and married to an immigrant. But that reality counted for nothing as he railed on about immigration “taking over Europe.” I assume he was referring to non-white migrants.

Trump’s rant was eerily Aryan. It was not surprising, given one of his most high-profile and controversial decisions was to snatch children from their parents’ arms as part of a border arrest strategy.

Trump is broadly supported by hate groups in his own country. He has also complained in an Oval Office meeting about receiving refugees from “shithole countries” and claimed that all Haitians have aids and Mexicans are criminals and rapists.

Stoking immigration fear and fomenting racial and religious tensions in the United States and around the world will simply encourage hate and division. Trump’s leadership has done more to damage global stability than the defence spending tallies of all other NATO partners.

Iran is erupting, America is currently in a trade war with the East and the West, and Trump’s position on the illegal annexation of Crimea is still a question mark. The rest of NATO is strong and united on Russia.

While the president decries Russian interference, he seems more than happy to cozy up to “competitor” President Vladimir Putin.

On the Canadian side, Trudeau underscored the increase in spending and characterized it as a result of the Wales Declaration, where all NATO partners agreed to move toward a two per cent of GDP defence investment by 2024.

Canada has committed to a 70 per cent defence spending hike over the next 10 years. Non-American NATO partners have already increased by $87-billion with more to come.

If Trump continues his slash and burn approach to geopolitics, the resulting chaos may stoke the need for more defence spending.

Maybe that is the plan of this self- proclaimed “stable genius.”

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.