Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Donald Doesn't Do Denmark

When Harry Truman suggested that the United States might purchase Greenland, no one said much of anything. When Donald Trump mused about the possibility, a major diplomatic firestorm erupted. 

To Trump’s detractors, it was the worst thing he had done since the last worst thing he had done. Were it not for the fact that the Trump-hating media pounces on everything that Trump does, covering it with rhetorical hyperbole, and declares it a clear sign that the world is coming to an end, we would be inclined to take what they say seriously. Alas, we have gone well beyond that point.

Anyway, it’s all about Denmark, proud possessor of Greenland. And about Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. You see, when Frederiksen dismissed the Trump idea as “absurd” our president took serious offense. He cancelled a planned trip to Denmark, on the grounds that she had derided and disrespected, not just him, but the United States itself.

While Denmark has its pride, all nations do, that wonderful nation has been getting something of a free ride… as have many other NATO countries. In principle all NATO countries are supposed to contribute to their common defense, defense which is largely the province of the United States. Like the majority of NATO countries Denmark is not paying its allotted share of its defense. Then again, so is Germany. These countries are freeloading on the American military. Denmark, for one, is small and weak. There is no chance whatever that the Danish armed forces could defend it against a serious attack.

It resembles an injustice. It has persisted for decades. Trump is the first American president to get serious about Europeans' contributing to their own defense. For which he has been widely denounced as a vulgar lout.

Now, a nation like little Denmark, that depends almost entirely on America for its defense cannot bring itself, in the name of its prime minister, to speak respectfully of the American president. To be fair, so many people, within and without the United States, speak disrespectfully of Donald Trump… that it must have seemed to be perfectly natural.

Of course, this brings to the fore, yet again America’s sometime European allies. America’s intellectuals often remark that President Trump has alienated America’s Western European allies. I have called them the weak sisters of Western Europe, led by Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Federika Mogherini. Since Great Britain has replaced May with the decidedly strong Boris Johnson, we are happy to add Mette Frederiksen to the list. And we can also add Iceland’s prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, who has courageously chosen to snub Vice President Pence when he next visits her country. You see cannot be present because she had another engagement.

Anyway, no one seems to ask whether these sometime allies are acting like allies. After all, Germany is doing everything in its power to prop up the Iranian terrorist regime. Chancellor Merkel refuses to join the United States in sanctioning Iran, because she would rather deal with a President Obama. But, if the weak sisters of Western Europe are aligning themselves with Iran, why is it America’s fault that they are not acting like allies. If they want to be treated like allies, they should act like allies.

As for the reasoning behind Trump’s idea, it is cogent. It is so cogent that the New York Times, in an editorial denouncing Trump, made the case for acquiring Greenland. And added that it was hardly unprecedented:

To be fair to the president, acquiring Greenland would be nice for the United States. The island sits atop a trove of rare-earth metals, a category whose mining and export is increasingly dominated by China. It also has national security importance to the United States, which maintains its northernmost missile-warning, space surveillance and deepwater seaport at the Thule Air Base on Greenland’s northwestern coast. China has tried repeatedly to get a foothold on the island, but has been blocked so far by Denmark.

Mr. Trump is not the first American president to seek to buy Greenland; Harry Truman tried and failed in 1946. And earlier presidents did acquire quite a bit of other territories through purchases: Thomas Jefferson concluded the Louisiana Purchasewith France in 1803; Andrew Johnson bought Alaska in 1867; and Woodrow Wilson picked up the Danish West Indies, now the United States Virgin Islands, from Denmark in 1917.

For the record, and to sustain the Times here, rare earth minerals, which are necessary for all manner of technological manufacturing, are now almost entirely under the control of China. If China shuts down the market for these minerals, we are in serious trouble.

Anyway, Trump’s reasons-- expressed clumsily, as usual-- had it that the Danish prime minister had dissed the president of the United States. She had disrespected him and, by extension, the nation he represented. By Trump’s reasoning, the Obama administration did not care when foreign nations, like Russia or Iran, disrespected him or his nation. But he does.

We recall that the Obama administration expressed gratitude to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard when it captured a group of American sailors in the Persian Gulf in January, 2016… and forced them to pose in a posture of surrender. Since the Iranians returned the sailors in less than a day, and since Obama was trying to sell his nuclear deal, no one much cared about the humiliation. In effect, that, in itself, tells us a great deal about the state of American national pride.

We would note, in passing that the last time President Obama traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the kingdom sent the mayor of Riyadh to welcome him at the airport. And that the last time Obama traveled to China, the local airport authorities refused to roll out a ramp for him to debark. And we would also add that Russia did not show respect for Obama when it annexed Crimea. And so on. These are gestures of great disrespect. No one much cared.

But, was Trump right about his larger point? Was he right to say that the prime minister of Denmark had dismissed him? And was he right to believe that such a disparaging and disrespectful remark had to be met with a proportional response… lest America lose face in the world? Was Trump throwing a petulant fit, as many in the media would have it, or was he defending national pride? They are not the same.

Now, it becomes a mental health issue of sorts. If the president of the United States allows himself to be humiliated by a small time nation that depends on the U.S. for its defense, does that diminish the pride of all Americans? If it does, then diminished pride will translate into depression and anger. It’s what happens when people feel demoralized. Even mental health professionals rarely consider that the conduct of a president, the way he defends national pride with his personal behavior produces certain emotional effects on the populace.

On the other hand, when an American president accepts a diminished role on the world status hierarchy, other nations feel that their pride has been enhanced. Thus, the nations of Western Europe preferred President Obama to President Trump.

In the case of the prime minister of Denmark Trump was saying that she owed him, not just respect, but some manner of deference. She chose her words incautiously and made a mistake. Naturally, no one in Denmark thinks so. Everyone believes that the fault lies in President Trump.

You will note that Trump, himself, when speaking of or about foreign leaders, even foreign adversaries, most often shows them considerable respect. Naturally, some of his detractors criticize him for doing so, but experts in the art of negotiation have remarked that his is the correct approach. So long as he does not bow to the King of Saudi Arabia, as Barack Obama once did.

Of course, Trump was saying that the United States deserved a measure of deference on the world stage… especially from countries that rely on us for their national defense. Those who despise him believed that he had behaved disrespectfully to the Danish prime minister. 

On the other side of this issue, if Trump wants to defend America’s national pride, he ought to begin acting with better decorum. Making statements that appear to have been tossed off without reflection does not promote national pride.

So, while I believe that Trump was correct to call out the Danish prime minister for her disrespect, and even to express frustration about the fact that the weak sisters of Western Europe have been working to undermine American policy in Iran, he would have done better than to toss off his remarks via tweet. It would have been, dare I say, more dignified.


Freddo said...

The entire affair is somewhat childish. Buying and selling territories may have been vogue in 1917 but in these post-colonial times not so much. Being a social democrat the Danish prime minster is of course likely to interpret Trumps tweet with a tin ear as a mix of "Let us stripmine that region for you" and "Puerto Rico style mismanagement would be an improvement for Greenland".
Of course the prime minister couldn't let it slide gracefully, but had to show of the superior diplomatic touch on which Europeans pride themselves by being rude about it in return.
At which point Trump may have decided "I don't need this, no multi billion contracts to sign, no important diplomatic stakes, so I'm not going to travel there, wasting my time to add prestige to some pissant politician".

Looking at the larger picture, with most of Western Europe's cultural elites being firmly on the left since the 1970s it has been fashionable to blame America for everything. Good for Trump for calling them out on it.

Sam L. said...

My comment to your 7:40 post applies here, too.