With friends like us ...Trump presidency strains alliances

By Harlan Ullman, UPI Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist  |  June 11, 2018 at 6:00 AM
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June 11 (UPI) -- Under a Trump presidency, is the United States any longer a rational state? The world must wonder. How can the current leader of the "free world" favor dictators over friends and abrogate over seven decades of rule of law and international order the United States largely created?

Supporters of the president will assert that Donald Trump is a disruptive and unconventional chief executive who does not need much help in governing. He is "cleaning the Washington swamp" polluted by a broken and often corrupt government and a far left-wing Democratic Party. With tax cuts and regulatory reform, he has jump-started the economy on its way to record growth.

He saved the nation from the "worst" deals ever negotiated, rejecting the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accord, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran. He is taking on the decidedly unfair trade advantages of China and the European Union by imposing tariffs and seeks to renegotiate NAFTA. Perhaps on the seventh day he can rest.

Dismissing the six other members of the G-7 who met in Quebec last week, Trump left a day early for the summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, the president's new best friend. If the summit goes well, Kim may be granted a White House visit, and who knows, possibly a state dinner and a seat at the huge military parade scheduled for November. The same cannot be said for the six other members of the G-7.

One of the better-known World War II movies was titled One of Our Aircraft Is Missing. Today, it is clear that "one of our Congresses is also missing." Tensions and disputes between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were purposely baked into the Constitution under a system of divided government and checks and balances. And it was no accident that Article I specified the duties of the legislature, not the presidency, who was meant to execute the laws of the land passed by Congress.

But for divided government to work, Congress needed to be an active player. To be generous, Congress, or at least the Republicans, are passive. More harshly, most are door mats the president easily walks over. And the Democrats are hardly better with no clear message other than ABT --Anything But Trump.

Whether in foreign or economic policy, the White House has assumed much of Congress' Article I Section 8 authorities. It is Congress' sole responsibility to "regulate commerce" with foreign nations. True, a series of laws have extended presidential trade authority. Congress also has the sole authority to declare war. While that does not apply to starting trade wars necessarily, perhaps it should. Aside from outgoing Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's draft amendment to limit presidential trade power in the National Defense Authorization Bill that the president can veto, Congress is still missing in action.

To extend the aircraft analogy, it is interesting to see how much Trump is flying solo. He seems oblivious to advice. He is his own expert. He prefers governing by tweet, pontificating on whatever motivates him at the time from granting pardons to canceling visits of Super Bowl champions for reasons that simply were wrong. And he gets away with this.

Because of public outrage with a broken government, Trump's popularity has grown despite or perhaps because of his unconventional and idiosyncratic approach to the conduct of his office. To rile his G-6 colleagues further, he suggested to, or teased, reporters with the possibility of returning Russia to the G-8 -- a decision that will be highly unpopular with the other heads of government. Meanwhile, Republicans on the Hill remain deferential to whatever actions the president may take.

Regarding North Korea, several senators have made the case that any agreement must be framed as a treaty requiring Senate approval. Whether this will be a line in the sand or another failed opportunity to exercise a check and balance seems destined for the latter outcome. Of course, the November elections might produce a Democratic victory. But whether that will or will not happen or make a difference is quite speculative.

To many observers, today's situation resembles the cynical assessment in Berlin just prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 -- critical but fully not serious. With friends like us, who needs enemies.

Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is currently senior adviser at Washington, D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.

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