Australia and Europe Should Rethink Their Relationship With the US

“Free trade means fair trade.”

— EU Council President Donald Tusk

“If trade stops, war starts.”

— Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba

When Zimbabwe’s President, the psychotic Mugabe, criticized his country’s judges last year for daring to permit anti-government protests to take place (in a familiar-sounding phrase he said they “paid reckless disregard to the peace of this country”) there wasn’t much tut-tutting in the Western media, and the New York Times, that bastion of establishment morality, barely mentioned it.

It is not difficult to imagine the Western media’s frenzy if President Putin referred to judges of a Russian Court in such a contemptuous manner.  They would have a wonderful time denouncing him with much high-principled pomposity and cause the world to be shocked — shocked — by such appalling behavior. Selectivity can be dangerous, but it seems that the media has woken up to the sound of alarm bells in its own democratic backyard.

Reports in US and international media indicate that the President of the United States hit a new low in spiteful animosity when he tweeted about Federal Judge James Robart that “the opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

The policies of Trump America are confrontational.  Unlike Judge Robart, who said during his confirmation hearing that he would treat people with “dignity and respect,” his President treats those with whom he disagrees with scorn and contempt, and his increasingly capricious and inconsistent behavior is causing concern. For example, earlier indications that he would speedily engage in dialogue with President Putin have been negated by several of his senior appointees, including his ambassador to the UN who “offered a strong condemnation of Russia in her first appearance at the UN Security Council,” saying, among other things, that “the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”

Nobody knows which way The Donald is going to bounce next.

Since the tragi-comic Inauguration Day on 20 January it was mildly amusing to read Trump’s bizarre tweets illustrating his vulgarity and insensitivity — until it was reported on February 2 that he had been offensive to the Prime Minister of Australia a few days before.  As an Anglo-Australian I consider Trump’s insolence repugnant, and can now begin to understand a little of what Mexicans are thinking.

Prime Minister Turnbull of Australia is a man of many parts, having been a brilliant scholar, a lawyer of marked competence, and a most successful businessman. Unlike Trump, he did not inherit wealth, but achieved riches through his own ability, and he leaves Trump at the starting gate where intellect, character and principle are concerned.

He tried to play down the widely-publicized derision displayed by Trump, who delights in abusing and bullying anyone he considers can be intimidated, but although Turnbull said he wasn’t “going to comment on a conversation between myself and the President” it is obvious that he and his country have been insulted.

Mr Turnbull should reassess where Australia stands with Trump America and rethink relations, because Trump couldn’t care less about old, long-trusted allies if they might adversely affect his “America First” policy, especially as 61 percent of Americans agree wholeheartedly with his declared intention to ‘buy American and hire American.’

The US-Australia Free Trade Agreement came into force in 2005 and in 2016 the US exported goods worth 20 billion US dollars to Australia while some 9 billions’ worth went the other way.  Both figures are nothing compared to Australia’s trade with China and the EU, with its exports being 75 and 16 billion respectively, and imports at 47 and 37.  The message is that if Trump’s America First policy goes against Australia, there wouldn’t be much of a problem Down Under, because expansion in its trade with the Asia-Pacific region and the EU would benefit everyone but Trump, and that’s an attractive thought.

On the other side of the globe from Australia there is another Donald, the EU Council’s Polish President Donald Tusk, who is described as being quiet, unassuming and firm, and he’s another clever fellow, in spite of being on the paranoid side about Russia.  He is also “politically ruthless and pragmatic,” and has been forthright in reacting to Trump’s comments about the EU.

Trump was less than supportive of the European Union before his election,  and was especially critical of the EU’s attempts to deal decently with the flood of refugees flowing mainly from countries bombed, invaded or otherwise impacted by Washington’s covert and open military meddling.  In an interview with The Times of London he said that “the EU is going to break up [after Britain leaves — the ‘Brexit’]  . . . you watch : other countries will follow.”

Just before he was sworn in he continued to encourage collapse of the EU, declaring that Brexit was “a great thing’ because ‘people, countries, want their own identity, and the UK wanted its own identity . . . I believe others will leave.”  So yet another crassly unconstructive and most unsettling message was sent to the world, and The Donald forgot it and went off to play with his next bag of toys.

He may think that his casual insults and international fidgeting with things he doesn’t understand will be disregarded as just more erratic Trumpisms, but this is not so.  No matter how much ignorance and inconsistency are evident in his statements, they have got to receive attention because — amazingly — they may be transformed into US national policy, with unpredictable but almost certainly dire international consequences.

So now is the time for international reset, as suggested by Mr Tusk before the EU leaders’ meeting in Malta in early February.  He told his fellow Europeans that “in a world full of tension and confrontation, what is needed is courage, determination and political solidarity” in Europe and regretted that “the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy.”

The way ahead will not be easy, said Donald of Europe,  but the opportunity should be taken to “use the change in the trade strategy of the US to the EU’s advantage by intensifying our talks with interested partners, while defending our interests at the same time.”

EU nations would be wise to follow the advice of Donald Tusk when resetting their joint political and economic path in the light of the erratic fandangos being performed across the Atlantic. As he observed sagaciously: “free trade means fair trade.”

The EU should pursue mutually beneficial trade deals with Asia-Pacific countries, notably China, and especially Australia.  And it should also reflect on the many advantages that would accrue from trade with Russia, while bearing in mind the wise words of the CEO of Alibaba, Jack Ma, in Australia on February 4 that “if trade stops, war starts.”

Trump doesn’t want any trade agreements that don’t put America First.  His slogan of “buy American and hire American” combined with crapulous bullying might sound good to some at home, but it’s the downward path to even more international confrontation.  Australia, Europe, Russia and China should avoid that by getting together, because there is no better way to establishing and maintaining peace and prosperity than pursuit of mutually beneficial trade.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.