Facing a rocky start to his unexpected term as president, Donald Trump has taken to lashing out at his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the man’s liberal administration. Early this month, Trump went on a Twitter tirade accusing Obama of having wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower prior to the November 2016 presidential election. When pressed to produce any evidence of such a bold claim, Trump’s team came up with nothing.
But allegations of Obama malingering continued, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggesting that a “deep state” of civil service leaders loyal to the previous president was bent on wrecking Trump’s plans. The belief in a “shadow government” of entrenched officials fits with the controversial narratives of the alt-right, which depict conservatives as victims of a nanny state obsessed with political correctness and redistribution of wealth. Democrats themselves are also being blamed, this time pre-emptively for the possible failure of Republicans’ Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.
All of this reveals a simple Trump strategy: Cast blame widely, and let the accused scramble to defend their innocence. In other words, the best defense is a good offense. Levy an accusation, and let your opponent expend all of his or her energy protesting.
If you think about it, playing the blame game is surprisingly effective. Even if you are able to generate no evidence to back up your claims, as Trump has failed to do, it is probable that your opponents can also offer up little concrete evidence of their innocence. The absence of evidence works against both sides. If a situation simply did not happen, the accused may struggle for words. The accuser, when and if he receives pushback, can hold up his palms and claim that everyone is taking things too seriously.
Donald Trump, when receiving little love from fellow Republicans over the Obama accusations, quickly had his minions explain that he was speaking more “broadly” about “surveillance.” Basically, Obama may not have tapped his phones right before the election… but could have done something at some time. Now the left has to try to refute a fuzzy charge that is amazingly ambiguous and open-ended, which is a virtually impossible task.
So far, Team Trump has been winning at this game of feints and jabs by putting Dems on defense. The president can seize on an obscure right-wing article, lobby accusations of unfair play by liberals or the “liberal media,” and then play dumb and defiant when the truth rolls in. To avoid the commander-in-chief being universally pilloried as an outright liar, the president’s team has taken to insisting that the accusations are what Trump believes. As in, it’s not a lie if the teller believes it to be true.
But has Trump finally gone too far?It is one thing to blast Obama and the Democrats, but accusing foreign nations of foul play may be one area where even Trump dares not tread. After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer alleged that Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) wiretapped Trump’s phones, repeating an unsubstantiated claim from Fox News, the U.S. government was forced to issue a formal apology to the United Kingdom. It turns out that the Brits were not amused by Team Trump’s reckless tactic of shooting accusation from the hip.
When it comes to international diplomacy, Donald Trump has just learned a difficult lesson: Most nations do not take kindly to bombastic buffoonery. With Trump already viewed with trepidation by most Western allies, nobody is going to afford the outspoken billionaire an inch of leeway. While Americans may take much of Trump’s bluster with a grain of salt, as his administration contends they should do, foreigners are likely to be far more alarmed.
Having lived under blustering dictators during parts of the 20th century, it makes sense that many Europeans, particularly, are wary of Donald Trump. Americans, who have lived under the [relatively] comforting blanket of democracy since the Revolutionary War, may see little reason to worry about Trump’s words. We naturally assume that a dictator could not arise here. So when Trump goes off the cuff and accuses a foreign nation of breaking the law, we simply roll our eyes. The foreign recipient of blame, however, is unlikely to be so accepting.
Britain had every right to demand a quick apology, and hopefully delivered a lecture about why Trump should choose his words more carefully. When it comes to international diplomacy, the U.S. needs Britain. They were by our side in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are backing our calls in Syria as well. They tie us to Europe by encouraging less militaristic states like France, Italy, and Germany to follow their lead.
If Britain decides to stop being America’s international bestie, you can bet that most of our other NATO allies will also be less willing to play wingman. Even Canada and Australia, which maintain close socio-cultural ties to the UK, could cool their relations with Washington. Donald Trump may fancy America a global superpower that can go it alone, but the truth is that we seriously benefit from having allies in most foreign conflicts.
In fact, the last foreign conflict where we had little allied assistance, the Vietnam War, was a decided disaster for the United States. Though few would claim that Iraq has gone much better, the presence of allies has given us some diplomatic cover. Frankly, things always look better when you go in as part of a team rather than as a lone ranger. You can claim that you are acting in the interest of a multinational coalition, rather than self-interest.
The British stiff upper lip has finally trumped the Donald, and hopefully he has learned a thing or two. Alliances, like friendships, must be nurtured- and can be broken by boorish behavior. Trump must not take our allies for granted, especially when he has vowed to quickly defeat ISIS. He will need such allies to make the case to the world that he is acting in the interest of international security- not as a rogue cowboy.