Is President Trump surrendering America’s moral high ground?

The following article by James Hohmann and Breanne Deppisch was posted on the Washington Post website January 26, 2017:

THE BIG IDEA: Not even a week into Donald Trump’s presidency, some liberal internationalists find themselves privately pining for George W. Bush.

Despite acts of brutality that were perpetrated on his watch, Bush always insisted publicly that the United States did not torture. He understood that copping to the enhanced interrogation techniques he had secretly approved could undercut our moral standing on the world stage, provide terrorists a potent recruiting tool and give our enemies an excuse to torture Americans.

Trump doesn’t think like that. “I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence,” the new president told ABC News in an interview that aired last night, “and I asked them the question, ‘Does it work? Does torture work?’ and the answer was, ‘Yes, absolutely.'”

Explaining why he wants to reconsider the use of waterboarding, Trump added: “We’re not playing on an even field. … As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”

Mike Pompeo was reportedly “blindsided” yesterday when he found out about the draft order to consider reopening black sites and resuming waterboarding. During his recent confirmation hearing, the new CIA director promised senators that he would “absolutely not” resume waterboarding.

Trump’s statement is also surprising because Jim Mattis, his new defense secretary, is an outspoken critic of the technique’s usefulness. “I’ve always found, give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I do better with that than I do with torture,” he has said.

John McCain, who was tortured by the communists in Vietnam and has as much moral standing on this issue as anyone, promised to hold firm:

— Yes, Bush invaded Iraq without sign-off from the United Nations Security Council. But he tried earnestly to get it. And he made a big deal about building a coalition of the willing.

Not only is Trump talking about “taking the oil” and eschewing multilateralism, but he is poised to propose a 40 percent reduction in voluntary U.S. support for the U.N. and other global bodies, according to a draft of a forthcoming order obtained by The Post. A separate order would limit U.S. participation in some treaties.

“Trump’s new U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, has pledged to put U.S. interests first and use the leverage of disproportionate U.S. funding of the body. But the draft order would go much further, and with an apparent goal of slashing U.S. participation across a swath of U.N. agencies and activities to which the Trump administration objects on fiscal or ideological grounds,” Juliet Eilperin and Anne Gearan report. “The draft order could reverse or roll back funding for … international peacekeeping missions and U.S. support for development work.”

The new team at the State Department is separately conducting a review of all foreign aid doled out during Barack Obama’s final months in office, including a controversial release of $220 million to Palestinians just hours before Trump assumed the presidency. The review involves dozens, if not hundreds, of foreign aid allocations, Carol Morello reports.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush bent over backwards to say that Muslims were not the enemy. U.S. generals relentlessly made the case that we need Muslim allies to battle terrorism. Trump neither thinks nor talks this way.

The new White House says it plans to follow through on the president’s promise to begin “extreme vetting” of would-be immigrants. A draft executive order, which Trump could sign today or tomorrow, would block entry to the United States for 30 days for anyone from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It would also bar entry for all refugees for 120 days and for those from Syria indefinitely. “While all are Muslim-majority countries, the list does not include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and numerous other Muslim-majority countries,” Abigail Hauslohner and Karen DeYoung report.

Trump’s move, while stopping short of a full Muslim ban (which would not survive a constitutional challenge in court), would nonetheless have been outside of mainstream Republican thought until very recently. As Mike Pence tweeted just 13 months ago:

Many nonpartisan experts say Trump’s approach will weaken U.S. security. (One example is here.)

Trump scoffs when asked whether his new immigration policies will stoke anger in the Muslim world and motivate Islamic State terrorists. “Anger? There’s plenty of anger right now. How can you have more?” Trump asked interviewer David Muir last night. “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What? You think this is gonna cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place!”

“A blanket ban would compromise this nation’s long-standing position as a sanctuary for desperate and innocent people,” the Post’s independent Editorial Board argues this morning. “As a backdoor way for Mr. Trump to partially make good on his proposed Muslim ban, it also would be an affront to this country’s status as an example of religious tolerance.”

— Bush made the promotion of democracy a central aim of U.S. foreign policy. Trump explicitly rejects this doctrine.

“It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” the new president said during his inaugural address last Friday. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.”

Bush, during his second inaugural, declared: “It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

Irony alert: Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the start of the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt — “a fleeting moment where it looked as though the Muslim world was tilting toward Western values,” Annie Linskey notes on the front page of the Boston Globe.

— Bush had warm relations with Mexico. His first foreign trip, less than a month after taking office, was to San Cristobal for a bilateral sit-down with Vicente Fox. One of 43’s deepest regrets remains his failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

Trump is now publicly feuding with the president of Mexico over who will pay for the border wall.

Enrique Peña Nieto reiterated last night that his country will never pony up, under any circumstance. In a video released last night, Peña Nieto said Mexico “offers but also demands respect.” And said that the 50 Mexican consulates across the U.S. will “turn into places to defend rights of Mexicans. Where a Mexican needs legal help, they will be there.”

The Mexican president is scheduled to come to the White House next week for a bilateral meeting, but he’s now under heavy domestic political pressure to cancel the summit. And this morning Trump said, if Mexico won’t pay, maybe he shouldn’t come:

— If you care about how the U.S. is perceived overseas, this morning’s clips are brutal. Here are three representative examples:

— In the Netherlands, a satirist created a fake tourism video to “introduce” Trump to their country using his own style of bombastic language. “It’s gonna be a great video,” the host promises, before flashing shots of the bucolic countryside. On offer is a large bridge, constructed to keep out the “water from Mexico” (the ocean), as well as a miniature town where the “squares are so small, you don’t need people to fill them” (a jab at his inauguration crowd size). The video ends with a semi-serious plea not to “screw NATO,” and asks, “If you have to keep America first, could you keep the Netherlands second?” Amanda Erickson reports that it’s gone viral. Watch it here:


— Other western countries are looking to fill the vacuum being created by America’s turn inward. The Dutch government just announced that it wants to help set up an international abortion fund to offset the money that NGOs are going to lose because of Trump reinstating the Mexico City policy. The Dutch development ministry says as many as 20 other nations have indicated that they might support the country’s effort, per Rick Noack.
— Outside of Europe, an untold number of our fellow humans – living under despots and longing for self-rule – yearn for the kind of American leadership that Trump feels is too burdensome. Bana al-Abed, the 7-year-old Syrian girl who used her widely-followed Twitter account to chronicle her life in war-torn Aleppo and who has been called the “Anne Frank” of our era, wrote an open letter to President Trump begging him to save her friends. “Can you please save the children and people of Syria?” she writes. “You must do something for the children of Syria because they are like your children and deserve peace like you.” (Read more on the letter here.)
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