The world appears in a tizzy over President Donald Trump’s undiplomatic reference to certain countries as expletive-holes. It was undiplomatic, maybe even intemperate, but his penchant for flair and showmanship were established long ago. Unlike the average politician, he didn’t take the electorate for suckers by thinking one thing while saying another.
The blogoshpere, television commentators and editorial writers are having a field day castigating him. His comment has been called insulting and racist. Yet upon dispassionate reflection, we might find that Trump isn’t wrong at all. Let’s look at it from two perspectives.
One: Trump is invariably compared to President Barack Obama, who is generally considered the sine qua non of cool and erudition. However, in “The Obama Doctrine," a lengthy interview with Jeff Goldberg published in the April 2016 issue of Atlantic magazine, Goldberg wrote, discussing Libya, that Obama said: “Despite all the good we did in Libya, it’s a mess.”
Mess is the president’s diplomatic term. Privately he calls Libya an expletive-show. It became so, Obama believes, for reasons to do with the passivity of America’s allies and the obdurate power of tribalism.
Wait a minute. Expletive-show? Tribalism? Was Obama being anti-Islamic or racist? Or, like Trump, was he merely telling it like it was?
Furthermore, Obama felt he was being manipulated by foreign policy poobahs. Here’s what he said in that interview:
“There is a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It is a playbook that comes out of the foreign policy establishment. The book can be a trap that can lead to bad decisions.”
Could it be Trump recognizes the same thing and is determined not to be entrapped?
On tribalism, Obama said: “Tribalism in the Middle East and Africa is a destructive force. It is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism. I understand the tribal impulse and acknowledge the power of tribal division. I’ve been navigating tribal divisions my whole life. In the end, it’s the source of a lot of destructive acts.”
Do such comments make Obama racist?
Two: Are Trump’s references to certain other countries all that egregious? Any objective observer could fairly lump some of those countries in the Clintonesque "basket of deplorables."
The so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo is ruled by Joseph Kabila, who lost the presidency in an election over a year ago but refuses to step down despite sanctions by the United States and European Union. Potentially the richest African country, it is wracked by tribal and regional insurrections, human rights abuses and hunger.
Post-Mandela South Africa is foundering under President Jacob Zuma, and people in the townships are no better off than under the apartheid bantustans. In desperation, the ANC recently dumped Zuma as its leader in favor of Cyril Ramaphosa, who has as vile and corrupt a reputation as Zuma.
Zimbabwe finally got rid of its 40-year oppression under Robert Mugabe last year in a bloodless coup that installed his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa as president.
Nigeria, once the hope of black Africa, is embroiled in a deadly campaign against the terrorist group Boko Haram, infamous for kidnapping hundreds of high school girls a couple years ago.
Acaps, an international human rights NGO recently said about Africa: “If 2017 did not look good, predictions for 2018 are no better. Violence, insecurity and hunger are likely to escalate in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Ethiopia, Mali, Somalia and others."
Closer to home, Haiti is in a class by itself. It has long been the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, plagued by rampant corruption, dictators and natural disasters. Like all Caribbean island states, Haiti couldn’t survive without international aid and handouts.
The foregoing doesn’t mean there aren’t good, decent people in those countries. It doesn’t mean the United States shouldn’t extend a helping hand to aid their economic and political development.
We should do so because it’s in our interest from a humanitarian and economic point of view.
But there must be transparency and accountability in any country where the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers are spent.
Obama also said: “I believe the world is a tough, complicated, messy, mean place full of hardship and tragedy. There are going to be times when the best that we can do is to shine a spotlight on something that’s terrible but not be able to believe we can automatically solve it.”
Trump’s comment was perhaps a harsh spotlight, but in reflection, aside from the fact he is arguably more abrasive than Obama, they don’t seem that far apart concerning America’s role in the world.