On July 8 and 9 there were three articles in the newspaper that caught my attention. They illustrated the extent to which our country is being led from the former to the latter of these two qualities.
One article was the announcement, in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which has been not seen since 1918, that our president is withdrawing the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO) effective July 2021. The second article was about the first state visit of the newly elected Mexican president to the U.S. to celebrate the new trade agreement (USMCA), between the three North American countries that will replace NAFTA. It was with some trepidation, but a lot of resolve, that President Lopez Obrador agreed to come since he has been the recipient of a lot of loud criticism from President Donald Trump on a variety of topics but mostly illegal border crossings.
The third article was about President Trump’s efforts to deny Lt. Col. Vindman his rightful promotion after 21 years of military service, which included being a decorated Iraq War veteran and specialized Foreign Service officer at the White House. Even though his staff position in the White House demanded his testimony because of his specialized service and its relationship to Ukraine and the potential impeachment of the President, Vindman was a target of the President’s wrath.
Treaties and formal agreements are how civilized nations manage to “get along” in the world. The earliest treaty signed by the United States was with France and dates from 1778, a treaty of mutual friendship and defense against Britain. From that time onward the U.S. has participated in 151 treaties of which 14 were negotiated in the period from 2000-2020. Treaties are a type of partnership that, if negotiated thoughtfully, provide each partner enough positive benefits such as financial security, physical protection, territory, trade, and sometimes international status, that they are willing to accept some constraints. Normally, treaties are the basis of peaceful relationships but in dire cases such as nuclear treaties, they may provide dangerous repercussions if participants cheat. They are not supposed to be a way for one country, or group of countries to dominate others.
These differences distinguish between a treaty and a business deal. In a treaty, there will be no complete winners but a shared positive result. It is difficult for a businessperson accustomed to the “Art of the Deal” to appreciate this, as is painfully apparent in the current heavy-handed approach to NATO, our closest allies, and Canada and Mexico our closest trading neighbors. Countries do not have to accept the terms of a treaty if they penalize one side against the other. There are often other potential trade or military partners available, as we have seen in China’s ability to step in with exciting infrastructure projects in developing countries or new internet technologies. Old allies and trading partners can get tired of empty bluff and blunder as is apparent in the status of our current relationships with Europe. It is sad and destabilizing and also very dangerous, not just for the U.S. but for the world when this country refuses to support international organizations such as W.H.O. or even potentially the United Nations or NATO because “They waste too much money or do not contribute adequately.” Lack of support for reducing global warming because of the potential for bad financial effects on business and industry shows an ignorant lack of concern for the future of our home planet.
Such ignorance of the work of, and need for, these organizations and environmental concerns in a turbulent world, and the constant focus on their cost is a disaster for the entire world. Such behavior is isolating the U.S. We are becoming a pariah state, not liked, respected, or trusted. The current administration’s efforts to discourage any type of immigration is adding to the isolation.
A nation’s life and reputation based only on money are not what the U.S. has been praised for over the last two centuries. Generosity toward other counties of goods, services, food, and financial support has been our hallmark. Serious scientific research and development of medicines, surgical techniques, agricultural advances, technology, and educational opportunities and trade have been our reputations until the present. We cannot let these greater goods disappear through one man’s misguided concern for money.