If America treats its friends like this, it might not have them much longer
Posted January 16, 2020 2:17 p.m. EST
CNN — Call him the extorter-in-chief.
In the US Senate next week, Donald Trump will go on trial accused of dangling $400 billion in military aid before Ukraine, in exchange for dirt on his political enemies. But it's not just Kiev. Barely a day passes without a fresh glimpse of the President's staggeringly transactional worldview, straight out of Manhattan's real estate jungle.
America's relationship with its allies now largely turns on how much cash the President can wring out of them, in the form of higher defense spending and bigger subsidies for US troops in places like South Korea. He has also (falsely) boasted that Saudi Arabia deposited $1 billion in a US bank account to pay for a detachment of US troops -- raising the head-spinning possibility that the commander-in-chief might farm out troops as mercenaries.
When he's not hitting geopolitical friends up for cash, he's choking them economically. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Trump threatened European allies with 25% auto tariffs if they failed to enforce a dispute mechanism against Iran over the nuclear deal.
Trump has promised to punish Iraq with actions that "make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame" if it exercises its sovereign right to kick out US troops. And the US also warned Baghdad it could freeze its central bank's account in New York, a move that could devastate its economy, according to the Wall Street Journal.
If America treats its friends like this, it might not have them much longer. A foreign policy purely aimed at piling up wealth also undermines America's mission of making the world safe for democracy.
But Trump supporters see nothing wrong with this strategy -- they agree with him that the world has been ripping off Uncle Sam. And making "deals" is just the way this White House rolls. As Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney might say: "Get over it."
"Hey broski tell me what we are doing"
A new name has emerged in documents relating to a scheme to remove a respected US ambassador from Ukraine. In a series of text messages released by the House Intelligence Committee, Connecticut congressional candidate Robert F. Hyde ranted about then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and appeared to be monitoring her movements in the capital Kiev.
"She had visitors," Hyde texted to Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, in March last year, adding, "Hey broski tell me what we are doing what's the next step."
After the messages were released earlier this week, the Twitter account for Hyde's election campaign dismissed Parnas as a "some dweeb we were playing with" and House Intel leader Adam Schiff as a "desperate turd."
Read the messages yourself here.
Lost in translation
Xi Jinping probably lost a lot in translation.
The US and China inked a trade deal on Wednesday, and if the Chinese leader was watching from Beijing on television — as Trump assured guests was the case — he was treated to a verbal tour de force that shattered regular decorum at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Before the US President picked up his pen, he unleashed a 40-minute stream of consciousness before CEOs, Chinese leaders, lawmakers, cabinet members and the world's press. Here's what Xi would have learned:
— US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer "tosses and turns" and can't sleep at night.
— Top White House aide Larry Kudlow has a "beautiful scarf."
— Impeachment is a "hoax."
— Fox Business host Lou Dobbs thinks Trump is "better than Reagan."
— Montana Sen. Steve Daines "has a helluva football team."
— Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has "got ethanol"
— Lindsey Graham is a better golfer than you might think
— Trump won Alaska in 2016 "by a lot"
— Trump also saved the July 4 fireworks at Mount Rushmore from tree huggers
— Energy tycoon Harold Hamm "puts a straw into the ground and oil pours out"
— Trump sees sneakers he signed for sale on eBay for $5000
— Newscorp founder and Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch couldn't make it ("I can't believe Rupert's not here")
Xi wasn't there either — perhaps a wise choice if he values his time. But Trump didn't forget him. "I want to thank President Xi, a very, very good friend of mine," Trump said, before clarifying for the uninitiated: "We're representing different countries. He's representing China, I'm representing the US, but we've developed an incredible relationship."
"The same person should not serve as president for more than two consecutive terms"
Postcard from Moscow
Reporters here in Moscow expected another yawn-inducing domestic policy speech -- the norm for Vladimir Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly, the Russian equivalent of a "State of the Union" speech -- but got bombshells instead.
Putin's 90-minute speech, broadcast across the country from skyscrapers in Moscow to the top of Mount Elbrus on Wednesday, discussed free meals for six-year-olds -- and then suddenly announced sweeping constitutional amendments. Putin said that parliament, not the president, should have the power to choose Russia's cabinet and appoint its prime minister -- changes which could hamstring his successor and empower Putin long after his term expires.
Just two hours later, the entire Russian government conveniently resigned, clearing the way for a major remodeling of its political system that could define the country's future for decades to come.
-- CNN's Mary Ilyushina writes to Meanwhile from Moscow
Before and after
Images from Planet Labs, Inc. show Taal volcano in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 2019 and Jan. 13, 2020.