Though the mainstream media loves to poke fun at US President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, his 280-character tweets often contain far more perspicacity than the entire contents of the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.
Indeed, in recent days, Trump has used the medium to highlight one of the most glaring inconsistencies in US foreign policy over the past two decades: Washington’s peculiar penchant for handing over hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to those who are hostile to America and its interests, such as Pakistan and the Palestinians.
On January 1, in his first tweet of 2018, Trump pointed out that, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years,” adding that, “they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”
The Pakistanis, he correctly noted, “give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” This was a bold and timely declaration, one that succinctly cast light on the duplicitous game that Islamabad has been playing since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
For years, the Afghan government has been complaining, and rightly so, about Pakistan’s policy of providing a safe haven for leading members of the Taliban insurgency who continue to wage war against Kabul.
Pakistan has also given refuge to the leaders of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-linked group that has carried out attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan and that the Obama administration officially declared to be a terrorist organization in 2012.
Nonetheless, Pakistan has been happily pocketing piles of US cash while spitting in Washington’s face, endangering America’s troops and undermining its war on terrorism, all while professing to be doing its utmost to combat extremism.
Trump deserves praise for putting the Pakistanis on notice that they can no longer treat the US like a tourist who gets easily suckered in a foreign bazaar.
In July, his administration froze $50 million in aid to Pakistan, and by threatening to halt even more assistance, the president is sending a strong signal to the Pakistanis and others that taking advantage of US largesse is a thing of the past.
Having conveyed this message to Pakistan, the president then turned his attention to the Palestinian leadership, which has also been living high on the hog while simultaneously undercutting America and its foreign policy.
On January 3, Trump wrote, “It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.”
The Palestinians, he added, “don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel... with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” That is truly an excellent question, one that none of Trump’s predecessors had the wisdom or courage even to ask.
US aid to the Palestinians, according to a December 2016 Congressional Research Service report, has exceeded $5b. over the past two decades, despite the fact that the Palestinians “are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.”
In 2016 alone, Washington provided over $357m. in financial support to the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, in addition to the $355m. that year that it poured into UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
But that has not stopped the Palestinians from defying the US at various international forums, denouncing it in no uncertain terms in its official statements and expressing solidarity with America’s enemies.
Just five months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a congratulatory telegram to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un wishing him “health and happiness” even as the latter was threatening to attack the US with nuclear weapons.
And on December 14, as Palestinian Media Watch reported, Abbas’s Fatah movement posted on Twitter a photo of Trump alongside one of Adolf Hitler saying it saw no difference between the two.
That is hardly the proper way for recipients of American munificence to be acting, but the Palestinians have been getting away with such behavior for so many years that it has become virtually routine.
And therein lies the cleverness of Trump’s strategy. By bypassing traditional outlets of diplomacy and taking to Twitter, the president is able to get his message across in a direct and undiluted fashion, which is the most effective way of letting his intended audience know that he means business.
He has put the ball in the court of those who receive American aid, challenging them to choose between receiving US support or persisting in their errant and nefarious ways.
So here’s hoping that Trump continues to tweet and that the Palestinian leadership is made to tremble. Shaking things up and forcing Ramallah to realize there is a limit to US patience for its mischief-making is a step that is most certainly long overdue.