Washington watch: A toxic president

President Donald Trump was not particularly troubled by Zinke’s selloff of America’s natural resources to the nation’s worst polluters.

US President Donald Trump (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A toxic US president and scandal-riddled Israeli prime minister seem to be doing their best to diminish their respective nations’ status in the world – and in the process are widening the gulf between Israel and American Jews.
In Washington, the latest sordid chapter was the removal of interior secretary Ryan Zinke, who got the boot because of 15 or so separate ethics and potential criminal investigations, with more to come when the Democrats take over the House of Representatives in January and subpoena him to answer some tough questions under oath.
President Donald Trump was not particularly troubled by Zinke’s selloff of America’s natural resources to the nation’s worst polluters, since pleasing the polluters is high on his administration’s agenda.
Zinke’s alleged ethical lapses are pretty much par for the course for this administration, from the president and his family on down. So it’s hardly a surprise that two of Trump’s best friends on the international scene are Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
This contributes to the widening rift between Israel and American Jewry. The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy there are popular but not enough to change the fact that more than three in four Jewish voters oppose Trump because they feel he’s the opposite of virtually everything they believe in. That only makes Netanyahu’s embrace more troublesome for them.
The two leaders also are close to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He is an authoritarian leader who speaks well of Israel but indulges growing right-wing fascism and antisemitism. The trio share another target of their wrath, George Soros, the Hungarian-born, Jewish philanthropist and supporter of liberal causes.
Jews are repelled by Trump’s embrace of white supremacists, his xenophobia, anti-immigration policies and his brand of nationalism. His America First message is a painful reminder of an antisemitic movement in the 1930s with that name.
His other friends aren’t too appealing either.
Trump borders on unctuousness toward America’s adversaries like Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom he shares an autocratic bent, nationalist fervor, intense enmity toward his critics and hostility toward the media. All also are allies of Israel’s enemies.
Trump’s derisive and contemptuous stance toward America’s friends and allies further strains Israel’s relations with those countries.
In Britain, Trump dissed the Queen and protesters flew a giant diapered blimp caricature of him. That is the least of the problem. Interviews with foreign leaders and policy makers as well as American experts in American and foreign publications paint a disturbing picture of the president and his administration.
Foreign leaders are troubled by his behavior and ignorance. They paint a disturbing picture of a man moored in his preconceptions, having a minuscule attention span, trouble grasping complex issues and unable or uninterested in learning.
They see him willing to take Putin’s word over his own intelligence services. They fear he is doing Putin’s bidding, consciously or otherwise, in threatening to break up the EU and NATO – two organizations Israel wants to see succeed and aspires to join.
Trump prefers autocrats and strongmen, but that doesn’t always work out as he’d like.
His bromance with Putin, despite all the wooing and cooing during the campaign, fizzled, and today threatens to destroy his presidency.
Kim played him for a fool and all the world seems to know that but Trump. Not only has there been no progress on denuclearization, but Trump is softening his negotiating position, which should seriously worry Israel because it might signal a weakened US position regarding Iran.
Trump started a trade war with China and then lied about negotiating a deal, sending the stock markets into a wild roller-coaster ride and our 401(k)s into a nosedive. Not even a serving of the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” at Mar-a-Lago helped.
A new US-Israel crisis is brewing over Israel’s deal with China involving Beijing’s contract to manage the port of Haifa. It could mean the US Navy will stop using Israel’s largest port city for visiting warships and joint training exercises.
As China and Russia make inroads into the Middle East and the US pivots toward Asia, Israeli worries grow and America’s relations with close allies – France, Britain, Germany, Canada – continue to deteriorate.
It is visible in America’s shrinking international stature and leadership. Netanyahu of all people should understand this. He may phone Putin regularly, sell top technology and lease ports to China and woo assorted autocrats, but when the proverbial substance hits the rotary device, Israel’s most valuable asset is not a thin-skinned, egotistical, pathological liar facing criminal investigations into every aspect of his life, but the American Jewish community that the prime minister perilously takes for granted.