Washington watch: China syndrome

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to representatives of Arab League member states at a China Arab forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 10, 2018.  (photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to representatives of Arab League member states at a China Arab forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 10, 2018.
(photo credit: THOMAS PETER/REUTERS)
President Donald Trump is taking no chances. He already has an excuse in case Republicans take a drubbing in next month’s congressional elections: it was a Chinese plot.
 As he presided over a UN Security Council meeting last month, he accused Beijing of “attempting to interfere” with the congressional elections “because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.”
That politically motivated claim is one more milepost in America’s accelerating retreat from global leadership – a shift that should give Israel, which relies on the international influence of its most important ally, a bad case of nerves.
Trump didn’t offer a shred of evidence of this nefarious Chinese plot. He remains in full denial of Russian meddling in his 2016 election despite overwhelming evidence and guilty pleas. The reasons are simple: he is using the Chinese fiction to delegitimize in advance any Democratic successes while continuing to ignore the hard evidence of Russian meddling, because admitting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role, at least in Trump’s mind, would delegitimize his own election.
If the first results on the night of November 6 show Democratic victories, look for Trump to declare the election was “rigged.” That’s the excuse he was preparing two years ago when it looked like he’d lose the GOP nomination and then the presidential election. He’ll point fingers of blame in all directions, declaring losses to be the fault of everyone else although it is widely agreed this election (as with previous presidents) will be a referendum on his performance as president.
Jewish voters, who overwhelmingly rejected Trump in 2016, are likely to swing even further toward the Democrats as evidence of corruption and incompetence in his administration grows. That could provoke a backlash from the white supremacists and antisemites in his political base – and possibly a reaction by the thin-skinned president himself.
He puts a high premium on personal loyalty, and will expect the gratitude of Jewish voters for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US Embassy there, staunchly defending the Jewish state at the UN and repeatedly trashing the Palestinians.
Yet the Jews can be expected to vote, as usual, about 3:1 Democratic, showing once again Israel is not their highest priority, and topping their agenda are issues on which they are highly critical of Trump.
The president is likely to be disappointed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t done more to help convince the Jews to vote his way.
Netanyahu is one of the few world leaders consistently backing Trump, yet he can’t deliver the votes of American Jews, who are almost as disenchanted with him as they are with Trump.
In reality, Trump’s pro-Israel actions never really were for the Jewish vote, but the money of some deep-pocketed Jewish donors and for Evangelical Christians, Trump’s most important political base.
Trump’s accusations of Chinese meddling without evidence may be more than building an excuse for his own election failures, suggests Ryan Hass, a China expert at the Brookings Institution. His ulterior motive may be blocking China’s growing global influence at American expense.
One Trump tweet said China is “trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me.”
The bullying and blackmail tactics that apparently worked with Mexico and Canada to force a renegotiation of the NAFTA trade pact – though apparently not as extensively as the White House suggests – are unlikely to work on China.
AS HE alienates traditional allies, Trump weakens America’s bargaining position with China by going it alone. And that should be setting off alarm bells in Jerusalem, where American global leadership is seen as an essential pillar of Israeli security.
The impact can be seen in North Korea. Trump’s trade war with Beijing and his declaration of “love” for the world’s most brutal dictator, Kim Jong-un (can’t help wondering if Putin feels jilted), has cost him a partner in enforcing sanctions and other pressures on Pyongyang to denuclearize. Kim has, in fact, hardened his position lately, notwithstanding secret Dear Donald “love” letters, demanding serious US concessions before making any moves to dismantle his nuclear arsenal. Trump’s public position, so far, has been just the opposite.
Very early in his administration, Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, served him “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen,” and even had his granddaughter sing poetry in Chinese.
But political, military and economic tensions with China only worsened.
Xi has moved to fill the leadership vacuum created by Trump’s retreat from global leadership, most notably abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and the Paris Agreement.
“Trump might not recognize that as he withdraws America from these global arenas, the rest of the world is moving on without Washington,” said journalist Fareed Zakaria on CNN. “Wittingly or not, Donald Trump seems to be hastening the arrival of a post-American world.”
Trump’s trade war with the world’s second-largest economy means American consumers will pay the bill through higher prices for imported goods, and not only from China.
Meanwhile military tensions are growing between the two countries.
China just canceled an important security meeting with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later this month in Beijing, according to The New York Times, which called it “the latest sign of bad blood” between the two countries.
American abandonment of global leadership in pursuit of “America First” nationalism threatens to further isolate Israel. Trump’s abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, with Netanyahu’s enthusiastic encouragement, along with increasingly belligerent threats against the Islamic Republic, puts further strain on Israel’s and America’s relations with their traditional European allies.
Election of a Democratic Congress, whether one chamber or both, can help curb Trump’s aggressive isolationism by denying him the rubber stamp of xenophobic and reactionary GOP forces now dominating Capitol Hill. It won’t produce a 180-degree turn, but it could force a course correction by applying the brakes to a destructive policy.