World leaders, ministers, diplomats, military officers and policy experts gathered over the weekend for the annual Munich Security Conference, the premier global forum on foreign, defense and security policy. Luckily, Donald Trump did not attend the conference … he was too busy at home playing golf, criticizing Saturday Night Live, and defending his indefensible declaration of emergency from the week before. Also unfortunately, Mike Pence did attend, and therein lay the problem.Angela Merkel spoke before Pence, and resisted Pence’s earlier calls in Poland for the EU to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which according to experts and analysts, is achieving its goals. She also criticized the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from Syria. “Is it a good thing to immediately remove American troops from Syria, or will it not strengthen Russia and Iran’s hand?” At the end of her speech, she received a standing ovation. Ivanka Trump, who was in the audience for some reason that is beyond my comprehension, refused to stand or even applaud. The grade-school mentality must run in the family.And then, Mike Pence began his speech by saying …
“I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”
And he waited for the applause. But the room remained silent. Dead silent. He waited. Nobody clapped, apparently not even Ivanka. See for yourself …
But Sarah Huckabee Sanders later found a way to put a spin on the humiliating moment:
“It was out of respect for our President that world leaders observed a moment of silence during Vice President Pence’s speech in Munich.”
I think not, Sarah, but nice try. Now go rinse your mouth to get that nasty taste of the lie out of it.
But back to Pence’s speech.
“We came here to reaffirm our commitment that ‘America First’ does not mean America alone and tell leaders, allies and countries around the world that America is stronger than ever before and America’s leading on the world stage once again.”
The reality is that we ceded our leadership role early in Trump’s tenure. We are not even good allies, let alone a good leader. You cannot be isolationist and also a global leader, for to be all about “America First” means to put the rest of the globe somewhere below your own interests, and that is not how alliances and friendships work.
Pence credited Trump with spurring NATO allies to spend more on defense but insisted that they are still not spending enough. He also reiterated the ‘demand’ he made on Thursday in Poland regarding the Iran nuclear deal.
“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.”
As a long-time student of international relations, I cannot think of another time in the history of the United States that we have ‘demanded’ our allies act in accordance with our wishes. This is being a bully, not an ally and certainly not a friend.
Pence ended his speech with a most inappropriate …
“God Bless the United States of America.”
As Amanda Sloat, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute said …
“It sounded more like he was speaking to a Trump rally than to transatlanticists in Europe.”
Pence’s speech was met with disdain by European officials who say they have no intention of abandoning the Iran nuclear deal and felt his aggressive tone would only stir up more opposition. For the record, Pence’s speech ended with a smattering of light applause, but no standing ovation, other than Jared and Ivanka. I ask again, why were they even there?
The Munich Security Conference report said the Trump administration displays an “irritating enthusiasm for strongmen across the globe” and “disdain for international institutions and agreements.”
Several hours after Merkel’s and Pence’s speeches, former Vice President Joe Biden was at the podium, and his message was a ray of light after that of Pence.
“The America I see does not wish to turn our back on the world or our closest allies. The America I see cherishes a free press, democracy, the rule of law. It stands up to the aggression of dictators and against strongmen.”
And Biden ended with …
“As my mother would say: This too shall pass. We will be back. We will be back. Don’t have any doubt about that.”
The applause for Biden was significantly more enthusiastic than for Pence.
The Munich Security Report, which is downloadable in .pdf format, is titled, The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick Up The Pieces? That says it all, doesn’t it? One of the key points in the report is about a previously unpublished opinion poll by the Pew Research Center showing that traditional allies of the United States perceive America’s power and influence as a major threat to their country, even when compared to China and Russia.
I may write more about the Munich Security Conference and the affiliated report once I finish reading the report, but for now, suffice it to say that the United States is not stepping up to the plate to work with our allies, but rather is becoming more isolationist, more self-serving, and there will be a price to pay for that. Globalization is the reality, and no country can stand on its own without allies, without friends. But in order to have a friend in times of trouble, one must first be a friend, and we are not. As Joe Biden said, “This too shall pass” … but will it pass before the U.S. becomes a true pariah?