As Donald Trump prepares his first presidential address to Congress Tuesday night, just imagine that, instead of that one-way form of communication, we had the British-style question time in Parliament. We can only imagine what members of both parties might ask, and the exercise might even appeal to Trump as a ratings winner. It could be titled “Stump the President.”
Broaden that vision beyond our borders, and think of what the world would ask Trump. Foreign leaders and their diplomats in Washington wonder whether his insistence on “America first” leads to the conclusion that he doesn’t care about them.
They paid attention on Friday when Trump addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference. Not bothering to name his predecessor, but rejecting Barack Obama’s mantle of “citizen of the world,” Trump trumpeted, “I’m not representing the globe.” Reading carefully what his chief strategist Stephen Bannon almost surely wrote, the president added: “There is no such thing as a global anthem, a global currency, or a global flag.”
Five and a half weeks into the Trump presidency, the foreigners might ask our president: “Are you determined to be a disruptor, in all things at all times? Or will we see your governing style settle down into something more recognizable?”
Traditional allies wonder whether he truly intended to clash with Mexico, Australia and France.
Mexico says it opposes construction of a border wall and would never pay for it. Australia was upset over Trump’s disdain for a deal that would have America admit some refugees. France was deeply offended by Trump’s description of Paris as so paralyzed by terrorism that no one enjoys visiting anymore.
Also, what about a war on terrorism? “Now that the Pentagon had its 30 days to give you a plan to destroy ISIS, are you going to stir them up so they move from Iraq and Syria into our countries? When the administration put Iran ‘on notice’ for its missile tests, was it considering military action?”
Or they would ask whether Trump is serious about sending his son-in-law to the Middle East as a mediator for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Israel and Saudi Arabia, united in their alarm over Iran’s ambitions, do believe they hear a firm friend in the White House; but they cannot be sure, not yet.
Naturally, foreign leaders would pose questions inspired by their national interests. Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, was at the White House last month seeking a trade deal to show her voters that things will be OK after the withdrawal from the European Union.
European Union and NATO members continue to be puzzled as to why Trump is so easygoing toward Russia. What if Vladimir Putin pushes farther into Ukraine? Will Trump support that nation, and neighbors as far as Scandinavia and beyond?
Japan, South Korea and other Southeast Asian allies are concerned about how Trump will confront the growing might of China in a region where he turned his back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was designed to exclude the Chinese.
Leaders of African nations would ask whether Trump spends any time thinking about their needs. South Americans, however, will have noted that Trump received Peru’s president in the Oval Office last week and darkly hinted about a behind-closed-doors agenda concerning Venezuela and its anti-U.S. government.
Foreigners trying to understand the changes taking place in America might also ask about the absence of a State Department briefing since Trump’s inauguration. That briefing, for decades, has been the daily platform for the United States to have its say in media all around the world.
Trump would have an easy time with that issue. If you want to know what the U.S. government — and, he would claim, the American people — feel about anything, listen to him. Or, to save time, follow him on Twitter.
Dan Raviv, Washington correspondent for i24 News, is author of “Spies Against Armageddon.”