Australia is a country that, like most of the English-speaking nations of the world, is a staunch U.S. ally. So the news on Wednesday that Donald Trump's weekend call with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was an unmitigated disaster has sent a shock through the U.S. political class. And instead of cleaning up the mess himself, our Mango Mussolini did what he always does -- he set the fire and walked away.
On Thursday, Arizona Senator John McCain released a statement saying that he had spoken to Australian ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey following the incident. That statement reads in part,
"Australia is one of America’s oldest friends and staunchest allies. We are united by ties of family and friendship, mutual interests and common values, and shared sacrifice in wartime.
“In that spirit, I called Australia’s Ambassador to the United States this morning to express my unwavering support for the U.S.-Australia alliance. I asked Ambassador Hockey to convey to the people of Australia that their American brothers and sisters value our historic alliance, honor the sacrifice of the Australians who have served and are serving by our side, and remain committed to the safer, freer, and better world that Australia does far more than its fair share to protect and promote.”
Meanwhile, the occupant of the Oval Office was still whining about the immigration deal that sparked his tantrum.
Everybody should have seen this coming. Trump has been saying for months that he wants America to get along better with Vladimir Putin's Russia. But he hasn't had much to say about relations with our traditional allies. If his conversation with Turnbull is any indication, those allies are going to be in for a rough time. It's George W. Bush's "you're either with us or you're against us" policy on steroids.
McCain's call to the Australian ambassador is the first, and almost certainly not the last, of such contacts, as the few statesmen left in the GOP desperately run around behind Trump to sweep up what he drops on the sidewalk. It's not going to be easy because Trump is guaranteed to repeat the Turnbull fiasco again and again.
Think about that. This is something that has never happened before. Sure there have been times when a president has had harsh words for an enemy, leaving back-channel diplomacy to smooth things over. And there have been times when our leaders have disagreed with our allies -- France and the flap over the Iraq war comes immediately to mind. But in my memory we have never had a president whose disrespect for an allied leader was so over the top as to motivate a member of his own party to attempt to set things right again.
This may be the best we can hope for from the Trump years; Republicans such as McCain and Lindsey Graham doing damage control for our petulant president. With any luck our long-time allies such as Australia will adopt a "this too shall pass" attitude and accept the gestures of support they receive from Democrats and the few Republicans who dare to oppose Herr Drumpf as they wait for November 2020.
But in a worst-case scenario Trump's ham-handed dealings with allies could leave the U.S. isolated in a dangerous world where friends are vital. And he is setting up a situation where Russia, not the U.S., could become the world's "go to" nation. Which is exactly what Putin -- and maybe Trump -- wants.