Except as a place to kill terrorists, Africa was never going to be a priority for the Trump administration. In addition to the fact that Trump made a political name for himself by questioning whether a president with Kenyan roots was a U.S. citizen, his attitude toward the continent was previously best exemplified by a speech in September to African leaders at the United Nations, where he repeatedly referred to the non-existent country of Nambia and told the audience, “I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you.”
But if there was any ambiguity left about how Trump regards 15 percent of the world’s population, that’s gone after yesterday’s report that Trump referred to immigrants from Africa as coming from “shithole countries.”
As the AP reports, a spokesman for the African Union said the body was “frankly alarmed” by the comments. Botswana’s government called them “reprehensible and racist” and summoned the U.S. ambassador to clarify whether their country is really regarded as a “shithole” or not. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress as well as its opposition parties condemned the remarks. (Trump, bringing people together.)
The government Haiti, which Trump was initially reported to have also described as a shithole after reportedly remarking last year that its inhabitants “all have AIDS,” has also condemned the remarks and demanded an explanation. (Trump now denies saying anything derogatory about Haitians and reporting from CNN’s Jake Tapper suggests that while Trump did express opposition to Haitian immigration yesterday, he did not actually include them in the same shithole category as Africa.) A spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office told reporters in Geneva, “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
It’s not only the countries Trump insulted that were upset.
Trump reportedly contrasted “shithole” immigrants with those coming from nice countries like Norway, whose prime minister he had met the day before. This, coming a day after Trump had baffled Norwegians by discussing the non-existent “F-52” planes he had sold them, prompted newspapers there to criticize Trump for using “Norway to prove his racism.” (You can’t win!)
The shithole affair isn’t the only noteworthy news this week regarding Trump’s deteriorating relations with longstanding U.S. allies. Trump has canceled a trip to Britain to open the new U.S. embassy next month. The president said on Twitter this morning that this was because of what he described as an Obama era decision to sell the previous embassy for “peanuts” and build a new billion dollar facility. (That decision was made by the George W. Bush administration.) Trump has not yet visited Britain, in contrast to most recent presidents who stopped in during their first years in office, and figures on both sides of the aisle in the U.K. have interpreted the move as a response to the potential for protest. London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a frequent critic (and target) of the president, said today that Trump had “got the message” about Londoners’ opposition to him. This prompted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to lash out at “puffed up pompous popinjay” Khan and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn for sabotaging the special relationship:
Prime Minister Theresa May has actually done everything possible to have a good relationship with Trump, and he has done everything possible to punish her for that, most recently by retweeting a British hate group in November and then calling her weak on terrorism after she chided him for it.
At a time when Trump is so toxic in the U.K.—he apparently can’t even visit without setting off a major diplomatic incident—it’s interesting to recall that U.S. conservatives once criticized Obama for sabotaging the special relationship by doing such egregious things as moving a bust of Winston Churchill.
Then there’s Trump’s handling of his decision to cut off aid to Pakistan. Trump wasn’t wrong to point out that the U.S. security relationship with Pakistan leaves a lot to be desired, but still, given that roughly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan rely on supplies brought through the country, it’s a relationship that has to be managed delicately. Which is why it’s a bit alarming to read a Reuters report that the New Year’s morning tweet in which Trump decreed an end of U.S. aid to the country apparently blindsided U.S. officials who had been in the midst of a policy review on aid to Pakistan that included preparations for how the country would react to suspension:
“None of the elements of a coherent policy was in place, or even close at hand, when the president, in effect, made a policy announcement,” said one U.S. official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity. “Despite a mad scramble to backfill a tweet, we still don’t have … an effective policy in place.”
The Financial Times reported on Thursday that Pakistan has halted intelligence sharing with the United States.
And it’s never seemed less true than this past week.