Not even a week has gone by in 2018, but relations between the United States and the rest of the world are already looking increasingly precarious after President Trump chose to enflame multiple international disputes and tension points on Tuesday.
In a series of tweets beginning early in the morning, the president initially singled out Iran, where large-scale protests are currently underway.
“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” Trump wrote. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their “pockets.” The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The U.S. is watching!”
Trump has repeatedly criticized the Iranian government, in addition to threatening the Iran nuclear deal achieved under President Obama. U.S.-Iran relations are typically tense, something Trump’s presidency has only exacerbated — a pattern that seems set to continue in 2018. The situation in Iran is precarious and some experts are concerned Trump’s comments could be abused and potentially used to fuel claims that U.S. powers are behind the protests.
Enflaming tensions with Iran proved to be a warm-up round as Trump turned to another country averse to U.S. input.
“Sanctions and “other” pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!” Trump wrote, referring to Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s authoritarian leader.
That tweet came in the morning. Hours later, the president fired off another targeting the isolated country, this time directly addressing North Korean nuclear ambitions.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump asserted.
Trump has repeatedly threatened North Korea over the nation’s nuclear efforts, saying that “talking is not the answer” and that the United States will “do what has to be done” in the face of any North Korean aggression. Those threats have gone over poorly, prompting Kim Jong-un to threaten the United States with nuclear war, comments that in turn inspired Trump’s “button” response on Tuesday. The president’s latest North Korea tweets come as South Korea moves towards talks with its neighbor. North Korea reopened a border hotline on Wednesday, indicating a thaw in relations that could see the countries pulled closer together and away from U.S. influence if Trump’s comments continue.
The president’s tweets on Tuesday followed a dramatic beginning to the year — on Monday, Trump singled out Pakistan, lamenting the U.S. aid given to the nuclear-armed country.
“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump wrote, continuing with another tweet focused on Iran.
Pakistan responded angrily to Trump’s tweet. “Recent statements and articulation by the American leadership were completely incomprehensible,” Pakistani officials said Tuesday. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif invited the United States to audit the amount of money given to Pakistan over the past 15 years.
“He can hire a US based audit firm on our expense to verify this figure & let the world know who is lying and deceiving,” Asif wrote on Twitter.
Provoking Pakistan, an important ally sharing borders with not only Iran and India, but also Afghanistan — where the United States is preparing to send thousands of soldiers — might seem unwise. But unfazed by Pakistan’s response, Trump addressed U.S. funding to the country again Tuesday night while simultaneously criticizing the occupied Palestinian territories.
“It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect,” Trump wrote.
“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more,” he continued. “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
In December the White House named the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move strongly contested by Palestinians as well as the vast majority of the international community. The Trump administration has indicated that the U.S. embassy in Israel will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as soon as possible, sparking protests and condemnation around the world.
Many Palestinians under occupation live without consistent access to electricity, water, or hospitals. International funding for Palestinians is considered crucial, but U.S. aid could cease this year. In addition to Trump’s tweets, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has said that UNRWA, the U.N. Palestinian aid organization, could lose out on U.S. funding if Palestinian leaders refuse to restart peace talks with Israel. Palestinian officials themselves say Trump killed any chance of a two-state solution with his Jerusalem announcement.
Trump’s latest comments have attracted ire from officials around the world, but Wednesday showed little indicator that the president’s saber-rattling might cease as he again addressed demonstrations in Iran. “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government,” he wrote in the morning. “You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”
Iran has not responded to the president’s latest comments.