Tuesday, 31 January 2017

A State Visit for Trump is Leverage, Not Acquiescence

So there is a petition on the parliament website calling for the Government to revoke its invitation to Donald Trump for his state visit. And this might strike you as being reasonable given what Trump did on Friday. Except of course it isn't. Like it or not, and this blog does not like it, but Trump is the democratically elected President of the United States of America. We have to work with him. It is vital that we do.

This does not mean that we have to go along with all of his words and actions. But the visit is some way off yet. For now it represents leverage. Trump desperately wants to come here and be given the full on treatment accorded to his predecessors, including to Barack Obama about whom he seems to have a very well deserved inferiority complex. The visit will not be until the summer at least. It may not be until the autumn. At the rate he is going he might not even be president by then. But assuming that he is then we have to use the carrot to get concessions as best we can. This is the way that diplomacy works. We have to play nice in public in order to talk more candidly in private. This is what Theresa May did last week and was rightly lauded for doing so. Now suddenly she is being criticised.

As many have pointed out, Britain can be picky about some of the statesmen upon whom we confer the honour of a full state visit. But those we exclude tend to be those who are too small or poor to matter. There is nothing wrong with this. It is just realpolitik in action. We have invited plenty of statesmen who are guilty of much worse than Donald Trump and there has been nothing like so much fuss made. Where was the fuss when Xi Jinping, the president of China, a country with an appalling human rights record, was given a state visit only two years ago?

The actions of the Trump administration are wrong, irrational and idiotic. They won't admit it of course, but they will already be regretting their arrogance and crass stupidity. It rounded off a week in which Trump made a mess of almost everything he went near, confused frenetic activity with good governance and made a fool of himself over his obsession over his inauguration crowds and during a car crash interview. This immigrant ban from the leader of the free world is a sign of his fecklessness.
The protests against him are just a hint of what is to come. He will quickly learn to be more considered and to weigh his decisions more carefully. If he doesn't then he is heading for an ignominious crash landing.

But for now the British Government should keeps its head. Theresa May was right to go and talk to Trump last week and to try and use gentle persuasion rather than try the lofty disdain employed by Angela Merkel and by virtue signallers like Chauncey. Britain has a relationship with America that waxes and wanes according to who is in Downing Street and who in the White House. It may well be the case that the prime minister feels it politic in the coming weeks and months to distance herself and maybe even to withdraw that invitation to enjoy British pomp and circumstance. For now though she should tough it out. Britain needs America much as we needed to play nice with China in 2015. Jaw jaw is better than war as the man whose bust has been restored to the Oval Office once said. That represents our chance to influence President Trump.

We have one other piece of leverage too. Prince Charles wants to talk to Trump and about climate change and confer on him his wholly imaginary expertise on the subject. Why not turn that into a threat if all else fails.

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