The dust hasn’t settled yet on the ignominious vote against the United States in the United Nations General Assembly last week. The vote is over; but now some of those 128 nations that defied the U.S. are waiting to see what that defiance will cost them, if anything.
President Trump issued an extraordinary warning: “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “We will be taking names.”
Those comments provoked indignation at the U.N. Diplomats claimed that they are not accustomed to public threats such as this — namely, that the richest and most powerful nation on Earth will take financial retribution.
In reality, however, anyone who thinks that Russia, China& and other powers& do not twist arms and do not reward their friends and punish their enemies at the U.N. are woefully naïve. The difference is, they usually don’t announce it to the world.
If President Trump decides in the end to impose such cuts, it should not be construed as vindictiveness; it’s not a personal issue.
There are two primary purposes of foreign aid: humanitarianism, and a way to reward friends and build alliances. And often the latter influences the former.
America has every right to rethink giving aid to those countries that blatantly defied the United States and insulted it for the “inexcusable crime” of asserting the fact that Yerushalayim is the capital of Israel.
But on Sunday, it was reported that leading members of the Palestinian cohort believe that their annual financial assistance packages from the U.S. are not in jeopardy as a result of sticking their thumbs in the eyes of the Americans. For example, a minister from Jordan, whose $1.2 billion annual allocation from Washington is high on the list of recipients, told Reuters: “The Americans know more than anyone else that a stable Jordan is crucial for U.S. interests in the region. We do not expect the American administration to touch assistance, but if it does, this will only add to Jordan’s economic woes.”
Egypt and other countries on the receiving end of American aid who voted for the resolution expressed similar sentiments.
Elliott Abrams, a senior State Department official in the Reagan and Bush administrations, was even more emphatic, quoted in the media as saying that it was “inconceivable” that the U.S. would cut off those countries. (He was more restrained in a written comment for the Council of Foreign Relations, where he opined that “withholding aid is unlikely to be the way forward.”)
What, then, can the United States do?
For one thing, a review of the assistance going to the offending countries will likely be undertaken. If the president so decides, cuts can be made judiciously, where they will be felt, but not so extensively as to undermine Ythe national interest or cause undeserved suffering.
In her speech before the vote, Haley told the members that the U.S. would “remember” those who “disrespected” it in the General Assembly when they come asking for help in the future.
Disrespect deserves payment in kind.
Abrams, who has been there, noted that there are ways other than financial to get the message across. Foreign officials routinely count on certain amenities in dealing with Washington, such as photo-ops with the president and cabinet secretaries, or high-level meetings to discuss various requests for their nations.
Those who disrespected the U.S. should find their access to senior American officials significantly curtailed. They will have to wait longer for shorter meetings, they will find that the president is — so sorry — just too busy that day for a handshake in front of the cameras. Urgent matters will continue to receive the necessary attention, but lesser items can be denied or delayed, depending on the situation.
Another option President Trump will no doubt want to consider is cutting U.S. funding to the U.N. He has already ordered the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO and the Global Compact on Migration.
Reduction of funding would send the unmistakable message that an international body that does not appreciate U.S. support should not receive it, at least in the generous amounts to which it is accustomed. Here, too, the amount and methodology of cuts, if deemed advisable, would have to be decided on the pertinent data.