Retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Mattis, the former secretary of defense and an exceptionally well-read warrior, has said, “Throughout history, we see nations with allies thrive, and nations without allies wither.”
Mattis’ words brought to mind those 13 fateful days in October 1962 when, after the United States discovered that the Soviet Union was placing nuclear-armed intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Washington, D.C., in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the two superpowers stood on the brink of nuclear war.
Then-President John F. Kennedy, whose ill-conceived Bay of Pigs invasion a year earlier had undoubtedly emboldened both the Soviets and Castro, insisted on first briefing U.S. allies on the situation. He personally called British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and made sure that West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was completely briefed. To inform the president of France, the often-prickly Charles de Gaulle, President Kennedy sent former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who carried with him the speech on the crisis JFK would later give to the American people.
At the conclusion of their private meeting, Acheson told de Gaulle that he had with him photographic evidence of the Soviet missiles in Cuba, and that Kennedy had authorized him to share the photos with the French leader. But de Gaulle waved off Acheson’s offer and said, “No, the word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.”
What makes this history both interesting and important today are the reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was keenly disappointed with the United States’ European allies when they voiced concern that the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani could provoke further violent reprisals. “The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in in Europe as well,” Pompeo told Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
President Donald Trump and Pompeo never accepted Mattis’ maxim that “nations with allies thrive” while “nations without allies wither.” Each year, the respected pollsters at Pew Research Center measure global judgment of the United States and the U.S. president. The 2019 survey, released this week, shows that among the 32 countries polled, just 29% trust Donald Trump “to do the right thing in world affairs.” Ironically, an identical 64% of world citizens expressed “no confidence” in Trump, the exact inverse of the 64% who had expressed confidence in President Barack Obama at the end of his presidency in 2017. There were, let it be noted, semi-isolated approval numbers for Trump, in the Philippines, Israel, India, Poland, Kenya and Nigeria. Less supportive of Trump were Germany (13%), France (20%) and the United Kingdom (32%).
It would appear in 2020 that the general reaction among our traditional allies is that the word of the president of the United States is, sadly, no longer good enough.