The Corner


For a Big America

An American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2019. (Al Drago/Reuters)

President Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland, which is attached, politically, to Denmark. The Danes said, in effect, “Greenland is not for sale.” As a result, Trump canceled a scheduled visit to Denmark.

A few observations.

Trump campaigned on the slogan “Make America Great Again.” But, in some ways, he has made the country smaller. The cancelation of the Danish trip was a petty act. Petulant. Unworthy of a great nation.

Big, powerful nations can afford to be gracious to little, weak ones. It is both good manners and good policy. Even behemoths need allies in the world. Also, you have to consider national pride. The Danes have their pride, just as Trump does. You have to take into account other people’s patriotism.

WFB, more than anyone else, taught me this point. He would make it with particular reference to Latin America. You’ve got to give other people their dignity, and the smaller they are, the more they may need their dignity.

He had broad experience of the world, WFB did. He knew the position of America in a global context. (“When the U.S. sneezes, the world catches a cold,” people used to say.) He knew the effects — often unintended — of our country on countless people. He was a patriot, through and through. But he was no Ugly American — quite the opposite.

A visit by the U.S. president is a big deal in countries such as Denmark. And Denmark, remember, is an ally. More than 40 Danes have been killed in Afghanistan. That may be peanuts to us — but I remember something Donald Rumsfeld stressed to me, when he was defense secretary (the second time, under W.).

Many people — most of them Democrats — were snickering at the size of some of our coalition partners. Albania, Honduras, Tonga! Ha ha ha! “But maybe it was politically difficult for those countries to get involved,” Rumsfeld said. “And maybe they have sent a big percentage of their overall troops. Does anyone ever think of that?”

I have paraphrased him, but closely.

Anyway, President Trump has canceled his trip. This has left many Danes feeling both bewildered and insulted, as you can read in this report. Other people have pride too, to say it again. These guys don’t want to cough up Greenland, apparently. Can we blame them? Trump’s behavior has increased awareness of Greenland in the Danish mind. This is only natural. Entirely human.

Of course, Trump is very cross at the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen. He often has harsh words for our allies, in Canada, Germany, South Korea, and elsewhere. This is in contrast with his words for Kim, Putin, Erdogan, et al.

Even as he is chastising Denmark, Trump is saying that Russia ought to return to the G-7, making it a G-8. “I guess President Obama, because Putin outsmarted him, thought it wasn’t a good thing to have Russia in,” Trump said. In point of fact, the democratic nations booted Russia because Putin had invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

America is a big nation — not just physically, and not just militarily — and we ought to act accordingly. We have no need to pout at the Danes, much less punish them. In trying to acquire Greenland and such, we should take care that we not get smaller.

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