Jamaica must not sit Trump's loyalty tests


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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The brief visit of the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Jamaica is hardly a platform by which to judge the strength of Jamaican-American relationships. But that Tillerson chose to come is an important statement of the continued strong relationship between the two countries, especially at a time when American foreign policy in the region is suspect and the behaviour of the president of the United States leaves a lot to be desired.

Indeed, Tillerson came at a time when his boss described countries such as Jamaica in ways that many regard as despicable and vulgar. The Donald Trump Administration has indicated, in no uncertain terms, that it will not be well disposed to countries that oppose America such as in the recent United Nation's vote condemning its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Furthermore, the Administration has embarked on an “America First” policy by which it has signalled to the world, Jamaica included, that its traditional generosity will not be as forthcoming as before.

Of importance is the disconnect between the denuded US State Department and the president himself. Tillerson is reported to have called Trump a moron — an epithet I do not recall he has denied using. In the chaotic world of Trump one does not know from day to day who is really in charge of American foreign policy. So Tillerson may say something on a foreign stop only to have it questioned or unravelled in a tweet from the tweeter-in-chief at the White House. So how does one trust his pronouncements or promises as authentic? To what extent can one depend on the integrity of American policy to guide one's dealings with that Government?

These are questions that Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Administration must be mindful of in dealing with the US Government. It must also be mindful that it does not fall into the trap of Trump's loyalty test. Loyalty is important to Trump — and this is as true of those who work in his Administration as it is true of countries that do business with it. This call for loyalty was obvious in the instance of the United Nation's Jerusalem vote, in which “note was taken” of those who voted against the Administration with a view to exact punishment in the form of withholding aid from those countries. The Administration has sent a clear signal that those who voted against it will not be looked upon favourably. In other words, they have failed Trump's loyalty test.

In dealing with the USA, the Holness Administration, or any other for that matter, must send an equally clear signal that Jamaica is not prepared to sit the president's loyalty exams. I am not sure Holness sent this message to Tillerson in their meeting together last week. Having sat on the fence on the Jerusalem question he could find no comfortable way to dismount. So he sat there while trying to trumpet a principle which his Administration seems to have abandoned; namely, upholding the traditional Jamaican vote for a two-State solution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. The meeting between the two men showed a prime minister who seemed unwilling to step on the toe of its great neighbour and benefactor to the north. He was tentative and careful in his remarks at their press briefing and Tillerson, no doubt, was pleased.

But in the age of Trump, Jamaican foreign policy cannot veer from the fulcrum of integrity that has served it well in the past. We are a small nation with big ideals. These must not be sacrificed to fit into a mould being carved out by an increasingly irascible, intemperate and uncertain American approach to the world.

As the Kingston College motto affirms, “The brave may fall but never yield. “We are at our best and tallest when we stand for what we believe in. This is why Jamaica has always punched above its weight in the international arena. We must not bend our knees to any benefactor, but we must be wise and prudent in our dealings with them.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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