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Trump threatens to cut Pakistan aid, looks to US midterm polls

PALM BEACH, Florida: US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron arrive for a New Year’s party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort late Sunday. – AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump suggested yesterday he would cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, accusing Islamabad of harboring violent extremists and lying about it. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Trump said in his first tweet of 2018. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Last week, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration was seriously weighing whether to withhold $255 million in already delayed aid to Islamabad over its failure to better crack down on terror groups in Pakistan. US-Pakistani ties have taken a nosedive under Trump, who in August declared that “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror.” Last month, Trump had already hinted that he may cut off the aid for good. “We make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help,” he said in unveiling his national security strategy. And in late December, Vice President Mike Pence told American troops during a visit to Afghanistan: “President Trump has put Pakistan on notice.”

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif responded to Trump’s tweet yesterday, telling Geo television in an Urdu-language interview, “The United States should hold its own people accountable for its failures in Afghanistan.” He said all funds from the US had been “properly audited” and that “services (were) rendered.” Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations of turning a blind eye to militancy, lambasting the United States for ignoring the thousands who have been killed on its soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.

Trump also tweeted right to the end of 2017 Sunday, boasting of his accomplishments in his turbulent first year in office and throwing down the gauntlet for the US midterm elections. He highlighted his tax cut and a surging stock market in a series of New Year’s Eve tweets that seemed to set the table for next year’s fight for control of the US Congress. “Why would smart voters want to put Democrats in Congress in 2018 Election when their policies will totally kill the great wealth created during the months since the Election,” he said. “People are much better off now not to mention ISIS, VA, Judges, Strong Border, 2nd A, Tax Cuts & more?” “2nd A” appears to refer to the constitutional right under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms – though it was unclear what action, if any, Trump has taken in that regard.

Trump was ringing in the New Year at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida before returning to Washington. “As our Country rapidly grows stronger and smarter, I want to wish all of my friends, supporters, enemies, haters, and even the very dishonest Fake News Media, a Happy and Healthy New Year,” he tweeted, repeating his often-used term for well-established news outlets which have issued investigative reports that cast him in a negative light. 2018 will be a great year for America!” Trump said.

He goes into 2018 with the lowest approval ratings of any modern first-year US president, after a year during which he shattered political expectations, strained long-standing alliances and courted controversy on race and immigration. In a tweet late Thursday, Trump addressed criticism of his often incendiary use of social media. “I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair ‘press,’ now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent ‘sources’ are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!”
Still continuing is a deepening federal probe into whether Trump campaign aides and associates colluded with a covert Russian effort to sway the 2016 US presidential election in the Republican’s favor. But Trump, who told The New York Times this week that the investigation makes “the country look very bad,” stuck to the good economic news on Sunday. “If the Dems (Crooked Hillary) got elected, your stocks would be down 50% from values on Election Day. Now they have a great future – and just beginning!” he tweeted, referring to his defeated Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Despite passage of a major tax overhaul before Christmas and stock markets ending the year at record highs, Republicans have proved vulnerable in recent elections. Republicans now hold a slender one-seat majority in the US Senate after a Trump-endorsed candidate – accused of preying on teenage girls – lost a special election in traditionally Republican Alabama. A poll average compiled by website finds that 55.6 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s performance in office and 40 percent approve.

That represents a notable deterioration on both measures since he took office in January, after a divisive campaign that featured attacks on immigration and free trade deals, and in which he promised to bring back jobs to depressed parts of the country. The US economy is growing at 3.2 percent and unemployment is at a two decade low of 4.1 percent. In his most significant legislative victory to date, Trump succeeded in slashing corporate tax rates from a top rate of 35 to 21 percent, but at an expected cost of soaring federal deficits.

Internationally, nerves have been set on edge and some have questioned Trump’s global leadership. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said Sunday that Trump’s unpredictability and the disruptive nature of his presidency have created “an incredibly dangerous climate”. “We’re actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been,” he said on ABC’s “This Week”. “I don’t see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point,” he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk who has grown close to Trump, called 2018 “a year of opportunity and extreme danger”. “We’ve got a chance here to deliver some fatal blows to really bad actors in 2018. But if we blink, God help us all,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” – AFP

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