Since day one in the White House, President Trump has made “America First” the hallmark of his foreign policy, unapologetically confronting allies and enemies alike to protect U.S. interests overseas.
But a truly effective “America First” approach must include strong responses to any encroachment on U.S. sovereignty, which is why the president should take action against Malaysia and its erratic leader over the recent seizure of American-controlled assets.
Earlier this month, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ordered the seizure of assets being targeted by the Department of Justice — at taxpayers’ expense — as part of a $4.5 billion international criminal investigation that spans the United States and at least 10 other countries.
Mahathir took a $250 million super yacht and has plans to do the same with a luxury jet parked in Singapore that U.S. officials have their sights on.
The United States adjudicates hundreds of these types of global financial cases, largely so international markets are safe for American companies and investors against the risks of graft and fraud. But to prosecute these cases, the DOJ and other relevant U.S. agencies must be able to operate without infringement from other nations — making it critical for the Trump administration to flex the nation’s muscle under the America First doctrine and take action against Mahathir and his government.
This response should begin with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who visited Mahathir in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month. While the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia tweeted after the meeting declaring that the nations’ partnership had been strengthened, Pompeo should demand that Mahathir — who has previously suggested blockading the United States to deprive it of food and medicine — return the yacht to the United States or face serious consequences.
Those consequences could include re-evaluating the United State’s status as Malaysia’s fourth-largest trading partner — hardly an empty threat given President Trump’s hardball approach to renegotiating trade deals with some of our closest allies.
The United States is also Malaysia’s leading provider of foreign direct investment, which could be re-examined if Mahathir refuses to reverse his decision.
Directives such as these followed by meaningful consequences for noncompliance are the only way to rein in rogue actors and guarantee the success of a truly “America First” policy.
As President Trump has suggested, a hard-nosed foreign policy is its own deterrent, forcing other nations to reconsider its attempts to take advantage of or embarrass the United States. Failure to do so will only embolden old and new adversaries to undermine the United States on critical issues including trade, immigration and national security.
It is no coincidence that threats from traditional adversaries such as North Korea and Iran largely halted after President Trump promised grave consequences in response to malign actions against the United States. But consistency in putting America first requires zero-tolerance for all threats to U.S. interests — not just nuclear ones.
The Trump administration should demand the immediate return of these assets from Malaysia and set a clear tone for future interactions with Mahathir and other foreign leaders.
Brian McNicoll is a former director of communications for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a former senior writer for the conservative Heritage Foundation. He is currently a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.