Starting Friday, terrorists around the world will have a treasure trove of new ways to attack America by proxy and enrage the newly inaugurated president, Donald Trump. As of Inauguration Day, the long list of international buildings and resorts bearing the Trump brand name could replace U.S. embassies and military installations as major targets of opportunity.
It’s the Trump name on these properties that offers the best rationale for the president-elect to divest quickly and completely, before the fire sale begins.
As Americans, we tend to think defensively about terrorism: How can we best prevent the bad guys from exploding bombs or hijacking our planes? So, in defensive posture after an attack has occurred, we erect walls and bomb-proof barriers around our embassies. Millions of Americans partially disrobe whenever we get on airplanes as a reaction to attacks that occurred 15 years ago.
But let’s think, for once, like our enemies. The terrorists of al-Qaida and Islamic State probably long ago gave up on hitting hardened U.S. government targets because it’s too much work. What they’re looking for are the places where Western defenses remain low. They seek targets that are either undefended or are indefensible. Trump Organization properties overseas fit the bill, with the added advantage of advertising the new president’s name atop each vulnerable asset.
The Trump brand offers terrorists the ability to go after the American head of state without all the hassle of attacking a hardened and well-protected official U.S. government outpost. And there is probably little or nothing the U.S. military can do about Trump property vulnerabilities because these are private businesses in sovereign countries.
A five-second internet search, via Trump.com, reveals precisely where the major international Trump real estate holdings are. The list includes places like Bali, Istanbul, Panama City, Seoul, Makati in the Philippines, India and Uruguay. Each host country has grappled with attacks or has served as operational outposts for terrorist groups.
Uruguay, for example, is a major money laundering center for South America. “Officials from the Uruguayan police and judiciary assess that Colombian, Mexican, and Russian criminal organizations are operating in Uruguay,” the State Department stated in a 2016 report. It is an ongoing source of Middle Eastern intrigue involving Iran, Hezbollah and Israel. Panama also fits that bill.
The Philippines, already deeply immersed in political turmoil prompted by its own bombastic new president, was the target of a bombing in September that killed 14. The Islamic State is reported to be making major inroads there. The State Department has warned foreign tourists to avoid some areas.
Trump Organization global assets are entirely private, which means U.S. taxpayers have no responsibility to pay for the properties’ protection. In fact, the use of taxpayer assets to protect a privately owned facility abroad could constitute an illegal diversion of funds.
But what if one of the Trump Organization’s buildings came under a high-profile attack? Would President Trump be tempted to deploy U.S. troops and military assets in response?
Congress could, and should, have a major problem with that. It is not the U.S. military’s job to react when a private business comes under attack abroad, regardless of who owns it. Which explains why ExxonMobil often had to engage its own protection forces (sometimes including right-wing paramilitary groups) when its foreign operations faced insurgency threats. Just ask its former chief executive, Rex Tillerson, who hopes to become Trump’s secretary of state.
There’s also the issue of sovereignty. The United States cannot just barge militarily into any country it wants. The leaders of Turkey and the Philippines have spoken openly about downgrading military cooperation to escape U.S. domination. Panama, which endured eight decades of U.S. military occupation until the handover of the Panama Canal in 1999, is in no mood to have U.S. forces return.
Which is to say, the new president would be largely powerless to act if a high-profile attack occurred on a big foreign building bearing the Trump name.
His lawyer, Sherri Dillon, stated last week that the new president should not be expected to give up his business holdings. “Selling his assets without the rights to the brand would greatly diminish the value of the assets and create a fire sale,” Dillon said. “President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built.”
Consider the fire sale that would occur if, all of a sudden, the name Trump on your building becomes a magnet for international terrorist groups. It’s not a far-fetched idea. Recall that the week Trump won the election, occupants of three New York buildings bearing his name demanded that the name be removed.
Right now, foreign investors and their governments are scrambling to get in on the Trump business juggernaut. There could come a time not long from now when people will be running, literally, to get away from that brand.