The unreliability of American foreign policy under the Trump administration

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PHOTO: MARTIN H. SIMON/ZUMA PRESS

On May 8, commonly known as Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day), the American President, Donald Trump announced his decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran deal.  The US departure from the deal is a blow to the transatlantic community, multilateralism, and the non-nuclear proliferation regime. On V-E Day, the US president directly told his European counterparts that the word of the United States is unreliable, and that any commitment/deal made by the United States is effectively worthless. One caveat, in foreign policy, credibility is as important as interests.

Trump’s foreign policy has been in the making for now over a year. Early on, experts, including myself have framed Trump’s approach to world affairs as transactional. That was in the first 6-month of his presidency when he was still under tutelage of the traditional American foreign policy establishment. In year 2 of his mandate, Trump is now surrounded by his choosing, that includes John Bolton, as national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo, as US Secretary of State. Both opposed to the Iran deal. James Goldgeier is correct when emphasizing that “Bolton and Pompeo joining the team left [US Secretary of Defense] Mattis isolated in arguing the Iran deal was working.” Year 2 is about the implementation of the pledges made on the campaign trail. One major pledge and a driving force behind Trump’s foreign policy has been erasing Obama’s legacy.

President Obama understood that American foreign policy and interests can better be served via multilateralism and diplomacy. Obama had learnt the mistakes of foreign p071415ps-0184interventions made by his predecessor and favored in fact the used of targeted operations (for better or worst). Under his two mandates, President Obama managed to finalize the COP-21 agreement, the JCPOA, rebuild transatlantic relations (one attempt was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and solidifying the US position in Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). President Obama’s accomplishments had united the right and the Republican party and fuelled the message of candidate Trump on the campaign trail based on some sort of anti-globalist and anti-foreign policy elite defending the liberal order.

Once elected, President Trump did not wait too long before leaving the Paris climate deal, retrieving the US seat from the negotiation of the TPP, putting tariffs and quotas on aluminum and steel, moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and finally leaving the Iran deal. On the climate deal, the international community responded by reaffirming its commitment to meeting the goals defined in Paris without the US, one of the largest polluters. It was a disappointment for European allies. But many were not surprised considering the perceptions and rhetoric on climate change in the American political debate. The US withdrawal from the Paris climate deal sent the initial signal to Europe and the world about US foreign policy under Trump. But the successions of policy rebuttals are now building up in increasing tensions and discomfort between the two sides of the Atlantic. On the Iran deal, both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been intensively lobbying the US president to reconsider its decision.

President Trump’s argument was that the Iran deal was one of the worst deals ever and that it did not do enough to address Iran’s ballistic program and curb Iranian foreign policy in the region. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial sums up very well the voice of the anti-Iran deal advocates. The Trump administration expects that by re-implementing the sanctions it would put so much pressure on the regime that it will ultimately bring it to collapse. President Trump and national security advisor Bolton are in fact hoping for regime change. When President Macron prepared his visit to the US a couple weeks ago, he talked on Fox News about not having a Plan B with regards to the Iran deal. The US neither has a Plan B today, nor one for tomorrow if the Iranian regime further radicalizes or even collapses.

From Europe’s point of view, the exit of the US from the Iran deal implies several dimensions: first, it undermines European commitment to multilateralism and more importantly the rules-based order, the centerpiece of European foreign policy. The Iranian nuclear deal is a “key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture.” It embodies a success for European diplomacy, which has been the main driver over 12 years of negotiations beginning with HR Javier Solana (E3+1). The Iran deal represents “the foremost proof of their [European] capacity to act coherently and effectively.”

Second, it creates a considerable financial and economic dilemma under the current circumstances. With the US departure and re-imposition of US sanctions, European companies could be in violation of such sanctions. It comes at the time when of the Trump administration unilaterally increased tariffs and quotas on aluminum and steel and the Europeans are currently receiving a temporary exemption. As mentioned by EU chief foreign policy Frederica Mogherini, “the European Union is determined to act in accordance with its security interests and to protect its economic investments.” French, British and German officials must now navigate some tricky waters as EU companies, such as Airbus, Danone, Renault, Total and Sanofi, could be facing penalties under US sanctions. The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, told “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operation immediately.” The lack of understanding of diplomatic protocol by the American diplomat is quite telling.

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Third, there are considerable geopolitical ramifications in a highly volatile region. The nuclear deal has played a role in maintaining a certain level of stability (at least status-quo). The Europeans are seeking to maintain the deal and are committed to “work collectively on a broader framework” covering Iran’s nuclear activity, ballistic missile program and seeking for greater stability in the Middle East.

Fourth, it demonstrates one more time the lack of willingness by European powers to assume their European sovereignty in advancing and defending European interests. President Macron in his acceptance speech of the Prix Charlemagne, asked this criticalMacron-PrixCharlemagne question: “Are we accepting the rule of the other or the tyranny of the events or are we making a choice by ourselves of a deep autonomy and yes, of a European sovereignty?”  The US-EU relations are deep and have evolved over time. Since the 1950s, Washington has called on Europeans to build up their power and influence, and Europe has struggled with such task. Now with the current administration, the EU and Europeans are facing a complex conundrum: developing a tough and united position against the Trump administration without damaging its relationship with the United States.

On V-E day, a day of commorancy of transatlantic unity defeating Nazism and fascism, the American president made a case for an America first, America alone (at the exception of Israel and Saudi Arabia), and for undermining the interest of the international community. The case made by President Trump and some of his foreign policy allies, like Senator Marco Rubio, is that the Iran deal was a political agreement signed by President Obama and not by Congress (which is true). For instance, Senator Rubio emphasized in a tweet that the deal was “not a binding agreement under US law b/c never submitted for Senate approval. It is a political agreement made by the previous administration.” This is a dangerous game to start playing and to justify major diplomatic shifts.

Now the concept of ‘America First’ may play very well with a specific segment of the American electorate, however, it is not effective with the international community. Reciprocity is a core dimension of international relations. Under the liberal order, the US has certainly advanced its interests, while having positive and beneficial outcomes for American allies. In the case of the Iran deal, the Paris agreement, the tariffs/quotas, American allies are obvious losers. President Trump wants to keep his promises to his base, but what about his European counterparts? How can a European leader defend transatlantic cohesion under the terms and conditions advanced by this administration?France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said EU states would propose sanctions-blocking measures to the European Commission. He even asked “Do we accept the vassalization of Europe in commercial matters? The answer is no.”

President Trump mentioned in withdrawal speech that his action sends a critical message that “the United States no longer makes empty threats.” We will see on this point as so far US interventions abroad under President Trump have been so limited and frivolous. Trump is making unilateral decisions with lasting consequences without any grasp of the issues and policy outcomes. In year 2, President Trump is continuously isolating the US by proving that American commitments are in fact empty promises.

(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).
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Ida – A Regard into Europe’s Past and Present

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Pawel Pawlikowski directed a wonderful picture, Ida, nominated at the 2015 Oscars for Best Foreign Picture. Ida takes place in Poland in 1962 and follows a young mysterious woman, Anna, whom is ready to take her vows as a nun (read the review here). The mother superior at the convent tells her to visit her aunt Wanda before making her decision. She goes to Warsaw and meets her aunt, a judge, whom tells her that she was born jewish and her birth name was Ida. She learns as well that her parents were killed during World War two because of their religion and culture. At this point they decide to find the graves of her parents and indirectly confront their faith and past. This picture tells a compelling story engraved in deep themes related to European heritage such as war, communism, politics, religion, history, identities, memories and power.

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Ida was shot in black and white making it so precise, net and pure thanks to splendid movements of camera and sumptuous angles. As explained by Pawlikowski, whom left Poland when he was 14 years old, making this movie in Poland in the 1960s was a way to reconstruct a Poland at “a time I [Pawlikowski] vaguely but very intensely remember. That was my childhood.” Pawlikowski’s imagined and reconstructed Poland gives a very romantic and timeless tone despite the darkness of the story.

Ida is more than ever relevant today considering the resurgent tone of anti-semitism flourishing and spreading all around Europe. One core theme of Ida is dying because of one’s religion. World War two was in some degree the paramount of the organized killing of Jews across Europe. Ensuing the Wannasse conference in January 1942, the Nazis leadership institutionalized the killing of ethnic groups, principally the Jewish people and Tsiganes. This conference provided the baseline for the policy of antisemitism known as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Since 1945 and the Nuremberg trials Europe as a whole has been dealing with this dark past and heritage. Most European countries were complacent and ind- and/or -directly involved in this genocide. The ghosts of the Final Solution have remained in Europe since then. Ida is a reminder.

Antisemitism in Europe and France in the 21st century

This question of antisemitism is reappearing in Europe and especially in France and Germany since the turn of the new century. The rise of extreme right wing parties – as well called populist or ultranationalist – and their acceptations as powerful political force have changed the political narratives and rhetorics. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, it seems that the gates have been opened and that European leaders and ruling parties are now superficially addressing this problem of antisemitism for too long ignored. Several elements should be analyzed about the question of islamophobia, antisemitism, and extreme rights in Europe and France.

First, on February 17th, 2015, the Council of Europe published a 52-page report about the rise of intolerance, racism, hate speech and violence against minorities in France. “The1259153771 council is concerned” said Nils Muižnieks, the commissioner of human rights for the Council of Europe, “about the decrease of tolerance and the increase of verbal assaults and hateful and discriminatory acts recorded in France.” M. Muižnieks went on in his presentation of the report arguing that “In recent years, there has been a huge increase in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and homophobic acts. In the first half of 2014 alone, the number of anti-Semitic acts virtually doubled, while the number of Jews leaving France for Israel tripled compared with 2012, which is a telling indication of their feeling of insecurity.”

In the Council’s report, he underlines that the intolerance and racism are not ephemeral, but are rather deeply ingrained. He adds that these acts are an illustration of the continuous and permanent decline of the ‘social contract’ and the principle of equality; in sum the welfare state and its basic virtue of tolerance related to the core value of fraternity. He calls national authorities to do more at the national level and implement a national action plan and severely condemned these daily discriminatory and racist behaviors.

Second, what about European public opinion? Is it all about political rhetorics? A second report, titled “Antisemitism in the French Public Opinion. New Understanding” (in French, L’antisémitisme dans l’Opinion Publique Française. Nouveaux Eclairages) published in November 2014, under the direction of Professor Dominique Reynié seeks to look at the segments of French public opinion sensitive to antisemitic sentiments (here is a link to a recent interview on French National Radio, France Inter). In the introduction, Prof. Reynié writes that the question of antisemitism, xenophobia, and racism is reappearing in democracies, in Europe and France. Even though there is nothing new, the preoccupation is about the renewal (le regain in French) since the 1990s, which required a clear attention and action (p. 5). He claims that there are several obvious factors such as: globalization, identity crisis of Western democracies, fear of the rise of new world powers, migration flux, societal malaise caused in part by failed integration policies (multiculturalism or assimilation), aging populations, economic and financial crisis (in Europe), and political crisis (in Europe with serious disillusionment with mainstream/traditional political parties and establishments).

However, the real contribution of the report, aside from the fact that antisemitism is shared across party lines from the extreme left to right, is that one element has been forgotten in explaining the rise of these extremist sentiments, the internet. Prof. Reynié argues that the internet offers a platform where people can express themselves in all impunity, without having to face the consequences of their actions and words (p. 6). Additionally the report shows that between 2000 and 2014, France has seen an increase by 91% of antisemitic acts (p. 7). The recent reports of acts of vandalism in French cemeteries were linked to antisemitic motives.

Source: Daily Mail
Source: Daily Mail

Undeniably, both reports coincide with the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen targeting journalists and Jewish people. As demonstrated in Reynié’s report and in other polls, Jews of Europe are being largely targeted and blamed for all Europe’s trouble. In the case of France, the extreme right – which is not as homogenous as believed and described – is seeing the rise of even more radical and racist sub-branches than the Front National.

The Front National is becoming, for better or worst, a mainstream party now accepted by a large segment of French and European population and by a group of right-wing politicians of the UMP (read here a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine about the newly found respectability of the Party under Marine Le Pen). New parties, like the Réconciliation Nationale, led by French comedian Dieudonné and pseudo-intellectual Alain Soral are changing the bedrock of French political narrative. In the case of the Réconciliation Nationale, the party lines are multiple and contradictory: anti-zionism, anti-capitalism, anti-Europe, anti-bourgeois, leftist for labor policies, and rightwing conservative in political values. The rise of such party can be explained by the internet and social media. As argued in Reynié’s report, the internet has changed the way political communities are made and structured and allowed all types of rhetorics without impunities. In the case of the Dieudonné-Soral political union, the center-point is the website, Egalité&Réconciliation.

Some analysts have argued that the antisemitic sentiments in Europe is caused by Israel’s actions in the Middle East. However, it is difficult to take such argument seriously for several reasons: first, antisemitism has existed well before the creation of the state of Israel; and second, antisemites, as in the case of the Dieudonné-Soral union, are neither in support of Palestinian and Arab causes.

Ida – A Tail of Two Europes

How Ida and the rise of antisemitism in contemporary Europe can be compared? The main theme of Ida is a search of one’s identity. And in the current political chessboard of Europe, Europeans, and especially French in this article, are as well in search of their identities. Antisemitic sentiments have existed in most of Europe’s, and christian, history and continue to live on. Ida offers a wonderful look at several Europes: an historical Europe, one divided by the Wall between the Soviet Union and the West; and a present Europe in search of its identity and origins forcing to dig in the worst of its memories and realities. Today’s Europe is as divided as before, not by a physical Wall, but by an imagined-Wall between Europeans based on cultural-religious traditions and values.

Considering the odds of Ida winning the Oscars, the New Yorker writes “it’s hard to bet against the historico-politico-religious sanctimoniousness of ‘Ida.'” In his interview with the New York Times, Pawlikowski was asked about the warm receptions of his movie. “What seemed to have worked” he argued “is precisely that the film doesn’t try to explain things but actually draws the audience in at a very basic psychological and emotional level, and makes them feel as if they’re watching something timeless.” Even though the European construction is a political marvel, its dark historical root and heritage seem unfortunately timeless too.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).