Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Going It Alone
Chinese policy planners are a both elated and somewhat terrified in their new role as heir apparent to becoming the most globally-involved nation on earth. As the Trump administration questions our contribution-to-value-received of NATO, the United Nations and various mutual defense and trade treaties around the world, China (and to lesser extent, Russia) are being provided with golden opportunities to step in to fill the void we are leaving behind. The People’s Republic of China is building infrastructure all over the developing world, entering into commodities output agreements everywhere, and looking to build a Pacific Rim trade alliance – clearly excluding the United States – to replace the Trans Pacific Partnership that the United States once pushed until Mr. Trump killed American involvement.
You have to wonder if China is looking at Mexico as an amazing opportunity. If the United States increasingly treats our southern border nation as a problem rather than one of the longest friendly borders on earth, are we forcing Mexico to align with China? Does China pick up the slack from economic loss as the US tries to figure out how to get Mexico “to pay for that wall”? What does China get in return? A right to dock her fleets, open bases, or ???? in Mexico? Cheaper commodities that Americans will have to pay dearly to replace?
We know that Muslim militant jihadist fundamentalists are cheering at the rather obvious anti-Muslim policies emanating from American leaders. As the broad American strokes seem to sweep Muslims into a broad and singular category, we are literally pushing moderate and modern Muslims into the same category with dangerous militant radicals. In addition to creating some of the best recruitment materials that jihadists have seen since the imagery from Iraqi Abu Ghraib prison, we are increasingly aligning the interests of the radicals who want to destroy us with Muslims who just want to live normal lives. There is even a growing disincentive for Muslim moderates even to try and work with us to identify jihadists, since even talking to a Western government focuses unwanted attention on them.
Yeah, but look at Europe! The Netherlands is a hotbed of anti-immigrant feelings. Just like us. So are so many eastern European nations. Then there’s Trump-lite, the UK’s Theresa May working on implementing Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the rise of anti-immigrant sentiments in France, reflected in the presidential election battle between anti-immigrant Trumpist Marie Le Pen and conservative François Fillon. I guess I should also mention the local fall from grace by Germany’s Angela Merkel, trying to distance herself as much as possible from her own pro-Syrian refugee policies (which she is still forced to defend). But there are a lot of Muslims living in Europe these days, many scions of several generations of European citizenship. Surely, the new world of Trump’s America is not losing its deep connectivity to Europe?
Perhaps, if you believe the statements from Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. “The European Council (French: Conseil européen), charged with defining the EU's overall political direction and priorities, is the institution of the European Union (EU) that comprises the heads of state or government of the member states, along with the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in its meetings. Established as an informal summit in 1975, the European Council was formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.” Wikipedia. Oh, that European Council.
In an open letter sent to European leaders on January 31st, Tusk suggested that the United States was no longer a dependable ally in a world sparked by Russian aggression, Chinese expansionism and global terrorism. Setting the agenda for a meeting of EU leaders in Malta, his words suggest an increasingly unbridgeable rift between the United States and the mainstay of the European Union. Troubled by Trump’s unfathomable rapprochement with Putin’s Russia and his unwillingness to commit to supporting the bastions of traditional alliances against Western foes, Tusk’s words went a lot farther:
“For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multipolar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European, or Eurosceptic at best… Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy…
“An increasingly, let us call it, assertive China, especially on the seas… Russia’s aggressive policy toward Ukraine and its neighbors, wars, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and in Africa, with radical Islam playing a major role, as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration all make our future highly unpredictable.” Tusk cannot dictate policy; his letter is only advisory, but clearly his words resonated with the pro-EU leaders who remain at the helm in Europe… at least so far.
Tusk noted the massive linkage between mutual investment between the United States and Europe, but also reminded European leaders that Germany’s Merkel felt force to remind Donald Trump of the Geneva Conventions requirements to protect refugees. Defending against a Trump administration charge of German currency manipulations, Merkel also admonished her allies not to be too ready to make economic concessions to Washington: “Because of that we will not influence the behavior of the E.C.B. [European Central Bank.] And as a result, I cannot and do not want to change the situation as it is.”
The post-letter debate in the EU Parliament on February 1st wasn’t pretty. While Brexit proponent and UK representative to that Parliament, Nigel Farage, was a lone voice in support of Donald Trump’s travel ban and “America first” trade and treaty policy, speaker after speaker made it very clear that Donald Trump’s immigration policy was likely to make stopping terrorism that much more difficult and that working out a normalized new trade agreement with the U.S. was going to be exceptionally challenging. The majority of voices also suggested that the EU needed to let go of its expectations of cooperation with the United States over intelligence and mutual defense. It was obvious that Europe was expecting a linear and growing deterioration of relations with a former ally.
What really came through Tusk’s missive, the subsequent EU Parliamentary debate, and sentiments being expressed across the entire EU, is the seeming move of the United States from its status as a European ally to a possible status as a potential foe, a position that is hard to believe. “Much of the frustration Mr. Tusk displayed in his letter stemmed from what Guntram B. Wolff, director of Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels, said was Mr. Trump’s ‘de facto supporting’ of populist forces that could further upend the European order.
“Far-right populist challengers in France, Germany and the Netherlands have adopted some of his anti-establishment rhetoric in their own campaigns… Still, Mr. Wolff said it was unwise to enter into a war of words with the Trump administration. ‘We need to uphold our values here, but does it mean that we need now a declaration where we put the United States on the same level as ISIS?’ he said. ‘No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it that would be helpful in any way.’” New York Times, January 31st.
In short, Trump’s support of political populists in Europe is seen as a rather direct challenge to that continent’s incumbent leaders, but if that populism rises to the fore, perhaps Mr. Trump’s efforts will pay off… if you accept that result as positive. What Tusk is clearly asking European leaders to do is to circle the wagons against these new American policies, to hang together and stand tall and united against American attempts to rewrite trade and mutual defense agreements to favor the United States at the expense of Europe.
Whatever happens, it probably will get a lot nastier before we settle into… well whatever we settle into. What we really need to know is that the United States cannot unilaterally dictate the end result of its renegotiation of international agreements. When an apple cart is upset, there are always lost apples and no one ever reloads the cart as it was loaded in the first place.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the configuration of global leadership changed, perhaps forever, on November 8, 2016, but we are now going to have to live in that world.