US al­lies hop­ing for best as they reach out to Trump

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Amer­ica’s clos­est part­ners are putting a brave face on Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion win while reach­ing out to try to shape his world­view and to pre­serve tra­di­tional al­liances. Al­lies were rat­tled by Trump’s na­tion­al­ist cam­paign rhetoric and by the hap­haz­ard way he has ap­proached his first round of calls with world lead­ers since be­com­ing pres­i­dent-elect. But they are not pan­ick­ing. Trump may have no for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence, but he does not ap­pear to have any deep-rooted ide­ol­ogy ei­ther, and seems open to dis­cus­sion.

And, de­spite Trump’s threats to tear up trade deals and his vaguely worded calls for warmer ties with Rus­sia, Wash­ing­ton’s clos­est part­ners be­lieve a cri­sis can be avoided. “The US al­liance sys­tem is one of the crown jew­els of Amer­ica’s na­tional se­cu­rity,” said John Han­nah of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, who served as a se­nior for­eign pol­icy ad­viser to three US ad­min­is­tra­tions. While Rus­sia and China have in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated mil­i­taries, they can­not match Wash­ing­ton’s net­work of al­lies.

And, Han­nah told AFP, any pres­i­dent “should think not once, not twice, but 100 times be­fore tak­ing steps that might un­der­mine or jeop­ar­dize” those friend­ships. This week, en­voys from Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant al­lies in the Pacific and the At­lantic, re­spec­tively - Ja­pan and Bri­tain - said they were keen to en­gage with Trump’s team.

Con­cerns were raised in Ja­pan dur­ing the US cam­paign when Trump sug­gested Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary al­lies are not pulling their own weight and might be left to face foes on their own. And Trump’s bru­tal dis­missal of the “ter­ri­ble” Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) free trade deal did not bode well for ties with Amer­ica’s premier friend in Asia. Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe had made TPP a key plank of Ja­pan’s eco­nomic pol­icy, and he was the first world leader to rush to meet the US pres­i­dent-elect in New York.

Trump re­ceived no brief­ing from the US State De­part­ment ahead of the in­for­mal talks, and was ac­com­pa­nied by his daugh­ter Ivanka, a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive with no of­fi­cial role. But, ac­cord­ing to Ja­pan’s Am­bas­sador Kenichiro Sasae, Abe’s team left the meet­ing re­as­sured that the US-Ja­pan al­liance is im­por­tant to Trump and could even be strength­ened. “I’m given to un­der­stand that the pres­i­dent-elect is dif­fer­ent when there is a per­son-to-per­son talk,” the en­voy said, play­ing down the “high tone” of Trump’s cam­paign speeches. “We got the im­pres­sion that he’s a good lis­tener. He lis­tened to a lot of views and tried to digest them.” So, while the TPP re­mains a dead let­ter - “mean­ing­less”, in Abe’s view, with­out US sup­port - Ja­pan is not ready to aban­don the gen­eral prin­ci­ple of a mul­ti­lat­eral pact. And once Trump takes of­fice in Jan­uary and as­sem­bles a team of ex­perts to ad­vise him, some­thing may be sal­vaged. “I don’t think many Amer­i­cans read the text of this agree­ment, to be hon­est,” Sasae said, at an event pro­mot­ing the “Value of Strong Al­liances” at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion think tank.

Trump has yet to nom­i­nate any­one to act as his sec­re­tary of state, and in the weeks since he won the elec­tion, he has ruf­fled diplo­matic feath­ers on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. Bri­tain, sup­pos­edly the proud owner of a “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship” with Wash­ing­ton, has found it­self em­bar­rassed. In his first call with Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, Trump rather than invit­ing her to Wash­ing­ton - breezily sug­gested that if she comes over, she should “get in touch”.

And in a stark breach of pro­to­col, Trump sug­gested on Twit­ter that the Bri­tish am­bas­sador be re­placed by his eu­roskep­tic friend Nigel Farage, for­mer leader of the UK In­de­pen­dence Party. Bri­tain’s ac­tual am­bas­sador, Kim Dar­roch, nev­er­the­less in­sists that ties be­tween Trump Tower and Num­ber 10 are off to a bet­ter start than they may seem to be on the sur­face. Ap­pear­ing along­side his Ja­panese col­league, Dar­roch said May has now spo­ken twice to Trump and that a for­mal visit is be­ing ar­ranged for “very soon” af­ter his Jan­uary in­au­gu­ra­tion.

He ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenge of keep­ing up with any US ad­min­is­tra­tion in tran­si­tion - some 4,000 of­fi­cials will be re­placed, and 1,200 face Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings. But he said Bri­tain would con­tinue to seek the clos­est co­op­er­a­tion - while still mak­ing its own views known. Bri­tain is keen that the United States main­tain Western sol­i­dar­ity in the face of ag­gres­sion from Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia - de­spite Trump’s warm words for the strong­man. “That’s one of the things we will cover when we talk to his for­eign pol­icy team,” Dar­roch said, not­ing Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of part of Ukraine and role “in the car­nage” in Syria. Dar­roch said Wash­ing­ton and other western cap­i­tals talk to the Krem­lin and “as long as we’re all ex­press­ing sim­i­lar views on the chal­lenge we face, I think that’s a good thing.” —AFP

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