Trump sig­nals US’ shift from Obama mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism fo­cus

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

For eight years, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s for­eign pol­icy doc­trine has been rooted in a be­lief that while the United States can take ac­tion around the world on its own, it rarely should. “Mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism reg­u­lates hubris,” Obama de­clared. His suc­ces­sor, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, has de­rided some of the same in­ter­na­tional part­ner­ships Obama and his re­cent pre­de­ces­sors have pro­moted, rais­ing the prospect that the Repub­li­can’s “Amer­ica First” agenda might well mean an Amer­ica more will­ing to act alone.

“The United Na­tions has such great po­ten­tial but right now it is just a club for peo­ple to get to­gether, talk and have a good time,” Trump tweeted days af­ter the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ap­proved a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Both Is­rael and Trump called on the US to use its veto power to block the mea­sure, but the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­stead ab­stained.

Trump’s crit­i­cism of the United Na­tions is shared by some in his party, in­clud­ing a hand­ful of GOP law­mak­ers who have called for Congress to with­hold fund­ing for the body fol­low­ing the set­tle­ments vote. Some of Trump’s other po­si­tions have drawn swift re­buke from Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly his crit­i­cism of NATO dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and his sug­ges­tion that the US might not de­fend part­ners that don’t ful­fill fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tions to the long­stand­ing US-Euro­pean mil­i­tary al­liance.

Trump has also chal­lenged the ne­ces­sity of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism in his eco­nomic agenda, pledg­ing to scrap the 12-na­tion Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade ac­cord in fa­vor of one-on-one agree­ments that he says will be more fa­vor­able to US busi­nesses and work­ers. With Trump still about three weeks away from tak­ing of­fice, it’s un­clear how his cam­paign rhetoric will trans­late into ac­tion. Even as he has crit­i­cized the UN and NATO, he has vowed to “ag­gres­sively pur­sue joint and coali­tion mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions” with al­lies to take on the Is­lamic State mil­i­tant group. What those mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions might en­tail is un­cer­tain, given that Trump’s views on na­tional se­cu­rity have been both iso­la­tion­ist and mus­cu­lar, in­clud­ing his re­cent call for ex­pand­ing US nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Richard Grenell, who served as US spokesman at the United Na­tions dur­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and has been work­ing with Trump’s tran­si­tion team, down­played the prospect that Trump will with­draw from or even dis­re­gard the UN and NATO once he takes of­fice. “Trump is talk­ing about re­form­ing th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions so that they live up to their ideals, not about aban­don­ing them,” Grenell said in an in­ter­view.

Obama has also been crit­i­cal of US part­ners at times, telling The At­lantic mag­a­zine ear­lier this year that some US al­lies were “free rid­ers” ea­ger for Wash­ing­ton to solve the world’s prob­lems. Obama also has pushed NATO part­ners to live up to an agree­ment that they spend at least 2 per­cent of their coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense, a guide­line only a few mem­bers ad­here to.

Coali­tions

But the pres­i­dent’s ma­jor for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions have high­lighted his be­lief that the US is bet­ter served act­ing in con­cert with other na­tions - and that a lack of in­volve­ment from al­lies should be a warn­ing sign to Wash­ing­ton. Both Repub­li­can Pres­i­dents Ge­orge H W and Ge­orge W Bush were also pro­po­nents of coali­tion-build­ing be­fore tak­ing dras­tic ac­tion over­seas.

With the sup­port of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and NATO al­lies, Obama joined the bomb­ing cam­paign in Libya in 2011. He backed away from plans to launch airstrikes against Syria in 2013, spooked in part by the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment’s re­fusal to au­tho­rize its mil­i­tary to par­tic­i­pate and scant will­ing­ness among other al­lies to join the ef­fort. On the diplo­matic front, Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion worked along­side five other na­tions to se­cure a land­mark nu­clear ac­cord with Iran and part­nered with the Euro­pean Union to level eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia for its provo­ca­tions in Ukraine.

Like much of Obama’s ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy, his pref­er­ence for act­ing as part of a coali­tion was shaped by lessons learned from the Iraq war he in­her­ited from Ge­orge W Bush. While nu­mer­ous other coun­tries were part of the war at the start, the US had by far the largest com­mit­ment and bore the brunt of the ca­su­al­ties and the fi­nan­cial bur­den. Re­spon­si­bil­ity for quelling the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity that con­sumed Iraq af­ter the 2003 in­va­sion also fell pre­dom­i­nantly to the US.

Dur­ing a for­eign pol­icy ad­dress in 2014, Obama chas­tised those who crit­i­cized him for seek­ing to share bur­dens with other coun­tries and who saw work­ing through in­sti­tu­tions such as the UN as a “sign of weak­ness”. When crises arise that do not di­rectly threaten the US but still de­mand ac­tion, Obama said, “We have to work with oth­ers be­cause col­lec­tive ac­tion in th­ese cir­cum­stances is more likely to suc­ceed, more likely to be sus­tained (and) less likely to lead to costly mis­takes.” —AP

WASH­ING­TON: This file photo taken on Nov 10, 2016 shows US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Pres­i­dent-Elect Don­ald Trump shak­ing hands dur­ing a tran­si­tion plan­ning meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice at the White House. —AFP

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