Mov­ing On: The West Ad­justs to a Rogue U.S. Pres­i­dent

Policy - - Contents - Jeremy Kins­man

The daily ex­cla­ma­tions and all-caps ex­hor­ta­tions of Don­ald Trump of­ten ob­scure the sys­tem­atic dam­age he is do­ing to the mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions of which Amer­ica was prin­ci­pal post-war ar­chi­tect and mo­ral chore­og­ra­pher. Vet­eran Cana­dian se­nior diplo­mat Jeremy Kins­man, our for­eign af­fairs writer, ex­am­ines the toll Trump has taken and how Amer­ica’s alien­ated al­lies are re­spond­ing.

The sum­mer of 2018 has shaken the rules-based world or­der that emerged from the dev­as­ta­tion of the Sec­ond World War. A rogue pres­i­dent of the United States has ap­par­ently cho­sen uni­lat­er­al­ism and na­tion­al­ist com­pe­ti­tion over the mul­ti­lat­eral norms and co­op­er­a­tive prin­ci­ples that Amer­ica it­self did so much to shape.

Don­ald Trump’s style in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics is to dis­rupt, and to take a wreck­ing ball to the achieve­ments of his pre­de­ces­sors in the White House, es­pe­cially Barack Obama’s. But in re­cent months he took his uniquely desta­bi­liz­ing act on the global road. In June and July, at the G7 Sum­mit, the NATO Sum­mit, in Bri­tain, and fi­nally Helsinki for a bi­lat­eral sum­mit with

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, he seemed to chal­lenge the value and pur­pose of Amer­ica’s ba­sic al­liances, un­der­min­ing Amer­i­can friends in the G-7 and NATO with open hos­til­ity, while very con­tro­ver­sially de­fer­ring to the world­view of Pres­i­dent Putin. Will this storm blow over, as other storms have in the past? Or is it the be­gin­ning of a dis­lo­ca­tion of the trans-At­lantic ties at the core of our diplo­matic world since WWII?

It is clear key Euro­pean lead­ers are now hedg­ing their re­liance on the United States, while dis­tanc­ing them­selves per­son­ally from Trump, whom they view as bel­liger­ent and un­re­li­able. For Canada, the sit­u­a­tion is more prob­lem­atic be­cause of ge­og­ra­phy and the ex­tent of Cana­dian ex­po­sure, es­pe­cially on trade. But the view of events is the same, prompt­ing the Trudeau gov­ern­ment to strengthen sol­i­dar­ity bonds with key Euro­pean and other part­ners to re­in­force the re­silience and ef­fec­tive­ness of international co­op­er­a­tion. The sum­mer of 2018 marked a turn­ing point in the free world’s en­gage­ment with Don­ald Trump as the face of a sud­denly mis­cre­ant Amer­ica. It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand what is at risk in this dy­namic as long as Trump re­mains in of­fice: the le­gacy of a co­op­er­a­tive, in­ter­na­tion­al­ist world or­der forged from the chaos and de­struc­tion of WWII.

Fifty years ago, for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Dean Ach­e­son wrote his sem­i­nal nar­ra­tive of the con­struc­tion of the co­op­er­a­tive post-war world or­der, “Present at the Cre­ation.” He re­called his­to­rian C. V. Wedg­wood’s com­ment about his­tory—that usu­ally, “We know the end be­fore we con­sider the be­gin­ning...We can never wholly re­cap­ture what it was to know the be­gin­ning only.” Ach­e­son’s is a “tale of large con­cep­tions, great achieve­ments, and some fail­ures, the prod­uct of enor­mous will and ef­fort,” led by the U.S. It fo­cused on the world’s “free half,” where shared demo­cratic val­ues would over­power the forces of com­pet­i­tive eco­nomic and mil­i­taris­tic na­tion­al­ism that had spurred the rise of fas­cism and the geno­ci­dal war it pro­duced.

It is worth re­call­ing that when he wrote the book in 1968, Amer­ica was in acute dis­rup­tion. Ach­e­son found the U.S., “and par­tic­u­larly its young peo­ple,” in a “mood of de­pres­sion, dis­il­lu­sion, and with­drawal from the ef­fort to af­fect the world around us.” Amer­ica was then in tur­moil over Viet­nam, a sex­ual and cul­tural revo­lu­tion, and un­re­solved in­jus­tices that ex­ploded when Martin Luther King was as­sas­si­nated, ig­nit­ing in­ner cities. Shortly af­ter, hope was fur­ther dashed when Bobby Kennedy was mur­dered. The so­cial un­rest spread: The stu­dent protests of the soix­ante-huitards shut down France. NATO sat help­less as Soviet troops smoth­ered the Prague Spring. In China, Mao’s manic Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion turned the coun­try in­side out. But the mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions founded by cre­ative in­ter­na­tion­al­ists af­ter WWII sur­vived the whirl­wind. U.S. con­fi­dence did re­cover. The Euro­pean Union grew in­creas­ingly co­he­sive and pros­pered. China be­gan to rise and trans­form it­self. In 1989, the end of the Cold War ren­dered ob­so­lete the world’s di­vi­sion into two halves, free and un­free. Mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions be­came in­creas­ingly uni­ver­sal, ab­sorb­ing na­tions that were ben­e­fi­cia­ries of both the end of the Cold War and the end of colo­nial­ism. Global in­ter-de­pen­dence lifted hun­dreds of mil­lions out of poverty. We as­sumed that hu­man­ity’s great chal­lenges—from cli­mate change to pan­demics to international crime—must be solved col­lec­tively. His­tory, of course, doesn’t move for­ward in a straight line; it cir­cles back, moves side­ways, and then pro­ceeds again. Since 1989, harsh counter-de­vel­op­ments and events have bent the arc of progress. International ter­ror­ism, no­tably the catas­tro­phe of September 11, 2001, al­tered the world.

Af­ter the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Western eco­nomic lead­er­ship and glob­al­iza­tion’s mer­its be­gan to be doubted. De­vel­oped so­ci­eties re­sented the re­lo­ca­tion of jobs to lower-cost lo­cales. Mil­lions living in poor coun­tries un­touched by glob­al­iza­tion’s eco­nomic ben­e­fits formed a flood of mi­grants who joined refugees from the wars of Syria, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa to pour into Europe, test­ing the tol­er­ance of res­i­dents whose own earn­ings had stag­nated amid widen­ing in­come dis­par­i­ties. Pop­ulist, iden­tity-driven politi­cians like Poland’s Kaczin­ski, Hun­gary’s Or­ban, La Liga in Italy, Le Pen in France, Wilders in Hol­land, and the new Ger­man alt-right blamed po­lit­i­cal elites and mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, and im­plic­itly ques­tioned whether lib­eral democ­racy it­self was up to cop­ing with the chal­lenges.

In 1989, the end of the Cold War ren­dered ob­so­lete the world’s di­vi­sion into two halves, free and un­free. Mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions be­came in­creas­ingly uni­ver­sal, ab­sorb­ing na­tions that were ben­e­fi­cia­ries of both the end of the Cold War and the end of colo­nial­ism.

Prom­i­nent au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes pressed for­ward with in­creased con­fi­dence. Rus­sia in­ter­fered with demo­cratic elec­tions, in the US and in Europe, os­ten­si­bly in favour of na­tion­al­ist pop­ulist can­di­dates, in the hope of di­vid­ing Western al­lies. China ex­panded its in­flu­ence glob­ally, in Africa, South Amer­ica and through­out the de­creas­ingly demo­cratic coun­tries along its Belt-and-Road ini­tia­tive, where China spent bil­lions in in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment.

The di­vi­sive, pop­ulist right-wing op­po­si­tion to the Euro­pean po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment also at­tracted favourable com­ments from the U.S. pres­i­dent and ac­tive en­cour­age­ment from mem­bers of his po­lit­i­cal cir­cle. Trump’s fla­grant sab­o­tage in Charlevoix, Brus­sels, and the UK was a fur­ther desta­bi­liza­tion. As Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Juncker quipped, “With friends like that, who needs en­e­mies?”

Though Trump’s elec­toral vic­tory had been a shock, al­lies hoped it was hy­per­bole when

Trump de­clared in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress in Jan­uary, 2017, that he placed the in­ter­ests of Amer­ica first, “al­ways Amer­ica first.” But that doc­trine was con­firmed when his orig­i­nal na­tional se­cu­rity and eco­nomic ad­vis­ers (H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn) touted, in a Wall Street Jour­nal op-ed, Trump’s view that “the world is not a global com­mu­nity” but “an arena where na­tions, non­govern­men­tal ac­tors, and busi­nesses en­gage and com­pete for ad­van­tage.” They is­sued the ev­ery-na­tion-for-it­self state­ment of prin­ci­ple that “Rather than deny this el­e­men­tal na­ture of international af­fairs, we em­brace it.” It marked a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from Amer­ica’s half-cen­tury post­war le­gacy of des­tiny-defin­ing for­eign pol­icy.

Trump re­moved Amer­ica from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship. He op­posed NAFTA (“a ter­ri­ble deal for us. We have been treated very, very badly ....... ”), trash­ing Ron­ald Rea­gan’s vi­sion of a North Amer­i­can com­mu­nity of peo­ples with shared eco­nomic in­ter­ests. He launched a trade war with China. He dis­sem­i­nated his dis­plea­sure with the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, im­ped­ing its dis­pute set­tle­ment ca­pac­i­ties.

He wanted only bi­lat­eral trade deals. Weaponiz­ing un­cer­tainty, he uni­lat­er­ally im­posed tar­iffs on alu­minum and steel im­ports from trad­ing part­ners, in­clud­ing Canada, on the spu­ri­ous and in­sult­ing grounds of “na­tional se­cu­rity.” He upped the pro­tec­tion­ist, uni­lat­er­al­ist ante by threat­en­ing crip­pling tar­iffs of 25 per cent on U.S. im­ports of au­to­mo­biles and parts. That the part­ners were Amer­ica’s prin­ci­pal al­lies was of no ap­par­ent con­se­quence; in­deed, he in­di­cated he be­lieved NATO was “ob­so­lete,” later des­ig­nat­ing the E.U. as Amer­ica’s “foe.”

Trump seemed to be evac­u­at­ing the international sys­tem far be­yond trade. He yanked the U.S. from the Paris Ac­cord on cli­mate change and then the vi­tal Iran nu­clear ac­cord. He with­drew the U.S. from UNESCO and the Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, elim­i­nated U.S. con­tri­bu­tions to the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund, and cut con­tri­bu­tions to the UN’s bud­get for peace­keep­ing. Mean­while, Trump seemed to bond per­son­ally with au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers, ap­par­ently aban­don­ing Amer­ica’s na­tional com­mit­ment to sup­port hu­man rights de­fence. Amer­ica’s own rep­u­ta­tion as a democ­racy wa­vered as Trump at­tacked U.S. in­sti­tu­tions, me­dia, law en­force­ment agen­cies, and the courts, the es­sen­tial checks and bal­ances to ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity.

Ini­tially, U.S. part­ners had per­sisted in be­liev­ing Trump would “nor­mal­ize.” Then, some banked on ap­peas­ing him into ex­empt­ing them from his vin­dic­tive as­saults. “Flat­ter him,” was the U.S. in­sider ad­vice to the still-new Cana­dian gov­ern­ment, and for over a year, they did. The er­ratic pres­i­dent showed in­creas­ingly over his first 18 months that there was no ca­jol­ing, pla­cat­ing or rea­son­ing with him. An­gela Merkel warned that “Europe can no longer count on the US and must take mat­ters into its own hands.” But his per­for­mance at the G7 and NATO Sum­mits and then the Helsinki bi­lat­eral with Putin sealed the per­cep­tion he was be­yond in­tractable. He was de­struc­tive.

Amer­ica’s tra­di­tional al­lies tran­sited to an­other phase in their as­sess­ment of how to deal with Don­ald Trump. Hav­ing come to dis­like him and now dis­trust him, lead­ers de­cided they would have to re­visit their as­sump­tions about his mo­tives and dif­fuse their de­pen­dence. Their pre­oc­cu­pa­tion now is how to pro­tect global in­sti­tu­tions, sta­bil­ity and pre­dictabil­ity from his manic wreck­ing ball.

Ger­many be­came a hub in an ef­fort to reach out to like­minded al­lies. It’s not just the At­lantic na­tions: China and Ja­pan are hus­tling to shore up the international trad­ing sys­tem Trump has been trash­ing. The New York Times put it suc­cinctly: “The only thing you could say in Trump’s favour is, he’s brought the world to­gether on trade…It’s Trump ver­sus the world,” a point il­lus­trated on the hard eco­nomic is­sue of uni­lat­eral U.S. tar­iffs on imported cars, when Canada joined other auto pro­duc­ers from the EU, Ja­pan, South Korea, and Mex­ico in pre­lim­i­nary meet­ings to dis­cuss a co­or­di­nated re­sponse.

More broadly, Ger­many is talk­ing to other mul­ti­lat­er­al­ist stalwarts, es­pe­cially Canada, about cre­at­ing an in­for­mal al­liance to re­in­force, and where nec­es­sary re­form, key UN and other agen­cies and com­mon causes, from cli­mate change to migration, which could oth­er­wise be de­bil­i­tated by the with­drawal of U.S. pos­i­tive lead­er­ship or even par­tic­i­pa­tion. They are con­tem­plat­ing a de­fen­sive in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of ties and co­op­er­a­tion among fel­low in­clu­sive democ­ra­cies to re­in­force the pos­i­tive ex­am­ple of ef­fec­tive lib­eral democ­racy to oth­ers.

So, the sum­mer of 2018 has been a crit­i­cal mo­ment, pos­si­bly the be­gin­ning of a tec­tonic shift in close re­la­tion­ships. Canada is in a uniquely chal­lenged po­si­tion, along with Mex­ico, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons of ad­ja­cency to the U.S. and eco­nomic ex­po­sure. But Canada has a lot of friends in Amer­ica. The links and chains are strong. We have to keep shoring them up. Our align­ment is not to an anti-U.S. de­fen­sive coali­tion, but to the val­ues and co­op­er­a­tive pur­poses that Ach­e­son’s gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans gave to the post-war world and on which we have come to rely for se­cu­rity and progress in con­fronting trans-na­tional is­sues. Of course, as in 1968, per­haps the im­me­di­ate storm will pass, leav­ing es­trange­ment in its wake, but not a de­struc­tive catas­tro­phe.

We can al­ways hope Amer­ica will so tire of the psy­chodrama and an­i­mosi­ties Trump fo­ments, that he will not have a sec­ond term. Sooth­ing al­ter­na­tives like Mitt Rom­ney eye the Repub­li­can stage Trump has hi­jacked. Democrats are hold­ing chal­lenger try­outs. But Trump’s cultish loy­al­ists seem un­yield­ing. The world can’t count on an in­ter­nal Amer­i­can so­lu­tion. It is up to like-minded Euro­peans, Cana­di­ans and other in­ter­na­tion­al­ists to save our­selves as nec­es­sary. A counter-strat­egy to pre­serve the mul­ti­lat­eral and co­op­er­a­tive rules-based or­der fore­seen at the post-war mo­ment of cre­ation has be­come im­per­a­tive.

Then, as Trump says, “we’ll see what hap­pens.”

Con­tribut­ing writer Jeremy Kins­man is a for­mer Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Rus­sia, Italy, the UK and the EU. He is af­fil­i­ated with the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

Adam Scotti photo

Don­ald Trump and Justin Trudeau at the G7 Sum­mit in June, the be­gin­ning of a sum­mer of dis­con­tent in the West.

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