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12 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM

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‘America First’ policy and the future

Tearing up the Iran nuclear accord, failing to make a meaningful intervention in Syria and jettisoning the two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict the US risks losing influence in a volatile Middle East
Ismail Ali
‘America First’ policy and the future

The world order in which we live today is largely engineered by the United States. Engaging through the 1947 Marshal Plan to rebuild Europe from the rubble of two World Wars, the US established relative peace and continued prosperity across the world.

It was the leader in global trade, the environment, non-proliferation, human rights, development, health, and security. However, President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy, rooted in nationalism and protectionism, is not only undermining the rule-based international order but also isolating the US from the global stage. Withdrawing the US from the Paris climate change accord, Iran nuclear agreement, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), questioning the necessity of NATO, igniting trade war, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and jettisoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict,pitted America against its closest allies.

Relations between the USand Europe plunged to new depths after the most acrimonious Group of Seven summit in Canada on June 8-9th, ended Trump V rest. West has been stunned by Trump’s threat of trade war and his slapping of tariffs on steel, aluminium and now on cars imports from Europe, Canada and Mexico. Lashing out at fellow European leaders and backtracking on a pledge to sign the G7 communique,agreed on trade and tariffs, proved whatThe Economist’spredicted week beforethe summit is right: the G7 summit “risks looking like the G6+1.”

Many Europeans are now convinced that the US president has declared war on western world order as he consistently disproves the European Union, NATO and the World Trade Organization as bad for America. Trump insisted Emanuel Macron, French president, to leave the EU for a better trade deal with America, when he was visiting White House a few months before. During the EU summit on June 29, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said Trump posed a serious threat to western unity and urged EU leaders that it would be a mistake to dismiss him as “stupid”.

Trying to appease his European friends, a disappointing John McCain, the veteran Republican politician and one time rival to Mr Trump for the presidency, tweeted “Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t. Bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values”, the Senator went on.

Two days after adisorderly exit from Canada, however, president Trump suddenly finds love in Singapore with a ‘rocket man’, according to his own words, not so long ago. The historic Trump-Kim Singapore Summit is indeed laudable for easing of tensions in the region. Comparing their hand-shakes with Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat and Israel’s prime minister Menachem Begin under the appreciating eyes of US President Jimmy Carter, four decades ago, commentators are finding it as “watershed moment for global politics.” Nevertheless, the summit produces nothing new from Pyongyang but another series of promises to denuclearise. Madeleine Albright, the former US secretary of State, talking with BBC’s Andrew Marr on July 1, said the meeting was not a win-win but Kim-win prestige, international recognition and given only promises in return.

President Trump wants to make ‘America Great Again’ referring to Africa as ‘Shithole countries’, insulting Muslims as terrorists, and ripping-up children from their mother (entering theUS from Mexico). Cancelling US Aid to countries devastated by war and natural calamities and backing away from climate change agreement, he showed America will no longer protect the weak and vulnerable. His administration even threatensthose aid recipient countries and Gulf Monarchs that “America is watching” who does business with Iran, violating US sanctions. That falls into the old idea that ‘Might is Right’.

America First is not only leading from behind but America leaving leadership from behind. Tearing up the Iran nuclear accord, failing to make a meaningful intervention in Syria and jettisoning the two-state solution of the Israel-Palestine conflict the US risks losing influence in a volatile Middle East where Russia is emerging as great power. Leaving the TPP is an opportunity for China to re-establish the centuries-old ‘Silk Road’economic belt encompassing around 60 countries, primarily in Asia and Europe but also including Oceania and East Africa. And ifthis ongoing trade and tariffs issue intensifies, America’s closest allies including Japan and South Korea may make a strategic shift. Gideon Rachman, aFinancial Times columnist, recently urgedlike-minded middle-powercountries – UK, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan – to forge a new alliance to upheld a rule-based world order.  

Readers may wonder why paradigm has shifted,suddenly? There are plenty to blame: from high inequality within western societies to financial breakdown in 2008, from adventurous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria to uncontrolled migration, among others. A growing number of people are disillusioned by their political system, today.These contributed to the Brexit vote in Britain, to the rise of populist movements and parties in Germany, France, Poland, Hungary and last month’s electoral win of Italy’s anti-immigrants Five Star Movement. As a result, belief in democracy, liberal values, the free market, and capitalism is eroding, but nationalism, authoritarianism, protectionism, and strongman politics is appealing to voters.

And Donald Trump brilliantly exploited this evolving populist sentiment using the scaremongering trump card of ‘us and them’ to get in to the White House. Those who voted him to power were exactly the same ideological worshipers who voted for Brexit to happens, and his comrades are trying to influence and energise like-minded populists in Europe to reshape political landscape. Take Richard Grenell, the US ambassador to Germany, who recently advised German businesses to get out of Iran as soon as his country pulled out and did not hide his ambition that he is planning to “empower” conservative political movements across Europe. Similarly, Trump adviser John Bolton, is in London now lobbying for a hard Brexit, ahead of this Friday’s openly divided Cabinet’s crunch meetingin this regards.  The best way to contemptpresident Trump and the populists is to tackle income inequalities, ensure economic justice, impose fair taxation and create opportunity for everyone. Liberals need to unite, to emphasise that barriers to trade distort economies and harm consumers, especially poor ones. Globalization has not only created a free ride opportunity for rich American corporations but it has also lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in China and elsewhere. A last week exclusive findings, by the respected UK policy think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, concluded that protectionism will cost £470 billion globally every year.

With the USunmatched military, diplomatic, scientific, cultural and economic power,Mr Trump can “Make America Great Again” bytaking honest initiative in the world stage like George Marshal did in 1947 and remembering the words of Henri Kissinger: order cannot simply be ordained; to be enduring, it must be accepted as just.

The writer is a freelance columnist on current affairs and development issues. He can be reached at: ismailali776@yahoo.co.uk-

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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