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June 25 2019

Innocents Abroad: Surprise, It's Not President Trump

by Claudia Rosett

Curiously, the American Enterprise Institute has just published on its website an article that appeared concurrently in The Bulwark, a bastion of the Never Trump sentiment.  

The article is headlined “How to Lose Friends and Alienate Allies.”

Yep, you already guessed who’s losing our friends and alienating our allies: President Trump.

The author is Dalibor Rohac, a researcher at AEI.

Mr. Rohac recently has discovered the phenomenon of anti-Americanism and he knows whom to blame--someone guilty of "bluster and incoherent policies.”

You can read the article here.

The Bulwark skates perilously close to self-parody in this article. Still, since the article apparently has AEI’s imprimatur, and with it wider exposure than it would ordinarily receive, a few comments are in order. We asked IWF’s foreign policy fellow, Claudia Rosett, to offer her insights. Here they are:   

1) — Anti-Americanism in Europe: This has been a European motif for a long time, driven more by domestic concerns in Europe than realities of the US and the world. If America truly wants to have NO useful strategy, then we should make it our priority to please the Europeans — which, to be clear, would amount to embarking without a compass on a rudderless quest for the impossible.

Over the decades there have been so many reports that anti-Americanism is on the rise that one might assume it has by now reached Neptune.

Especially in Europe, and especially under Republican U.S. presidents. Does anyone recall the howls of horror from Germany et al over President Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech? The sky was falling! The war-mongering American cowboy was going to destroy us all! (Though that has been replaced with the faulty assumption that the Soviet Union was never that big of a threat, and Reagan has since been recast by the left as a cuddly Republican dealmaker… easy for the American left to extol, now that he’s no longer with us.)

Also, “anti-Americanism” is a pretty hazy catch-all. More typical of the reality was an anti-American demonstration I witnessed in Moscow, in the mid-1990s, which had the fairly serious aspect that it followed a physical attack on the U.S. embassy there with a rocket-propelled grenade (which took out a big Xerox machine inside the building, but luckily no one was hurt). I asked one of the leaders of the demo why he was so hostile to America. He paused in his anti-American chants to answer that he actually wasn’t actually all that anti-American— he had a brother in the U.S., and hoped to someday go visit him. The demo, he said, was about Russian domestic politics. (Then he offered to sell me, at a good price, a little Lenin tapestry he happened to have on him.)

One more anecdote, about anti-Americanism in Europe: Way back in the spring of 1972, when I was 16 and rounding off a year in Holland as an exchange student, I took a train from Amsterdam to Budapest. And, yes, Anti-Americanism — on the rise in Europe, as ever — was running so high that I simply did not want to deal with it … I remember it quite clearly because I spent the long train trip pretending to be Dutch, while chatting with some very nice young European guys — in English, our common tongue, but with a fake Dutch accent. It became exhausting. Emblematic, perhaps, of what comes of trying to please the Europeans by trying to be what we are not.  

Here’s a report on “Berlin’s New Anti-American Axis,” by Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, a Romanian defector from the Soviet bloc, who knows whereof he speaks. He wrote this in 2003 (when Trump was still dealing real estate and doing reality TV).

Here’s a book by Hoover’s Russell Berman, published in 2008, on “Anti-Americanism in Europe: A Cultural Problem.”

And here’s a long article also by Berman, on Anti-Americanism in Europe, especially in Germany, as an obsession. It’s a long piece, but if you read the first few paragraphs you’ll get the idea:

All this is much compounded by the free-rider problem that is Europe’s largely unspoken assumption that in any real crisis, America will ride to the rescue. On that score, Trump’s demands for EU countries to keep their NATO promises of spending 2% of GDP on defense are not only about money, but about requiring Europe to put some skin in the game — to invest in actual defense/deterrence, rather than rely almost entirely on the U.S umbrella. That’s a very reasonable demand. As Putin’s Russia rearms, it’s Europe that is on the front line. 

2) Rohac’s claim that Trump lacks “an intelligible foreign policy.” Baloney. One might start by asking what a thoroughly neat and tidy foreign policy for 2019 would actually look like. Tall order — President Obama left such an unholy mess of degraded US credibility, gutted military force, and emboldened enemies that it was hard to see where any successor might start to clean it up and change the dynamic. It’s like hauling out of a deep swamp a huge truck driven up to its fenders into quicksand. Takes a lot of maneuvering.

Trump certainly blusters a lot, but in practice he has been maneuvering and hauling away. He was right to get us out of the Iran nuclear deal (which did not stop an Iranian bomb, but virtually guaranteed it — basically deferring the reckoning until Obama left office), right to ditch the Paris climate deal (which was a kow-tow to China of dangerous as well as costly dimensions), right to back Israel to the hilt, right to challenge an ever more opportunistic and aggressive China… and on North Korea, Trump inherited a real crisis, with no clear way to defuse it short of going to war (which would not have been popular either). 

In sum: Trump has been maneuvering for ways to defend America and its interests without actually going to war. The world may not in the end permit that luxury — under Obama a lot of bad things began to accelerate: Russia’s rearming and return to the Middle East, China’s arming, turf grabs in the South China Sea and expanding networks of influence, Iran’s nuclear projects including U.S. concessions to Iran of the “right” to enrich uranium; North Korea’s nuclear program. A program of today of further trying to please the largely unpleasable Europeans would not be an improvement on any of this. It would be a disaster.

3) Finally, a note on Iran. We may not be at war with Iran, but Iran has been at war with us since Tehran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Since the taking of US embassy staff as hostages in Tehran, the Hezbollah bombings of our Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut… on and on, including the 2011 Iranian plot to blow up a Saudi ambassador in a D.C. restaurant, the recent attacks on tankers and the shootdown of a U.S. surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz, and of course the pursuit for years of nuclear weapons.

We have been sanctioning Iran in various ways for decades. What we have not done — as Trump’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, testified to Congress last week — is use force. The We have never directly attacked them. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatolloh Khamenei and his minions are, unfortunately, making a reasonable calculation when they assume the U.S. will not physically attack. For U.S. deterrence, that is a huge disadvantage. We have little or no credibility.

Attacking Iran might start a hot war. Or, as a novel way of dealing with Tehran’s malignant regime, it might finally persuade Tehran that it is a very bad and dangerous idea to attack America and our allies. We don’t know the answer to which way this would go… it is high risk. As with the others in the quartet of world’s most dangerous despotisms today — China, Russia, Iran, North Korea — the only long-run solution is change of regime, and that is fraught enroute with all sorts of risks and unknowns But I would not assume that a selective U.S. military attack on some of Iran’s facilities would produce all-out war. The question is how much it might prompt Khamenei et al to redo their calculus… in an all-out war, the cost to us could be very high, but Iran would lose. Their strategy for 40 years has been to push the envelope, over and over, confident by now that the U.S. has no stomach to use force. They’ve done pretty well for themselves (if not for their people) out of that, to our detriment.

 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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