Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

America’s Domestic Strife and Foreign Policy

| Mar. 20, 2019

As Europeans observe how the divisions of American domestic politics translate themselves into foreign policy, they see two very different realities. First the new realities that have shocked them most since Donald Trump was elected: The President’s attacks on central elements of the liberal order and America’s alliance system, his rejection of multilateralism, his questioning of NATO and its mutual assistance commitment while cozying up to Vladimir Putin, the withdrawal from the carefully negotiated Iran nuclear deal as well as the Paris Climate Accord, his protectionist measures while dumping international trade agreements, his opposition to the European Union, now considered a “foe”. The list could be lengthened. Dismayed Europeans observe how the President of the West’s leading power is tearing down not only the very order it once created but also the system that had been the foundation of Europe’s security and prosperity.

Yet Europeans also see another reality in the US that is much more to their liking: first the inconsistencies between the proclamations of policy and the Administration’s behavior, notably in the field of defense where Trump’s questioning of NATO did not prevent the Pentagon from increasing troop deployments in Eastern Europe, thus satisfying the needs of allies he constantly criticizes (though with some justification regarding defense spending). A second encouraging element is the increasing Congressional opposition to Trump’s foreign policy. Although the President’s violation of long held beliefs of the Republican Party (such as free trade) did not shake them out of their docility, at least on the issues of sanctioning Russia’s behavior and resisting a withdrawal from NATO they joined almost unanimous resolutions in opposition to the President.

However, perhaps the most important sign of a potential alternative to Trump’s foreign policy is the state of American public opinion -one which has been somewhat overlooked due to the tumultuous and destructive character of his policies. To be sure, these policies have partially fulfilled campaign promises, for example on the Iran nuclear deal, but most of its elements are of little interest to his electoral base which cares more about immigrants or abortion. On almost all elements where Trump has broken with established American foreign policy dear to Europeans, the American public clearly disagrees with their President. The latest Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll shows that 70 % of the public want the US to be globally engaged, 66% want to share decisions with allies, 66 % support the Iran deal and 68 % the Paris Accord. Indeed, 75 % want to keep or increase the commitment to NATO and large majorities support keeping troops abroad and defending the Baltic countries in case of a Russian invasion. Most of these figures have in fact gone up under the Trump presidency. At the same time these views are widely shared by the Democratic opposition and quite a few by a silent part of the Republicans.

Europeans now perceive two Americas: Trump’s foreign policy doing its erosive work and an internationalist and cooperative alternative in waiting. At this year’s Munich Security Conference each was represented by the speeches of Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address at that conference received so much acclaim because she passionately championed what is a European-Western consensus and still the majority opinion in the US.

European governments’ strategy on dealing with the US is now based on the desire to limit damage, to uphold established values and to stick to proven rules while hoping for change in the US to come. American domestic politics will determine whether their hope will come true.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“America’s Domestic Strife and Foreign Policy.” METRO U.N., March 20, 2019.

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