Friday, June 8, 2018

May, Merkel, Macron: Three Mice That Roared

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hit the ground running. After all, he had to make up for the feckless leadership of his predecessor. 

On the matter of our relations with Europe, he is shifting our alliances, away from Western European triumvirate—May, Macron and Merkel—toward Eastern Europe. On matters of immigration and Iran three MMMs, the three mice that roared, have deviated from American policy toward Iran. Of course, the foreign policy intelligentsia is up in arms about the fact that America’s relations with MMM are deteriorating, but, for all I know, there is method in Trump’s madness.

We note in passing that Trump has redrawn American alliances in the Middle East. He has restored our good relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Israel… while rejecting the Obama effort to appease Iran. And he seems to have improved relations with China and even North Korea.

Again, there seems to be some method in the madness.

For now the sticking point in many of these relations is trade policy. Nearly everyone believes that Trump is overplaying his hand on trade and that he is threatening a trade war. For my part I do not know enough to opine on the topic, except to say that when everyone agrees on something the chances are that it’s untrue. Everyone believed that Trump had made a mess of North Korea policy…

One understands that Trump has deviated from the Obama policy toward MMM by asserting American leadership. For all their wonders Western European nations cannot defend themselves militarily without American support and leadership. Trump seems effectively to be asserting American pre-eminence in the Atlantic alliance. Europeans who had been used to being treated as equals are howling in disbelief. The question is: can they do more than to howl.

Has the administration set out a coherent policy toward Europe. Thomas Wright suggests that it has in the Atlantic. He points to a speech delivered to the Heritage Foundation this week by Wess Mitchell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe.

Enter Wess Mitchell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe, who laid out the administration’s long-anticipated Europe strategy in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. Mitchell, a well-regarded expert on central and eastern Europe, is the author of three books on foreign policy, including a forthcoming history of the Hapsburg Empire. The main message of his thoughtful, well-written, and strategic speech: The United States views Europe through the lens of a strategic competition between Western civilization and a Russian and Chinese alternative. Mitchell effectively announced a pivot in America’s Europe policy away from western Europe and toward the East (his natural stomping ground) and the South. In fact, Mitchell criticized western Europe for failing to take strategic competition seriously, particularly on defense spending and confronting Iran.

In Mitchell’s speech, he favored engaging central and eastern Europe nations even when disagreements arise because “criticism bereft of engagement is a recipe for estrangement.” “Engagement,” he said, “is not just diplomatic—it is also about winning hearts and minds of publics for whom the memory of 1989 and NATO enlargement is increasingly distant.” Reasonable people can differ over whether such a strategy might give countries like Hungary a free pass on democracy. Mitchell is also hamstrung by Trump’s refusal to authorize actions to deter Russian political warfare. But the commitment to engagement that he expressed is to be welcomed. That section of his speech, including calls for pushing back against China’s efforts to make eastern Europe its “playground,” was promising. The problem, however, is in what is left behind in Mitchell’s pivot—the big three nations of western Europe: Britain, France, and Germany.

Wright has offered a fair summary of administration policy. He does not agree with it, so we will allow him his say:

The United States cannot be strategically competitive in Europe without deepening its relationship with western Europe. Mitchell’s warning, that criticism without engagement risks estrangement and that the United States must win the hearts and minds of generations who have forgotten 1989, applies there too. The Trump administration would do well to cast aside ideological debates about the nature of sovereignty and instead focus on protecting America’s strategic interests in all of Europe—preventing the disorderly collapse of the euro zone, countering negative Chinese influence in Europe, ensuring that Europe and the United States work together to maintain an edge in new technologies, facilitating a smooth and negotiated Brexit, and preparing NATO for political and information warfare….

An economically savvy State Department could build a common transatlantic front to negotiate with China from a position of strength. But, with its key western European alliances in disrepair and no positive economic agenda, the Trump administration’s Europe strategy still does not take geopolitical competition seriously enough.

So, we have a new policy in the State department, and some questions about how well it will work. Since we do not know how this will work out in the end we will await developments.


Sam L. said...

The eastern European countries KNOW what it's like to be under Soviet domination. The western ones don't. The eastern ones don't want Muslim immigrants, either, having seen what happened in the western countries.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: For my part I do not know enough to opine on the topic, except to say that when everyone agrees on something the chances are that it’s untrue.

Being a contrarian can be an honorable position, or at least an optimistic one when you don't know enough. But we have fables while we wait.

Should we cheer for the mice, or the lion who may soon get a thorn in his paw and need some help? For me Trump and his birtherism claim-to-fame make me think of Jeremy Irons' Scar more than James Earl Jones' Mufasa. I don't expect the allies will be there when he really needs them.

Margaret Ball said...

Some of those Eastern European countries also know what it’s like to be under Muslim domination. They haven’t forgotten the Ottomans.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point... overlooked by many people, myself included.

Anonymous said...

In a strange way, the eastern European that were under USSR domination are lucky they were. They were cut off from the West's building of the "Blue Model" of government and economics for a long and critical time. This I believe is one of the bigger reasons they seem to be more resistant to the immigrant and economic schemes of the EU. Needless to say being under communist control is a rather hard way to achieve this.