In my last essay on how Donald Trump is remaking U.S. foreign policy, I mentioned that the overriding interest of both his many foes and his few supporters has been with regard to the Russian dimension, while other elements such as spoiled relations with the EU, with NATO are either misconstrued as random, the products of his personality defects, changeability and perverseness in particular, or are properly understood as a 360 degree attack on the U.S.-run alliance system but without any rational justification adduced.
Trump is at war with the West, we are told, as if that were sufficient interpretation in and of itself. Trump is picking fights with everyone just for the sport of it, other commentators say.
I insist that there is a consistent logic to everything Trump is doing in the international arena, however contradictory it may seem at times because of his policy reversals to confound and disarm his domestic enemies. The logic is to dynamite the whole international order of military alliances which constrain the United States, embroil it in regional conflicts where it has no national interest and drain away more than half of its defense budget for housekeeping expenses at its military bases abroad. In its place, he wants to the return of ‘balance of power’ politics, with the Great Powers regulating conflicts of interest among themselves by ‘spheres of influence’ understandings and the lesser powers making their own peace with one another at the regional level without the meddling of Great Powers putting their thumbs on the scales.
In the past week, another important foreign policy initiative of Donald Trump captured the world’s headlines, but not one of the mainstream or alternative news purveyors has seen the sense of it. I have in mind the escalation of the dispute with Turkey to a critical point that puts at risk the long-term relationship with Ankara.
The core issue or catalyst for the present conflict is Turkey’s detention and prosecution of the American clergyman Andrew Brunson, who is accused of espionage and other crimes. In ratcheting up the American pressure on Turkey by sanctions including most recently a doubling of US tariffs on Turkish aluminum and steel exports to force the release of the pastor, Trump is wholly aligned with the thinking of Congress, where the case is magnified by non-Trump considerations of bringing an authoritarian ruler to heel and of forcing reversal of Turkey’s purchase of Russian S400 air defense system. Trump is also playing to his core constituency of evangelical Christians who take to heart the persecution of one of their own.
This is to say that Donald Trump is using the predisposition of foes and friends alike to work his own policy of dismantling NATO.
The direct consequence of U.S. sanctions on Turkey was a 25% devaluation of the Turkish lira last week. The damage to the Turkish economy forced President Erdogan to raise the anti-U.S. rhetoric and speak of reviewing Turkey’s alliances, saying that the country always had alternatives. This is a thinly veiled threat to withdraw from the NATO alliance, where Turkey’s armed forces are the second most numerous after the United States.
Turkish relations with NATO have been deteriorating ever since the Obama administration lost its way on Syria policy and began supporting any and all forces on the ground there which might participate in the destruction of the Bashar al-Assad government’s control over its territory. One line of attack was U.S. support for the Syrian Kurds, even as this support crossed the red lines of Ankara. There is no more sensitive issue in Turkey than assistance to the Kurds, any Kurds, as they try to establish nationhood on territory belonging to the three states where their populations are concentrated: first and foremost Turkey itself and Iraq, secondarily, Syria.
Withdrawal of Turkey from NATO and its likely compensatory action of closer ties with Russia, China and Iran would re-draw the geopolitical map of the Middle East, very much to the disadvantage of Europe and the USA. At the same time, it would be a knife to the heart of NATO, removing a very significant part of its military muscle. It would force a rethinking of the burden sharing within the Alliance at the very time when Donald Trump has made that very issue fundamental to his questioning its continued existence.
Looking further afield to Trump’s other very important moves in the Middle East, I draw attention to what he is doing relative to Iran.
Removing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (nuclear deal with Iran) was one of Donald Trump’s featured promises during the 2016 electoral campaign. It stood alone then, just as it has stood alone today in the interpretation of the vast majority of commentators. The minority of commentators who see sense in it are wrong-headed: they see this as proof that Trump is in the pocket of the Israel Lobby which helped to finance him and is a stooge of Benjamin Netanyahu.
There is, I believe, a wholly different logic at work here that is identical to what I discerned in the present dispute with Erdogan: the master plan to destroy the cozy relationship with Europe that has underpinned NATO and so much else of U.S. foreign policy. Along with his withdrawing the United States from the Paris convention on global warming, and along with his largely artificial dispute with the European Union over tariffs, Trump’s Iran policy was meant to go against European security interests and to place the Atlanticists in an untenable position.
One may ask why Trump has such animus against the European Union. The answer is quite simple if you look beyond trade and defense relations, which are indeed of dubious value to the American nation apart from certain American elites who have been feasting on the world’s lunch, which always was and remains the hallmark of imperialism. The answer lies in the domain of domestic politics: Brussels is run by promoters of the same “values” that are the ideological foes of Trump within the United States. Brussels is run by Neoconservatives who deny sovereignty of other states as they campaign for the spread of democracy, human rights and rule of law everywhere. Brussels is run by the promoters of LGBT rights, abortion, and a host of other questionable Liberal concerns. Brussels is run by politicians who very actively meddled in the US presidential election of 2016 on behalf of their fellow Liberal Hillary Clinton, none more so than the U.K. and its MI6 with Mr. Steele’s dossier.
Trump is inarticulate and does not come across as brainy. But you can be sure he knows who are his friends and who are his natural enemies. As for us more or less brainy observers, it is comforting to know that this car has a driver with a mission that, in the end, spells peace.