“America First” puts America Last

CHRIS DESETT, PUSHING FORWARD

President Trump, from the very beginning, presented a foreign policy that was destined for failure. Despite the allure of “America First” or other nationalist, populist slogans and like minded policies, these have no chance of success or effectiveness in the world we live in today. For starters, we live in a globalized world. Nationalists may desire to cover their eyes and ears and isolate America from its obligations, but the cold truth is that the United States is entwined with the goings-on of the world through its membership in global and regional institutions and organizations and the use of hard and soft power to maintain and expand its influence on the world stage.

One of the starkest examples of the “America First” ideology was the decision by President Trump to to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Within that same declaration, the President announced his intentions to renegotiate the massive 196-nation climate accord. The Paris Agreement was negotiated with America at the helm, and the deal was favorable to our interests. If anything, the decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement might not have been rooted in a desire to put America first, but rather, a desire of President Trump’s to stick it to his predecessor, President Obama. But I digress. Let us ask ourselves, “What does pulling out of the Agreement give us?”

Well, nothing positive.

The Paris Agreement was more like a set of guidelines, and signatory nations were encouraged to set and meet their own goals, which would be revisited after a certain period of time. So no, the President won’t be saving American jobs by pulling out of the Agreement, as there was no mandate that would have resulted in the loss of American jobs.

And then there is the isolation factor: before President Trump pulled the United States out of the Agreement, only Syria and Nicaragua were the odd two out (albeit, with very different reasons, with the former in the midst of a crippling civil war, and the latter rejecting the Agreement because it didn’t go far enough, actively pursuing their own environmentally-friendly policies). So, we have a country plagued by civil war, a country actively working to be environmentally friendly – and an advocate of rich countries like the US paying more due to the higher amounts of pollution they produce – and then the United States, which willingly isolated itself from an accord that was overwhelmingly popular for reasons unknown to those outside of the corridors of power.

Then, there is the President’s stance on NATO. Ever since the inception of trans-Atlantic alliance, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to its NATO allies and partners, But President Trump decided to jeopardize America’s ties with some of its closest – and most reliable – partners by breaking protocol and admonishing our allies for “not paying enough” into NATO’s defense contribution.  President Trump also seemingly flexed American strength when he literally shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside at a photo-op. After the Iraq War debacle under President George W. Bush, it took a lot for the United States to restore its reputation among its NATO partners who were quick to lend assistance after 9/11. President Obama brought a friendly face to American relations with the organization, and – while there were disturbing hiccups in that relationship –  overall it was cordial and supportive, especially in light of Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, President Trump has performed a complete 180º, and while NATO will most likely survive this difficult and stressful four year term, the relationship between the American government and the NATO governments will undoubtedly be strained (after this, that’s a charitable assessment), unless the Administration learns from its mishaps and works to make amends – a depressingly unlikely prospect, but one that should be hoped for nonetheless.

Many aspects of the presidency, like healthcare, seem to be complicated for President Trump. Foreign policy is no exception. Even the best presidents and administrations have stumbled in the face of adversity and nuance. But few have actively attempted to tear down the modern world order like Donald Trump.

Diplomatic nuance and protocol is absolutely necessary when dealing with foreign governments and organizations, and while knowledge of every little thing is not a requirement, exhibiting a willingness to listen, understand, and most of all, being respectful are relatively easy asks. But as we have witnessed over the past six months, President Trump is a stubborn bull in a china shop, and our allies and partners are nervous and concerned. If our closest allies are exhibiting concerns about America’s willingness or ability to lead, then we are indeed losing. Abandoning our traditional allies and partners whilst currying favor with the Russians will not be worthwhile in the long term (since Russia will never view us as a partner) and abandoning our global obligations out of personal pettiness will only serve to isolate us and chip away at our credibility and good standing. When the United States is viewed with respect, that is when we are able to do the most good, to fulfill our foreign policy goals.

But the foreign policy oozing out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue does not inspire global respect, as I have mentioned earlier. That is why the Paris Agreement will never be renegotiated with Trump leading the way, that is why NATO members and our allies will continue to scoff at the President’s tongue lashings while simultaneously exchanging worried glances, and that is why we will lose. American foreign policy has depended on hearts and minds, in tandem with other soft and hard power methods, ever since World War II, and this foreign policy will set us back in a way that will make it difficult for us to recover.

Chris DeSett is an alumnus of American University’s School of International Service

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