The on-going attack on democracy in the United States, spearheaded by Trump’s administration under the world’s watchful eye, does not need to dampen its successes — unfortunately destined to be long-lasting — of its foreign politics. Obviously, when I write “successes”, I mean exclusively from the point of view of the country’s administration, within its current state, both that of the elite, as well as of the “Deep State” (this being the expression used by liberals overseas to describe the most powerful structures of the nation). Whatever political approach meant to hinder it must, no matter what, understand its pervasiveness and its strength.
The first and principal success of Trump’s foreign policy – which also prompted the relocation of his secretary of state, Pompeo, to Rome – is that of having understood that China was the main enemy. Contrarily to what has been written, it doesn’t only have to do with an electoral shift. Even defining the pandemic – which Trump has also fallen victim to – as “the Chinese plague”, is typical of the tools that he uses: to identify an enemy so as to renew a global bipolarism that constitutes an enduring need on the part of U.S. power; and this not just recently. It is not by chance that Joseph Biden, his political adversary and even his probable successor, was careful not to challenge this choice of his, which he adhered to on numerous occasions though in a manner which was lexically more bland. The topics that Trump nurtures are all declared and practiced, with relative pressures towards his less important allies: technological and commercial war; human rights not understood as a coherent and universal value, but instead utilized as an arm of offense; opposition everywhere towards Chinese investments considered to be strategic; militarization with regard to Asia.
To justify the economic and human costs that are still now set up by the military-industrial complex that former president and Army general Eisenhower defined as a threat to democracy in 1960, an enemy is needed — indispensable for a country whose population, for historical and geographical reasons, otherwise may suffer isolationism. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the constant element of the United States’ foreign policy – slightly mitigated by Obama’s presidency – was the search for an enemy that could be their surrogate, and that, thanks to Trump’s foreign policy — duly accompanied by an increase in military spending — has resulted in antagonism towards China. For various reasons. The so-called war on terrorism, spurred by the attack on the Twin Towers, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and in Syria, have proven to be inadequate for their purpose, even if, together with Putin’s restorative initiatives, they were useful in justifying NATO’s existence, extending its operations beyond its borders (“Out of area or out of business”).
The second objective reached by Trump’s foreign policy was that of redefining United States politics in the Middle East, transforming the ever closer relationship with Israel, under the guidance of Benjamin Netanyahu, strongly motivated by interests tied to oil and arms exports with the Gulf States — a real and true alliance, with the so-called Abraham Accords Peace Agreement. An actual break not only from the prospect of a Palestinian state, but also from international law, starting with Resolution 212 of the UN Security Council that, as noted, does not recognize Israeli sovereignty in the occupied territories. The growing tension with Iran is also a necessary outlet for this type of politics, in such manner reinforcing the relationships between the Sunnites in the Arab world, and Israeli interests in Syria and Libya.
Despite the growing opposition of such policies in the Jewish communities in the US, furthermore reinforced by Bernie Sanders within the same Democratic party, Joseph Biden did not give any sign of wanting to deviate from it; confirming instead Trump’s decision, of great symbolic significance, of moving the Embassy to Jerusalem.
The third result coming out of the United States under Trump’s presidency was that of feeding a rising rivalry, generally hostile towards the European Union, and understood as a representation of Europe as a whole, and with its always growing preference to place the relationships with European allies within the context of NATO within which prevails the relationship with law enforcement and the military, or confine them at a bilateral level, where the lack of equilibrium is always more prevalent. Even in this case, it’s not a question of an epic turn, but instead of a strengthening clarifier, with a few elements of ulterior radicalism, of a policy that has a distant past.
When power in the United States began to gradually decline compared to the rest of the world, roughly dating back to their defeat in the Vietnam War, their relationship with European allies became less hegemonic – that is, shared by subordinate subjects in a Gramscian-like style – and mostly marked by a dominant use of power, above all by miltary presence.
Such change is accompanied by the gradual abandonment of a design of Europe as partner amongst equals, conceived in the 1950s, until it nurtured a growing discomfort, if not hostility, towards a more unified Europe — stronger as potentially capable of extending its competitiveness from the economic and commercial sphere to a strategic and political one. This was clearly practiced, if not actually theorized, by Henry Kissinger, and was continued by Clinton and Obama. It is problematic to expect a Biden presidency to take any steps in another direction. The will of us Europeans to proceed towards integration will be more important, avoiding the prospect of becoming more and more a land of rivalry and conquest on the part of Washington, Beijing, and to some degree, Moscow.
What’s less clear is the continuity between the explicit challenge of the present administration towards each form of legality and multilateral organization, from the United Nations to the World Health Organization, and an attitude of coexistence, not without instrumentalism and strain that have characterized the history of a country that, from Wilson to Truman, has been an original protagonist.
Joseph Biden would have an interest in keeping this in mind. It should be taken into account to not confuse the aspects of the lasting results achieved by Trump’s administration with the president’s subjective impatience. With regard to NATO, they positioned themselves as a tactical resource to obtain more economic contributions within the joint missions on the part of the European allies. Even the personal conflict of interests or the demonstrated fascination for celebrities and authoritative regimes that have tied Trump to Vladimir Putin, haven’t seriously modified US foreign policy. What remain are some results that will probably mark an eventual Biden presidency, to be considered a lesser evil compared to an electoral win or, even worse, a judicial one, of a policy that constitutes a challenge open to the democratic legacy of the United States.
Translated by Emmelina De Feo