by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS – Chaos, Conflict and Crisis are some of the words describing the combustable global situation the new American President Donald J. Trump inherits from his predecessor. Far from a stable world order, Donald Trump is entering a complex foreign maze in which he must decipher, decode and often defuse a feckless and lamentable foreign policy legacy from Cuba to China.
Let’s take a look at the international situation Donald Trump faces.
China. On Obama’s watch China’s trade deficit with the USA ballooned hitting an all time high of $367 billion in 2015. More ominously, Beijing is expanding its geopolitical reach into the international waters of the South China Sea, through building artificial islands and platforms in disputed reefs. Despite the conflicting claims of six other countries, the People’s Republic provocatively claims the South China Sea as a kind of exclusive “Mare Nostrum” Our Sea.
While American rhetoric has stressed the right of free navigation in international waters, Washington’s words and a downsized U.S. Navy have not stopped China’s deeds. Obama’s vaunted Pacific Pivot was another style over substance policy.
North Korea. North Korea’s nuclear threat has expanded. Pyongyang has perfected working nuclear weapons during Obama’s Administration. There have been five nuclear tests and the regime is working on long range missile technology, targeting Japan and ultimately the USA. This could be a first test for Trump. Don’t take the bait.
Middle East. Obama inherited a dangerous but stabilized Iraq. After much American blood and treasure spent toppling Saddam’s dictatorship, Iraq was reasonably secure. Obama’s precipitous troop pullout caused the string in the national fabric to unravel reopening the sectarian divide. After losing huge swaths of land and cities to Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), described by Barack Obama as a “junior varsity” terrorist group, only now has the Baghdad government begun to regain its footing. Slowly they are reclaiming lost land from ISIL with the help of 5,000 U.S. troops.
Iran. Despite the Islamic Republic of Iran being a clear and present danger to regional stability, especially Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Obama team brokered a multilateral diplomatic deal with Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK to presumably defuse Iran’s embryonic nuclear capacity. While the “deal” as Secretary of State Kerry proudly describes it, has frozen Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, not all countries are quite so sanguine. In the meantime Obama released hundreds of millions of Iranian frozen financial assets and helped Boeing aircraft win contracts to sell Iran Air late model American civilian airliners and technology.
Syria. Poor Syria; 500,000 dead, over ten million people internally displaced or as refugees. The so-called Arab Spring which began with democratic intentions soon turned into a bloody sectarian Winter. An American sea-saw policy of tough words and empty actions towards Syria’s dictatorship, enflamed a regional conflict and eventually invited bloody backdoor Russian involvement.
There are many more Middle East disasters from Western intervention in Libya (the country is now a chaotic gaggle of warlords and terrorist clans), Yemen once Obama’s poster child in the region, is torn asunder by rival Saudi and Iranian backed factions. Once close American relations with Israel are tragically frayed.
In Sudan, a country led by a convicted war criminal responsible for mass murder in now forgotten Darfur, the Obama Administration has quietly eased tough sanctions on the regime.
Cuba. In Cuba the Castro Family dictatorship has been rewarded with U.S. diplomatic relations, and a major political thaw. Obama went so far as to cancel a time honored Cuban refugee asylum policy. Sum total: a reward for Castro, not Cuban democracy.
Europe. Despite the Obama Administration’s tough rhetoric and later sanctions against Russia, the harsh reality remains that an independent and sovereign Ukraine is being dismembered by the Russians. Washington’s tough talk and political hype to the contrary, Russia occupied Crimea and destabilizes eastern Ukraine. The Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, though NATO and European Union members remain dangerously vulnerable.
Obama’s Administration started with a jaunty Russian Reset; Hillary Clinton’s friendly outreach policy toward Moscow. Before long reality intervened and the Obama-Clinton team saw they were being played by Putin. Then the pendulum swung the other way in which Russia, long the land the American left sought political Detente with, suddenly reemerged as what Ronald Reagan rightly called the Evil Empire. That was the Soviet Union, this is Putin’s Russia, not quite the same Bear.
While critics degenerate Trump for seeking good relations with Russia, as former Defense Secretary Willian Cohen advised, “good relations, yes but not on Putin’s terms.” Right.
There’s a need for NATO now more than ever. Donald Trump knows this. While most NATO members have capriciously cut defense spending knowing the USA will pick up the burden, this must change. Trump needs a NATO Reset to underscore the Transatlantic Alliance and reaffirm its vital importance to American values, security and European sovereignty.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.