American foreign policy is being tested on four fronts

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THESE DAYS American foreign policy is a hard sell. In the 25 countries polled by the Pew Research Centre, trust in Donald Trump to do the right thing languishes below the ratings for Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. When Vice-President Mike Pence paused for applause for his boss at the Munich Security Conference, he was met by an embarrassing silence. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state and a faithful preacher of the Trump gospel, has his work cut out to persuade people that America remains “an enormous force for good all across the world,” as he told this newspaper recently.

Mr Trump’s policies will in the end be judged by results—and crucial tests loom on several fronts. One is in Venezuela, where he is championing efforts to topple Nicolás Maduro. He was quick to recognise Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in January. But Mr Maduro is refusing to budge, and is blocking efforts to deliver aid despite what Mr Pompeo calls “the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of man absent armed conflict”. The conflict threatens to escalate, in a high-stakes trial of America’s ability to prevail in its own region.

The stakes are even higher with North Korea. Mr Pompeo accompanied Mr Trump to Hanoi with Mr Pompeo for a second summit with Kim Jong Un. In advance Mr Pompeo said he hoped for “a substantial step forward” towards “the full and final denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. Little progress was made on that.

A giant test also looms on China. On February 24th Mr Trump put off the steep rise in tariffs on $200bn-worth of Chinese goods that was threatened for March 1st, citing progress in trade talks. He even dangled the prospect of a summit soon with Mr Xi in Florida to sign a deal. But any deal that tackles America’s trade deficit with China, without bringing convincing concessions on the more fundamental ways China exerts influence through state involvement in the economy, will draw accusations that Mr Trump has allowed himself to be duped.

Then there is Iran, a focus of Mr Pompeo’s most recent trip to Europe in mid-February, which included a gathering of more than 60 countries in Warsaw. That meeting was a shambles, but Mr Pompeo is unfazed. He has devoted a lot of energy to Iran, and is at his most animated when speaking about it. He rattles off a long list of things Iran must do “for starters”, including stopping arming militias in Yemen, ceasing its underwriting of Hezbollah and defunding Qassem Soleimani, who as commander of Iran’s Quds Force is “conducting terror attacks all around the world.”

Whether or not American-led economic sanctions work, they are straining relations with America’s European allies, who have stuck with the nuclear deal with Iran despite Mr Trump dumping it. Mr Pompeo says he sees no divide over Iran. No one argues with the “central thesis” that Iran poses the greatest risk to stability in the Middle East, he says, and “serious conversations” are under way with European countries about how to limit Iran’s missile capability. But he also warns that America will enforce its sanctions regime vigorously, “whatever machinations anyone tries to go through” to get round it. Big European companies have already pulled out of Iran: “Those companies are gone,” stresses Mr Pompeo, “and they ain’t going back.”

It also falls to Mr Pompeo to try to preside over a show of allied unity when he hosts NATO foreign ministers in Washington, DC, on April 4th, the alliance’s 70th anniversary. Mr Trump has shaken NATO with his heavy-handed demands that the allies must spend far more on their own defence, even threatening that America might go it alone if they do not. Mr Pompeo mixes insistence that more needs to be done with recognition of the “remarkable increase” in spending under way: “Our adversaries see that our NATO team is getting on the field.”

Mr Pompeo himself is playing on, he has ruled out a Senate run in Kansas. Since his transfer from the CIA last April he has tried to restore “swagger” to the State Department—not boastfulness, he stresses, but pride. Even with better management, however, the policies remain Mr Trump’s. And they are entering testing times.

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