quinta-feira, 10 de novembro de 2016
Trump team warns Obama not to make major moves on foreign policy
Trump team warns Obama not to make major moves on foreign policy
‘It’s not going to be just counterproductive, but it will also send mixed messages,’ an aide says.
By NAHAL TOOSI 11/11/16, 5:44 AM CET
Before Donald Trump won the presidency, Democratic foreign policy circles hummed with talk that an outgoing President Barack Obama could take a last stab at peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There also was a strong expectation that Obama would push hard for Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
But now that they’re on the verge of power, Trump aides say Obama shouldn’t even think about taking such steps.
“On big, transformative issues where President Obama and President-elect Trump are not in alignment, I don’t think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the transition … to try to push through agenda items that are contrary to the president-elect’s positions,” a Trump national security adviser told POLITICO on Thursday. “It’s not going to be just counterproductive, but it will also send mixed messages.”
Presidential transitions are often fraught, messy affairs, especially when White House control is switching from one political party to another. (Some Clinton administration officials, famously, took the “w” off their keyboards as the Bush team was coming aboard.) Outgoing presidents try to lock down their policies however they can, whether through executive orders, regulations or legislation. Incoming administrations try to lay the groundwork for what they want to do without declaring open war on the people they are replacing.
Obama and Trump met at the White House on Thursday, and Obama insisted: “My No. 1 priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect is successful.” Trump also has been fielding congratulatory messages from foreign leaders, even those — like Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel — who had signaled their discomfort with his candidacy.
But foreign policy practitioners in Washington and overseas are unusually worried about the Obama-to-Trump handover, a reality that many had dismissed as impossible until it became clear late on Tuesday that the Republican would defeat heavily favored Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered a blunt warning to the incoming Trump team. “We don’t know what we’re in for,” Steinmeier told Spiegel Online. “Surely, no one can dispute that Donald Trump has had his fair share of no-holds-barred confrontation. But now the question will be whether President Trump will behave the same way as candidate Trump.”
Trump, officials and analysts note, has repeatedly shifted his approach on some foreign policy issues, including the Iran deal and restoring ties to Cuba. Some of Trump’s more definitive stances (such as his hostility to trade deals and conciliatory stance toward Russia) also run diametrically opposed to establishment Republican thought, not to mention Democratic preferences. To top all that off, there are numerous issues of international concern about which Trump has said little to nothing whatsoever.
“In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen embassies all over town, foreign journalists, officials in foreign capitals reaching out to anybody they can find to try to get a sense of what does Trump foreign policy look like with regard to my country, my issue, whatever it is, because there has not been a huge amount of detail spelled out during a campaign,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security. “The Trump win was such a surprise that most of them had put their emphasis on trying to understand what a Clinton administration would look like rather than a Trump administration. So now, quite a few of them are caught somewhat flat-footed.”
Also struggling with the new reality are the many employees at the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies that deal with foreign policy and national security. At Foggy Bottom, people have been breaking down in tears since the election, a State Department official told POLITICO. Minority employees in particular are worried about how they will be treated under a Trump administration after a campaign in which the Republican real estate mogul called for a ban on Muslim immigrants and drew plaudits from white nationalists.
In the coming weeks, many of these officials will meet with members of Trump’s transition team to help prepare them for the numerous challenges ahead on the global front, not the least of which is a Middle East on fire and an increasingly assertive Russia and China. Because many had expected a Democrat-to-Democrat transition, they’re now wondering how to lay out their reasoning and policies to a group with vastly different views. Some even view it as a rare opportunity to reshape the views of Trump and his aides.
“We are asking ourselves: Are we going to be able to have some influence on the transition team or not? There is so much unknown. Nobody really knows these people,” the State official said. “I’m not sure I need to feel defensive about what we are working on, but I think it’s important to explain it, and explain options, and to be willing to explore alternatives. Our job is, as much as we can, not to pull punches. It’s to lay out the realities to the new political leadership so they can make decisions.”
Perhaps nowhere are more changes expected than on U.S. policy on Russia.
Trump’s take on Russia is far more dovish that that of many leading members of his own party — including his vice president-elect, Mike Pence. Trump has said he’d like to get along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian officials have said they were in touch with Trump’s advisers during the U.S. presidential campaign. As a result, the Russian government, which used its state-backed media apparatus to bolster Trump’s candidacy, will probably wait out the Obama administration on a number of critical subjects.
That means there’s virtually no chance of a peace deal or even a meaningful cease-fire anytime soon in Syria, where Russians are backing Syrian President Bashar Assad in the fight against U.S.-supported rebel groups. Even under Obama, Russia has been unwilling to meet U.S. demands for a truce or increased humanitarian access to besieged Syrians.
There also is a strong likelihood that Trump will not support continuing U.S. or European sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. The European Union is likely to renew its sanctions on Russia later this year — sanctions the Obama administration is pressing the Europeans to keep up despite their economic ties to Moscow. But if Trump won’t back the same policy, why should the EU renew the penalties when they expire later on?
Trump’s hostility to trade deals has alarmed other countries well as the private sector, and both already are considering how to deal with a United States that’s not fully open for business. Mexican former President Vicente Fox, who vigorously opposed Trump’s candidacy, mused in a post-election column that his country (America’s third-largest trading partner) should take the “opportunity to explore what other nations have to offer. We can create trade agreements with South America, China, India and Europe.” And despite what the Obama administration says in these final months, the incoming president’s view will matter a lot more to corporations that think and invest long term.
The U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq will likely continue in the final months of the Obama administration, and Trump — who has talked tough but vaguely on fighting terrorism — may not change that policy. However, his isolationist streak has alarmed countries such as Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. troops are still aiding Afghan troops battling the Taliban. Upon hearing of Trump’s victory, the Taliban called on him to withdraw those American troops. In a similar vein, Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. may not honor its alliances to fellow NATO members unless they spend more on defense has alarmed Eastern European states worried about Russian aggression.
The Trump national security adviser insisted that the president-elect’s transition team doesn’t expect the U.S. bureaucracy to cease functioning during these final months, especially if it means handling technical issues on policies that already are in place. “The machinery of government is going to have to keep grinding as best it can,” he said. But Obama and his aides shouldn’t go seeking new adventures or pushing through policies that clearly don’t match Trump’s positions, he added.
That includes efforts to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians — even if those initiatives are symbolic at best. Trump, for one, has made it very clear he will support Israel and its preferences. A post-election statement by Trump’s advisers on Israel said, “A two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians appears impossible as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to renounce violence against Israel or recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Israel staunchly opposes any move by Obama to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution seen as hostile to Israeli interests — especially if he asked other world powers to embrace U.S.-drafted parameters for a two-state solution. It’s a very fragile time, and, according to an Israeli official, any such move would represent a “dagger in the heart” of the peace process — perhaps forever.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said that Israel is especially concerned that Obama would make such a move in the event that Trump won the election.
Obama administration officials likely will do everything they can to maintain the integrity of the Iran nuclear deal, but that is one area in which Trump can singlehandedly undermine all of their efforts. The deal relies on a U.S. president waiving certain sanctions on Iran as long as the country avoids pursuing nuclear weapons. Trump, who went from saying he’d consider renegotiating a deal to promising to dismantle it, could simply reimpose sanctions and scuttle the deal.
Trump also could reverse Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic ties to Cuba. As a candidate, he said he supported the reopening to the communist-led island. But toward the end of his campaign, in an effort to appeal to hard-line Cuban-Americans in Florida, Trump promised to “cancel” the rapprochement. Since so much of the diplomatic re-opening relied on executive orders, it won’t be hard for Trump to undo.
With such a huge change coming to Washington, there’s no doubt that a number of America’s allies and adversaries will hold off making major decisions related to the U.S. until the new president is sworn in. In many ways, that’s a traditional symptom of any transition. But few expect this transition to be a traditional one.