Rising US unilateralism is a bad thing
Ten years ago, I was in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s “reunification” of the city in 1967. I got into a taxi in West Jerusalem to go to East Jerusalem. The traffic was heavy, with new checkpoints everywhere. “It has been like this every year,” said my Israeli driver, “reunification, my ass.” Jerusalem was a divided city then and it is still divided today. Nobody seems to have told U.S. President Donald Trump that basic fact.
Americans have had a problem in leading the world for some time now. The Iraq invasion, and later the so-called Arab Spring have been destabilizing our part of the world, a bit like fire eating away at a big log. Former President Barack Obama’s Syria policy only made things worse, letting the place descend into a free-for-all proxy war. “Leading from behind” meant no leadership at all, and it has only made the world a more dangerous place.
Now we have Trump making it even more dangerous by going to the other extreme: Unilateralism. It seems that the U.S. has stopped trying to lead at all. It has no patience to even think about what its friends want. The powers that built the world as we know it are now disowning it.
Just look at the series of unilateral U.S. decisions imposed on the global community last week.
On Dec. 3, Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of the U.N. Global Compact on Migration. The U.S. had been at the core of the talks since the U.N. process began last April. The objective was to find mechanisms to protect the rights of migrants and refugees by assuring their resettlement and access to employment and education. Just before the results of this 193-country deliberation process were announced, the U.S. pulled out.
Then on Dec. 6, Trump signed an order to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was just another unilateral decision, catching everybody off balance. The U.S. actually accepted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel about two decades ago, but no one attempted to move the U.S. embassy before an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which was wise. Trump’s decision is not.
There are about 244 million international migrants — people living in a country other than where they were born — in the world today. Of these, almost 66 million are forcibly displaced migrants - and their numbers are rising. It is easily the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. This is a global situation, and a global situation definitely requires a global and multilateral answer. But the U.S. has decided to pull out of the U.N. Global Compact on Migration. Of course, that was not a solution, but it was a multilateral attempt at easing the conditions of forced migrants.
Like the Jerusalem decision, the global compact decision will only strengthen the position of extremists worldwide. Both will increase terror threats to all of us. Economically, the Jerusalem decision will make things harder for any “Middle Eastern ASEAN” to take shape in the future. Our neighborhood needs more commerce, more discussion on container routes and more investment deals, instead of more destruction. In Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has found a strong ally to trigger a third intifada and has made our region more insecure. Trump’s decision is destructive, not constructive. Why? Because it is unilateral.
It all reminds me of what I wrote back in December 2016: “When I was a kid, Fidel Castro was a symbol of a backlash against globalization. Now we have Trump. This is beyond anything we could have imagined in my times. If Castro’s Cuba provided the occasional pothole along the road, Trump is the drunk driver sitting next to you. Welcome to the age of global reckless driving.”
Rising U.S. unilateralism is a major sign of global reckless driving. Two bad decisions in one week. What happens when the frequency increases?