Thursday, 15 Nov 2018
World

Trump's nationalism threatens the commemoration of the First World War in Europe

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(Library of Congress)

President Trump will join a group of more than 60 world leaders in France this weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.. War lives in the Western imagination as a hideous (and no doubt worthless) conflict that has killed millions of people, turned Europe's fields into lost landscapes, collapsed empires and foreshadowed an even bloodier war a generation later. His memory and legacy still offer profound lessons for the present.

By hosting the ceremonies, French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to mark a political point. The First World War was a clash between violent nationalist passions and a cohort of power-hungry elites. At present, nationalism is rising in Europe, with far-right leaders in Western Europe and non-liberal statesmen in countries such as Hungary challenging the liberal ideals of the European Union as well as cooperation and multilateralism that once guaranteed its prosperity.

Macron wants this story of unilateralism and conflict to be an edifying story for his contemporaries. "A survival-based approach to the strongest does not protect any group of people from any kind of threat," he said recently.

"We in the West, in particular, have been extremely lucky. We have lived a very long period of peace, "said Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan to my colleagues. "The concern is that we took peace for granted and thought it was a normal situation. We should think that sometimes wars happen – and sometimes not for very good reasons. "

This message is unlikely to reach Trump. Its scrambling in the treaties and its harassment by its allies put a strain on the transatlantic ties and encouraged the anti-establishment forces of Europe. According to his critics, his outspoken nationalism and adherence to protectionism undermined US leadership and challenged the future of the international order built by the United States after the Second World War.

Ivo Daalder, former US ambassador to NATO and co-author of "The empty throne: the abdication of global leadership by the United States," said that even though Trump and his counterparts celebrate the end of the Great War, they should "reflect on the biggest mistake of the United States". That is to say, a decision to avoid the internationalism of outgoing President Woodrow Wilson in favor of the isolationism of his successors between the wars.

Trump's "America First" agenda also refers to this historic retreat, while skepticism about foreign entanglements and fear of immigrants defined national politics at home and abroad. This car rotation had significant geopolitical consequences.

"In the 1920s, conservative presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover rejected the restrictive alliances and the idea that the United States should make economic sacrifices to maintain the geopolitical order," he said. Peter Beinart, from Atlantic, in an essay published earlier this year. "They saw little difference between Britain and France, which were more democratic, and Germany, which was more authoritarian," he continued, "insisting that America was to remain independent, and they opposed Woodrow Wilson's dream of forcing the United States to help European nations threatened with aggression through the League of Nations. "

In 1919 and 1920, the US Senate rejected the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and accession to the League of Nations, the new international organization aimed at preventing future bloody catastrophes. The American absence may have condemned the project at its birth.

"Why would other companies invest in the deal if one of its main supporters, also one of the emerging powers, refused to participate? Many observers appreciated the national policy behind the United States' rejection of the treaty, but that only reinforced the long-held perception that the United States was an unreliable partner, "Jeremy wrote. Suri, historian at the University of Texas at Austin, to tie their hands if the United States acted as a free rider In the decade following the First World War, the actions led by the United States have encouraged unilateralism on the part of other powerful actors, including Japan, Germany and the newly formed Soviet Union. "

Wearing the steel helmets of the past, Trump has repeatedly defended his right to act unilaterally and has made fun of international forums such as the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. 39; NATO.. "For nationalists like John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, the League's failure has become synonymous with the futility of global governance," wrote Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times. "In the 1930s, the League was absolutely unable to effectively control the ambitions of imperial Japan, Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany. The realistic view of the nationalists is that it is only the powers deployed by the nation states – rather than the global governance put in place by the international institutions – that have had the chance to control the ambitions of the dictators. "

But this point of view is precisely backward, Daalder said. It was the effects of US disengagement after the First World War that convinced the next generation of US strategists to build the international institutions and security pacts that shaped the second half of the 20th century and brought lasting peace to Europe. Now, as Daalder and his co-author James Lindsay write, Trump's reckless foreign policy precipitates a new era of "growing disarray" or even "returning to the world of the late nineteenth century" – the powder keg that exploded in the world War I.

"My great fear is that a return to nationalism and protectionism aggravates divisions between countries, erodes norms of behavior and erodes the element of cooperation that has been fundamental to the security and prosperity of the United States", said Daalder at Today's WorldView. "We know what the rivalry between great powers looks like. We know where it ends.

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