"SE PROMENER D'UN PAS AGILE AU TEMPLE DE LA VÉRITÉ LA ROUTE EN ÉTAIT DIFFICILE" VOLTAIRE
mars 23, 2023
MUNICH — If the Munich Security Conference had a soul it was embodied in Senator John McCain, always an invigorating presence here and always a fierce advocate of the trans-Atlantic alliance. He’s gone now and so is the idea of inevitable liberal democratic convergence, replaced by great power competition in the age of the strongman.
The meeting comes hard on the heels of a strange gathering in Warsaw — yes, Warsaw — convened by the United States and devoted to “Peace and Security in the Middle East.” It might better have been called “Pipe Dreams on the Vistula” or “Trump’s America Bashes Europe.”
At the Warsaw conference, Vice President Mike Pence lashed out at Germany, France and Britain for trying “to break American sanctions” against Iran. He seemed as incensed by Europe’s malign behavior as by Iran’s — a curious case of the United States aiding Vladimir Putin’s divisive agenda in Europe.
The truth is that the Trump Administration broke the Iran nuclear agreement, undermining America’s word, whose value has declined around the world as sharply as Iran’s rial currency over the last 18 months.
Germany, France and Britain believe in the evidence that the nuclear agreement is working, with the Islamic Republic in compliance. The accord was never supposed to transform Iran overnight or sprinkle fairy dust on the Middle East. It was meant to keep Iran from going nuclear. It’s doing that.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a hapless mission to shape Trump’s caprices into policy, declared, “You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran.” He has this upside down. Peace and stability in the Middle East are impossible without Iran.
The Islamic Republic is too big and too influential to shut out. It’s not going anywhere. To say this is not to advocate appeasement. Iran, 40 years after its revolution, is beset by internal contradictions and is predatory abroad. It is to recognize that, as with Europe’s successful Ostpolitik during the Cold War, engagement with a rival power may be the best way to change that power and defuse confrontation. Behind the nuclear deal lay this conviction. It is inscribed in postwar Germany’s DNA.
German-American relations are now at a low point. Multilateralism was not just a policy for postwar Germany. It was a core belief. In the construction of a rules-based world order anchored by international organizations, including the European Union and NATO, lay the assurance that history could not repeat itself.
Trump has never encountered a multilateralism he does not loathe. The world, for his administration, is a place where rivals “compete for advantage.” The president is for muscular unilateralism in a Hobbesian world — except he hasn’t heard of Hobbes. Global community is pie in the sky; Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, a lost cause.
The relationship anchoring the world that the Munich Security Conference sought to buttress has been drained of meaning.
This is why Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to the United States, wrote in his welcoming remarks of “a reshuffling of core pieces of the international order” and a “leadership vacuum.” Who carries aloft the flag of liberalism and its values with anything resembling the autocratic convictions of the new strongmen — Vladimir Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and Donald Trump in the United States?
It’s no longer worth pretending that Trump is not in the authoritarian camp. The shock has passed. Europeans have internalized the shift. The best they can offer as liberty’s beacon in America’s stead is Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Merkel. He is being yellow-vested, and she is in her twilight years.
If there is a particular foreboding hanging over this conference, it lies in the fact that the sonderweg, or (loosely) wayward path, of Trump’s America has occurred just as Europe splinters. Brexit is weeks away. Spain has just called yet another election. In France and Germany and Spain, the major political parties are losing power or disintegrating, challenged by nationalist xenophobes, leaving a fragmented political topography. Instability is inevitable.
Trump favors such fragmentation because he believes it will leave weaker European powers more susceptible to his winner-takes-all bullying. Europeans have no illusions about this. The old order has frayed to the point of dissolution. It was based on the conviction that words have meaning. For Trump, they do not, as his declaration of a “national emergency” on the southern border with Mexico underscores. Without meaning, no law, no treaty, is worth the paper it’s written on. This is the real danger confronting the West.
During the Warsaw theater, Roxana Saberi of CBS News confronted Pompeo on the hypocrisy of the United States denouncing human rights abuses in Iran while embracing Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, who, in the assessment of the C.I.A., ordered the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist. Pompeo lost it, twice calling Saberi’s legitimate inquiry “a ridiculous question.”
European powers see such braggadocio for what it is. They are contemplating the world without its postwar American anchor. Cometh the emergency-declaring strongman. He’s pitched camp in Washington, no less.
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