Donald Trump’s foreign policy of humiliation is liable to have dire consequences, not least for the interests of the U.S. itself.
“Humiliation” is a word that has cropped up in various analyses of Donald Trump’s foreign policy. This applies, for example, in the context of Mexico, Iran, the EU, the UN or North Korea.
As Nelson Mandela said, “There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated,” something that can also be applied to countries.
There is method to the madness. Humiliation is a general tactic that Trump embraced as a real estate promoter before entering politics.
Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal
The latest case of humiliation is the U.S. rejection of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). It represents a humiliation for the Iranians who, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are complying with the agreement to the letter.
Of course, Iran was strengthened by the ill-conceived U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and, more recently, by the elections in Iraq and Lebanon. The Trump Administration now even seems to favour trying to bring about regime change in Iran.
For the time being, Trump’s decision is strengthening the hardliners in the regime of the ayatollahs and weakening the moderates, starting with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
The United States may thus end up facing a radicalized regime that returns to the nuclear path, something that will definitely destabilize the region and could even lead to war.
Europe, too, has been humiliated by this affair. The efforts expended by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel on getting Donald Trump to stick with the Iran deal have been in vain.
Another humiliation experienced by Europe are protectionist U.S. measures against EU imports.
Since the agreement with Teheran was incorporated at the time into a UN Security Council resolution (which in theory remains in force until a repeal or replacement resolution is passed), the Trump Administration is thus humiliating the UN as well as international law.
US-China trade war
Elsewhere, the trade ultimatum placed on China by the Trump Administration is –according to Martin Wolf – a humiliation for a sovereign power, because it lays down conditions that no country could accept.
The rumblings of a trade war can already be heard. Trump made a gesture to the company ZTE, which was going to shut down because of the restrictions the U.S. imposed.
And there are signs that Beijing is willing to negotiate and avoid a trade war. But wounds have been inflicted.
All in all, Trump is systematically undermining the world order that was largely constructed under the leadership of the United States after the Second World War.
Trump: A revolutionary?
Is Trump a revolutionary in this sense? He would be — if he were planning an alternative order. “America First” is not it. It is an attitude, not a strategy.
For all his bluster, Trump is keen on destroying existing structures without having any viable alternatives in place. This applies not just globally and regionally. (For example, tensions are especially rising in the Near East).
The destructive effect can even spring from purely national actions. Consider Trump’s tax reforms. They have unleashed destabilizing forces outside the United States.
Since World War II, the United States has been exercizing its leadership with a combination of auctoritas (authority) and potestas (power). Trump is relying solely on the latter.
Trump is aided by the fact that we all still live in a world in which his country continues to be the most powerful. That pleases him to no end, but a price will eventually have to be paid. A strategy of humiliation has a great amount of hidden costs.
***Editor’s Note: Adapted from Andres Ortega’s Global Spectator column, which he writes for the Elcano Royal Institute.
****Andrés Ortega is Senior Research Fellow at Royal Elcano Institute, Spain’s main think tank in international affairs, in charge of global governance and of a blog, Global Spectator. He has been twice (1994 to 1996, and 2008 to 2011), director of the Department of Analysis and Studies (Policy Unit) in President of the Government’s Office (Spain).
He was a long time commentator and editorial writer for El País, the highest-circulation daily newspaper in Spain. He has also served as the paper’s London and Brussels correspondent. From 2004 to 2008, he was the director of Foreign Policy magazine’s Spanish edition. He is also director of the Observatorio de las Ideas, a publication on ideas’ mining.
He holds a degree in political science from the Complutense University of Madrid and a Master’s degree in international relations from London School of Economics.
Among his publications are “La imparable marcha de los robots” (2017), “La fuerza de los pocos” (2007), and “La Razón de Europa” (1994His first novel, Sin alma, was published in Spain in 2012.