May 8, 2018

Trump’s Iran decision shows allies no longer count

President Trump, French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. Photo: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images.

A months-long effort by the U.S.' closest European allies to persuade President Trump to stick to the Iran deal has failed. This failure not only dooms the deal itself, but also shows that when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, allies no longer count.

Why it matters: The U.S.' greatest advantage in competing with China and Russia is that it has allies, whereas they merely have clients. That reality seems lost on Trump, who has ignored allies' views and interests since taking office.

Trump’s Iran decision is but the latest in a long list of decisions allies opposed:

  • In January 2017, he abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which included key allies such as Australia, Canada and Japan.
  • In June 2017, he announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • In December 2017, he ordered the U.S. embassy in Israel move to Jerusalem.
  • In March 2017, he imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, which affected mainly allies.

Each time, allied leaders tried to persuade Trump not to follow through on his decisions. Each time, they failed. It didn’t matter whether they sought to negotiate a compromise (as they tried on the Iran deal) or firmly stood their ground (as on Paris and Jerusalem). Nor did it matter if they flattered him (as President Macron and Prime Minister Abe did) or took a business-like approach to overcoming differences (as Chancellor Merkel did).

The bottom line: Recent U.S. presidents took allied concerns into account and valued unity. No more: Trump views other countries, allies or not, only in terms of what they can do for the U.S. That is the true meaning of America First.

Ivo Daalder is the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

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