The reaction of the U.S.’s trading partners was different. At first, the European Union was energetic in persuading Washington that such a measure cannot be applied to it, since the reality is different – the EU is financing hundreds of thousands of jobs in America –, demanding negotiations that would give it the chance to present its point of view. Already on March 12, Trump was writing the following on his Twitter account: “Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A. Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers.” The comments of the President’s supporters were numerous and show that the measure is deemed appropriate by the American public opinion.
Something shown by the postings of, for instance, an American who is frequently in Europe and who notes: “Thank you for making this an issue. Our trade deficient is unsustainable and must be addressed. I worked in Europe for many years and saw firsthand how creative Europe has been creating barriers to protect their own agriculture and manufacturing industries. Very sophisticated.” And of an admirer of the President who deems that a balance would thus be re-established: “Threatening/adding tariffs causes other countries to remove theirs. Smart dealing.” The European critics point out that American industry stands to lose more from the enforcement of this decision: “Studies say net job losses in the US from Trump steel tariffs will be 146.000 jobs – more than the entire steel industry,” Carl Bildt tweeted on March 18. A ‘Financial Times’ article dated March 20 notes the opinion of a European official on President Trump’s measure: “Donald Trump knows what he is doing: he wants to put his finger in the wounds of Europe, /…/ We have to show we are strong . . . otherwise there is no reason for Europe any more.” What worries the European Union is that Washington’s measures are taken without considering their impact on the joint defence alliance.
On the contrary, they play the role as multipliers of the differences existing between the two coasts of the Atlantic, ranging from the issue of the nuclear agreement with Iran to global warming issues or the situation in the Middle East, and even defence spending. Simultaneously with taking these unexpected decisions, Trump also resorted to changes among the close staff of his team, which have exponentially heightened the allies’ concerns. Aside from replacing Rex Tillerson with a foreign policy ‘hawk’ (Mark Pompeo, former CIA Director), national security advisor General MacMaster was replaced by John Bolton in the second half of March, a Republican with radical views in foreign policy. British diplomat Robert Cooper noted that President Trump “is not just attacking Europe, he is attacking the world America built. He hates the EU, he dislikes the WTO, he hates multilateral trade. This is the postwar international order. If he is serious then it is serious.” Could President Trump be ready to destroy the international order on which global stability has relied until now – hence avoiding a hegemonic war – as built through U.S. effort and resources?
Undoubtedly, the European response, calculated in relation to its interests, will always refer to the instruments offered in this sense by the very international order that the U.S. built in the trade domain, namely the treaties in force. ‘New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristol noted, on March 23, that the announcement of Bolton’s arrival and the imminent European response is having effects: “The Dow lost 700 points today because of the risk of a trade war. If the markets were rational, they would lose 1400 tomorrow because, with John Bolton, there’s an elevated risk of a shooting war.” Are we now close to the potential start of a ‘hot war’?
Thus, there is fairly bad news on the side of the decisions that President Trump has taken so far. As if this was not enough, on March 22 he opened another front, this time in the relationship with China. Stating that “As a candidate, I pledged that if elected I would use every lawful tool to combat unfair trade, protect American workers, and defend our national security. Today, we took another critical step to fulfill that commitment,” Trump directed his own administration to present him, within 60 days, the measures (including the tariffs and their level) in bilateral trade with China, including the restrictions lifted from Chinese investment in the U.S. Let us remember, in this context, that with these measures taken within the space of three weeks, Trump has massively committed himself on other ‘fronts’ too. Firstly, domestically, the U.S. President invoked the possibility of dismissing independent prosecutor Robert Muller, who is investigating Trump’s potential links to Russia during the elections campaign of 2016 (basically the help that the Kremlin allegedly gave him to be elected President).
This huge political crisis prompted by Muller’s investigation seems to be enormously hindering the Trump administration in fulfilling its programme announced in 2016, whose implementation is expected by his admirers and voters. Included among these expectations seems to be also the achieving of close ties with Russia in order to solve global dossiers of special importance. Here are the messages that President Trump posted on Twitter during this very period, March 21: “I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing…”; and “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”
On March 23, Richard Haas, one of the very important U.S. foreign policy experts, concluded after President Trump’s three weeks of feverish decision-making activity, that he “is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea. This is the most perilous moment in modern American history-and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events.”
Why did President Trump launch himself on this course? Will he continue on the route already taken in the last three weeks or will he soon come up – as he has already gotten us accustomed to – with another decision meant to change the ‘games’ already set, soon generating another look for the global political stage?
Especially since on the horizon there is the dossier, heavy with consequences, of former Russian agent Skripal, victim of an attempted assassination with a chemical weapon on the territory of the United Kingdom, ‘highly likely’ carried out by Russia, which prompted the North Atlantic Alliance (and the EU) to close ranks, at least for the moment. And at least two other developments just as unpredictable in their consequences: China’s firm response to the U.S.’s projected economic measures on bilateral trade and, on the other hand, even though the information is yet to be confirmed, Russia and the U.S.’s unusual concentration of armed forces in connection with the Syrian theatre of war. Hence, the danger of both a major trade war between the top two global economies and of a ‘hot’ confrontation between the two biggest nuclear powers of the world.
U.S. President Donald Trump was and is, this March 2018, a determining factor in global developments. But whereto? Toward stabilisation or confrontation at global echelon?