Former EST President shares his view! What would the presidencies of Donald Trump, Ben Carson or Marco Rubio mean for Europeans? Marten Kooistra will answer this original question for us.
Despite being still 12 months away, the American presidential elections are starting to heat up. So far, the primaries on the side of the Republicans have been the most curious and amusing, mostly due to the wide array of increasingly eccentric personas. But aside from giving us 12 months of political entertainment, the elections will decide the future of Europe’s closest ally. And seeing as the Republicans seek to drastically change the direction the United States is heading, a Republican president will have serious consequences for Europe.
The Republicans have fourteen very different candidates, and as Vox points out, no clear frontrunner. But however different they all might be, their foreign policy choices generally fit in either one of three groups: the neo-conservative hawks; the ‘disengaged’, who seek to limit American involvement in the world; and the unpredictables, the one-man group of Ben Carson.
Who: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina and most minor candidates.
Most Republicans seem to agree that Obama’s foreign policy is a failure, and the US should take a more assertive approach: no Iran deal, reinstitute sanctions on Cuba and really confront Vladimir Putin. Obama’s preference for negotiations and multilateralism are not shared by the Republicans, and some (as Carly Fiorina) claim that they will refuse to even so much as speak to Putin. As of yet, the discussion on Europe has not gone much further than promises to station a significant number of American troops in Eastern Europe. However, these hawkish, conservative views remind us of Europe’s least favourite American president of the past few decades: George W. Bush.
The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 led to a breakdown in Euro-American relations. France and Germany loudly opposed the action, while the United Kingdom and the fairly recently ‘westernised’ Eastern European countries supported it. Bush eventually became so unpopular that world leaders declined shaking his hand at a G20 summit. A hawkish, Republican president would be received with distrust by a lot of Europeans, especially when it’s another Bush.
But it’s not the Bush-imagery alone that would make cooperation between the Republicans and the Europeans tough. The Republicans reject the more cooperative and liberal approach favoured by Barack Obama and the Europeans in dealing with (for example) Iran and Cuba.
However, a more confrontational approach to Russia would be welcomed by the lot of the Eastern European states. The Baltics have requested more American military engagement with the region, and they would get it with a Republican in the White House. Sadly, this would strengthen the division between East and West Europe regarding a common approach to Russia.
So, in order to have a successful working relationship with Europe, a hawkish Republican would need to do two things. First, he or she would need to shake of the gloomy association to President Bush. Second, he or she would need to find some common ground with both Western and Eastern European states in order to build a more confrontational and conservative strategy for Russia. It seems that Bush’s brother Jeb would find this much harder to achieve than the charismatic Marco Rubio.
Who: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ron Paul.
Current frontrunner and egomaniac Trump, evangelicalist Cruz and libertarian Paul could not be more different candidates. Aside from their foreign policy that is. All three, albeit very differently, claim that the United States is too involved in most parts of the world, and want the Americans to limit their international escapades to the bare necessities.
Let’s start with frontrunner Trump. Many have noted that Trump does not have any foreign policy advisors, or a foreign policy view in general. But however simplistic or infantile his world views might be, he certainly has them. His foreign policy seems, first and foremost, to revolve around his obsession with China. But not in terms of geopolitics or security, but in terms of trade and economics. Being a businessman and the self-proclaimed ‘best jobs president ever’ does suggest that Trump is more into trade and economics then in diplomacy and power politics.
Nonetheless, Trump has talked about his views on Europe (and the rest of the world) quite candidly. He is very critical of any American involvement that is not for American’s own direct benefit. While he said he supports Europe, especially in the light of the Ukrainian Crisis, he stressed that he wants Germany to lead the continent.
This policy of pushing Germany to take the lead in Europe, including in defence matters, will have significant effect on the way that Europe deals with its security agenda. Germany, ever so reluctant to take military action, would either feel obligated to take the lead, or leave it up to other European countries to manage (possibly the more militaristic French, or the anti-Russian Poles).
But whomever would take the lead in Europe’s security issues would lack the natural leadership role that the Americans have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War. Many European nations, the Germans especially, would feel uncomfortable with Germany taking a leading military role in Europe. And even if they would, they would need to radically change their entire grand strategy, which isn’t a small feat.
It would be unlikely that Europe would come up with a credible and multilateral security strategy in a relative short amount of time. Especially seeing as how the continent has struggled with coming up with an effective multilateral approach to its refugee crisis. The complexity of a multilateral security system without the clear leadership of the Americans would likely lead to uncertainty, if not confusion. And a confused defence strategy is a serious risk during times of Russian confrontation with Europe.
But it would not be Trumps foreign policy plans themselves which would push Europe to a more European security strategy itself. Trumps serious lack of constraint and manners would likely push Europe away on its own, likely causing the biggest breakdown in Transatlantic relations in more than a century.
We see the same general scenario play out with the libertarian Rand Paul and the conservative Ted Cruz. Under their presidencies, America’s involvement would be limited to the bare necessities. The United States would cease to intervene as it did in Libya or perhaps even against ISIS. Paul would not confront Putin himself, but would let Europe deal with Russia and the Ukrainian Crisis. Ted Cruz does share some characteristics with his hawkish colleagues, and would be much tougher on Russia and Iran.
Paul is quite more radical. He does not want the United States to make any more enemies then absolutely necessary, and he would gladly talk with both Russia and Iran. He even would exit the United Nations because he regards membership to be ‘unconstitutional’.
So, how different Trump, Cruz and Paul might be, they will likely force Europe to become more independent on their security and defence agenda. Seeing as Europe has depended on American military leadership for more than half a century, a sudden change in leadership would likely result in uncertainty and vulnerability, especially from Russian meddling. However, if Europe were to succeed in setting a credible and independent security strategy, it would boost their international status as a true pole in a multipolar system.
Who: Neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Like Trump, Carson has never held any public office and is known for some of the more outrageous claims during the campaign. Unlike Trump however, Carson is more slow talking and less bombastic. And although Trump is accused of having no foreign policy, Carson’s foreign policy is basically limited to full support for Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Carson is considered weak when it comes to actual policies, and foreign policy is certainly no exception. When interviewed by a Republican radio host, Carson suggested that the Baltic states should join NATO (they have in 2004, over ten years ago). The radio host continued asking Carson question, not on his views, but on if he had found the time to familiarise himself with certain geopolitical issues in the first place.
So, as far as we know now, Carson could be anything. He could turn out to be an isolationist (which would explain his lack of foreign policy, although isolationists are usually pretty clear about their philosophies). He might as well turn out to be a hawk, if not only to mimic his Republican rivals.
Most likely, however, is that Carson’s weakness in foreign affairs would result in him giving more operational freedom to his secretary of state, advisors and experts. Seeing as the Republican Party is dominated by the hawks, we should suspect hawkish scenarios. The biggest difference from the hawkish scenario however, would be that Europe would have to deal with the secretary of state (or perhaps a more accomplished vice-president) instead of the president himself.
Although it is fair to delegate some issues to specialists, the president should always keep oversight and control. If his lack of knowledge on foreign policy would undermine this stability, very dangerous scenarios might arise. Likewise, if Carson failed in assembling a top notch foreign policy team, he would leave Europe in even more uncertainty and confusion then ‘the disengaged’ would, with all the risks (and opportunities for European independence) it would bring.
So, truth be told, Carson’s presidency would likely be one of uncertainty. There are hardly any scenarios more dangerous and frightening, than that of the leader of the free world leading by confusion and ignorance.
To conclude, we can say that the Transatlantic relation will be defined by much more factors than presidents alone. However, a Donald Trump or a Jeb Bush would have very serious, and very different consequences for Europe’s future. And although speculation is a fun, if not necessary tool in politics, we have to admit that we don’t know enough to make any solid conclusions on the foreign policies on the Republican candidates.
To start, we first have to see which Republicans will actually stay in the race. Although Jeb Bush was an early frontrunner, he lost a lot of ground in the past few months (most likely for being perceived as a bland insider). Carson surged in the polls in the past month, but recent news that he lied on his past could seriously hurt him. Rubio is the favourite in the betting market, and experts assume the primaries will come down to a face-off between Rubio and Cruz. Trump might still be popular, but he has absolutely no support from the party leaders themselves, making it hard for him to win the full support he needs in order to win either the nomination or the presidency.
It will be interesting to see which candidate will be the last man standing, and what time will uncover on his or her foreign policy aspirations.