Foreign affairs is not an area of expertise for President Donald Trump, and his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal is just the latest example. As Stimson Center arms control expert Michael Krepon aptly put it recently, “Diplomacy isn’t Trump’s strong suit. Trashing Barack Obama’s accomplishments is.”
Trump’s approach to foreign policy, and the approach of his national security adviser John Bolton, is like a bulldozer going through a sensitive natural habitat. They don’t care how much damage they do so long as they reach their desired destination.
Again, the Iran deal is a case in point. On Sunday Bolton went on TV and said that U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal could result in the Trump Administration imposing sanctions on companies based in European countries that are U.S. allies.
“The consequences of American sanctions go way beyond goods shipped by American companies because of our technology licenses to many other countries and businesses around the world. As those sanctions kick in, it will have an even broader effect as well,” Bolton said on CNN. “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest, ultimately, to come along with us.”
U.S. sanctions on Iran were reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal. These sanctions prohibit American companies from doing business in Iran and also prohibit foreign companies doing business in Iran from accessing the United States’ banking and financial systems.
Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal was heavily criticized by Europeans, who have responded by saying they would still uphold their side of the agreement.
In France, the massive energy company Total has a $5 billion agreement with Iran to extract natural gas. French-based airplane manufacturer Airbus, has a multi-billion dollar contract with Iran and has already starIted delivering jets to the Middle Eastern country.
In Germany, Volkswagen has been exporting a sizable volume of cars to Iran, but the new U.S. ambassador to Germany said last week that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately.”
This bulldozing approach by Trump and his minions is not going over well in the capitals of Europe. Some European leaders are now proposing new measures that would lessen or even nullify the U.S. sanctions. The French finance minister expressed many Europeans’ opinions last week when he said: “We have to work among ourselves in Europe to defend our European economic sovereignty.”
In Trump’s world of “America First” there is no consideration of the sovereignty of other nations. His belligerence and lack of willingness to compromise is becoming well known throughout the world. Just last week he said there would be no concessions to European firms.
“We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions,” Trump said. “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”
Trump feels good whenever he destroys another part of the legacy of Barack Obama, and that is what he is doing. He is also upholding a campaign promise, which is intended to please about 30% of the American populace. But there are many unanswered questions with this approach.
By threatening U.S. allies with economic sanctions, and by imposing new sanctions on Iran, the Trump Administration may believe they are putting “America First” but in fact they may be taking our country down a path of economic isolation and war in the Middle East.