When the British Parliament debated banning Mr. Donald Trump from Britain, little was said about national security. After his substantial victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary, though, his candidacy must be taken seriously.
For us in Britain and Europe, that means coming to terms with a candidate who is not just indifferent to Europe, but embraces the very regime, and its leader, that is the biggest threat to European integration and transatlantic cooperation.
No, it is not ISIS. The biggest global power the West faces in the world right now comes from Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump seems to be on kind terms.
None of us can say entirely what policies Trump will pursue, not least because he so frequently changes his mind. But given the frequency with which Trump emphasizes certain themes, we can hazard some educated guesses.
Trump mostly argues for better terms on trade, albeit for America exclusively. He attacks politicians who supported the Iraq war, but his underlying motivation is not a matter of moral principle or foresight. He would rather America detach itself from the world, protected behind walls, and purified by deportation and exclusion.
Incidentally, because I am a British citizen and a Muslim, and given Trump’s own ideas of how to manage members of my faith, I might be barred from America if he were to be elected. What should worry us most of all, however, is Trump’s disinterest in Ukraine, and the possibility that Trump will abandon Europe to Putin.
Russia has reportedly supported and funded far-right, nationalist and historically anti-Semitic parties across our continent, many of whom explicitly seek to stop or roll back or even dismantle the European project. They are Putin’s useful idiots. Their provincialism makes it harder to integrate minorities and challenges the European project as a whole. By doing this, of course, Putin also weakens the United States.
While I would not argue that Putin has created the refugee crisis, or that the principal object of his intervention in Syria is to inflame further the refugee crisis, we must admit that the outcomes in Syria work in his favor in more ways than one. More Syrian refugees trying to come to Europe means more support for his favored local partners, to whom he has been financially generous.
The escalation of the war in Syria, an inevitable reality given Russia’s increased airstrikes and deployment of additional misery and suffering upon the Syrian people, will mean more refugees, which will increase tensions among European member-states. Russia has also reportedly permitted human trafficking networks to open crossings into Norway and Finland, thereby increasing pressure on the European project to assess its continued viability and sustainability.
To use the common expression, he is playing chess while we are playing checkers (draughts). The popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders makes me believe that, despite Obama’s pullback from the Middle East, Americans still believe not enough is being done domestically to ease their pain.
As a friend of America, I too believe it is in America’s interest to reinvest in itself. Your infrastructure, your preparedness for climate change, the cost of your education and healthcare, your struggles with structural racism – all these need to be addressed, not just because these are the right thing to do, but because they will make you stronger. But a strong Europe also makes America stronger.
The biggest global power the West faces in the world right now comes from Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump seems to be on kind termsMuddassar Ahmed
Trump would not just continue American disinterest in Europe, he would simultaneously maintain his well reciprocated admiration pact with Putin. This mutual regard is not just bad for Britain; it foretells a disaster for the European Union, for the project of European unity, for NATO, and of course for European minorities, who are victims of Putin’s meddling.
It is bad enough that Trump might bring this about through his disinterest in world affairs; it is made all the worse by the tacit cooperation we in Europe seem to be offering. We are complicit in our own weakening. Britain and our European allies must hold America accountable. We should be asking more of the presidential candidates, demanding how they envisage America’s relationship with Europe under their leadership in concrete terms, not mere platitudes.
But we should also recognize that while for years America pushed Europe to deeper integration – which is exactly what is required right now, for example, in the refugee crisis – Europe dithered. In fact, worse than dithered. We pretended that there was no incentive to cooperate, and began to work at cross-purposes.
We in Britain, for example, should consider the consequences of our Euroscepticism. Detached from Europe, and facing a potentially indifferent United States, the United Kingdom would not become stronger, or more independent, or more capable of controlling its destiny. The forces that push and pull the world would remain as they are, except that we would be less relevant to Washington, and far more vulnerable to Moscow.
I suppose that is exactly what Putin wants; and one cold war within our life is more than enough.
Muddassar Ahmed is President of the John Adams Society UK and a founding board member of the European Network of American Alumni Associations (ENAM).