Trump’s Gratuitous Damage to Global Harmony

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump speaks at the North Side Gymnasium in Elkhart, Indiana 

That Nobel is likely to continue eluding President Trump. Consider his latest trade war with Europe.

Are you concerned that Trump will win the Nobel Prize for making peace with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un? You needn’t worry.

Kim and Trump may stage the illusion of progress towards a de-nuclearized Korea. But the details of that goal will take long and arduous diplomacy. 

One risk is that Kim is setting a trap for Trump in which both leaders can claim success, but as negotiations drag on North Korea keeps working on its arsenal and its nuclear delivery vehicles. Trump, showman and cynic, may go along so that he can claim a diplomatic breakthrough.

The opposite risk is that Trump will realize that he is being played, and will one-up Kim by walking out of the talks, thus adding to regional tensions. The one thing that will not happen is the immediate conclusion of a final and verifiable deal.

But a bogus deal with North Korea is only one of several arenas in which Trump is setting back world peace. Even more serious is the fallout from Trump’s disavowal of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

President Trump’s scrapping of that deal could set off new tensions in the region, including a strengthening of Iranian hardliners and an unleashing of a bellicose Israel. But that may not be the most serious fallout. Trump’s Iran policy is at risk of fracturing what’s left of the American alliance with Europe.

The Trump administration insists that any nation that does business with Iran will be in violation of the U.S. commercial boycott and will face stringent sanctions. That targets the EU, which supports the deal and did not want Trump to kill it.

After sanctions were lifted in 2015, Europe dramatically increased its trade and investment with Iran. Airbus has already begun delivering jetliners to Iran Air, a 100-plane deal worth billions. The French oil and gas company Total has a $5 billion deal to extract Iranian natural gas. Volkswagen exports cars to Iran, and Peugeot Citroen manufactures them there.

Under the U.S. sanctions regime, any European company that does business in or with Iran will be barred from doing business in the U.S. The U.S. Treasury has given European companies three to six months to end their dealings in or with Iran.

But this threat, recently echoed by Trump’s new ambassador to Germany, Richard Grennell, in a tweet (!) warning Europe’s companies to start winding down their operations in Iran, has produced something that has eluded the fragmented members of the EU for decades—absolute unity. 

Europe is just emerging from a decade-long recession and its recovery is fragile. The success of the Macron presidency in Paris and the shaky Merkel coalition government in Berlin depend on the recovery not being derailed.

Europe can ill afford to be barred from the American market, and this latest assault on Europe’s sovereignty is one affront too many. By last Friday, Europe’s leaders were resolute in their determination to nullify Trump’s threat of sanctions.

Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister, told a television interviewer, “We have to work among ourselves in Europe to defend our European economic sovereignty.” He added, “Do we want to be a vassal that obeys and jumps to attention?” Similar comments were heard in other European capitals.

Between the final round of negotiations to revise or withdraw from NAFTA, to tit-for-tat trade threats against China, and the imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel, there has been a lot of loose talk about trade wars. But general sanctions against major EU-based companies really would be a trade war.

It’s one thing to take a hard line against Iran, Mexico, China, or Korea. It’s something else to get gravely at odds with America’s most reliable ally. 

Someone will have to back down here, and for once Europe may find some spine. If not, this is a trade war for real, and it will be Trump’s achievement, as the collateral damage of a dumb and totally gratuitous foreign policy detour in the Middle East. 

The Nobel Peace Prize, let’s recall, is given by the Norwegians, among the most open-minded, idealist, and diplomatically proficient of European nations. (The other Nobels are given by the Swedes.) It was the Norwegian Nobel committee that awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize not long after he took office, in part because he wasn’t George W. Bush and in part because of the hope he represented. Donald Trump makes Bush look like Pope Francis. 

Maybe they should bestow a Nobel Anti-Peace Prize for doing the most needless damage to world peace. Trump would be a shoo-in for the booby prize.

An earlier version of this article appeared at HuffPost. Subscribe here.

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