This article appeared in The Telegraph on January 23, 2017. Click here to view the original article.
By John Bolton
January 23, 2017
Donald Trump’s inauguration unquestionably heralds a rejuvenated US-UK Special Relationship. His view of America’s international role requires it, featuring, for example, reversing Barack Obama’s disdainful relegation of Britain to “the back of the queue” for trade negotiations after leaving the EU. Symbolically, mere hours after taking the constitutional oath, President Trump returned Winston Churchill’s bust to the Oval Office. Theresa May’s imminent visit to Washington is, therefore, perfectly timed.
In his 16-minute inaugural address, Trump’s focus was domestic, contrasting with John F Kennedy’s even-briefer 1961 speech emphasising Cold War themes. Post-Kennedy, the addresses became longer and less memorable, sounding like programmatic State of the Union messages. Trump chose brevity for the sake of emphasis.
Though directed primarily at US voters, but also perfectly appropriate for UK Leave supporters, Trump said: “It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” Indeed, that happens universally, but only America, Britain and a few others are criticised for it. The new president stressed that his administration would be “transferring power from Washington and giving it back to you, the American people”. But he also wanted to dramatise national unity and patriotism. In a hint of Disraelian “one nation” language, Trump said: “Through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”
Not awed by the EU
Trump’s emphasis on “making America great again” and “America first” both highlight his implicit revival of American exceptionalism and its essentially inexorable consequence that Washington’s international role will not only not diminish but increase. Although critics cringe at the historical antecedent to “America first”, they should remember John McCain’s inspiring 2008 presidential campaign slogan, “country first”. Just which country do readers think McCain had in mind?
Some European commentators incorrectly predicted doom and gloom about Washington’s future commitments to NATO. Certainly, Trump has criticised NATO, as has almost everyone familiar with its sclerotic decision-making and the failure of too many members to meet their agreed levels of defence spending. Trump is merely saying publicly and emphatically what others have said privately for decades: NATO needs to shape up. That’s what Trump meant in his inaugural address: “We will reinforce old alliances.” Is there something in that sentence that is hard to understand?
Undoubtedly, Trump is not as awed by the EU as Obama or even previous Republican presidents. And with good reason. For decades, the EU has failed on multiple fronts, largely because it became (or always was) primarily an unrealistic political project intended to eviscerate the very concept of the nation state, rather than an economic one. The EU is failing because the citizens of its member states do not feel the EU’s remote leaders have their best interests at heart. Trump’s victory and inaugural address should be warning signals to Europe’s tired and disconnected elites.
Rebooted special relationship
It is a logical extension of this approach that Mrs May will become the first foreign leader to hold talks with the new president later this week. Even though few of the new administration’s political appointees are in office as yet, there will never be greater receptivity to inventive ideas for maximising the post-Brexit economic benefits to both countries. Mrs May and her advisers need to think creatively about the trade and broader economic relationship they want to achieve.
Moreover, a mutually beneficial bilateral US-UK agreement will strengthen London’s hand with Brussels. Contrary to what critics have said, Trump is not against free trade. He simply expects other countries to adhere to the terms they agreed to – something Britain should have no trouble doing. And remember, this is the man who wrote The Art of the Deal.
On international political issues, Trump stated unambiguously that his priority is to “unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth”. This is no small task. By its terms, it means not merely defeating Islamic State and al-Qaeda, but also terrorism’s principal funder and state sponsor, the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran. This is not the message of an isolationist president, or one who misses the fundamental ideological threat posed by the radical Islamicists. It unquestionably means the US will look to its allies for counsel and co-operation in their common struggle.