US President Trump swung into the snow-capped Alpine resort of Davos with expectations of a cool reception from the assembled political and financial leaders. “Into the lion’s den,” said one news anchor, as Trump brought his “America First” agenda to the annual World Economic Forum which is associated with “globalism” and the supposed antithesis of Trump’s nationalism.
One got the impression, however, that sections of the American media which are anti-Trump were trying through wishful thinking to contrive a stand-off between the US president and the Davos cabal. A stand-off along the following line: Trump is the uncouth rightwing populist pushing economic protectionism and anti-immigration policies, while the Davos illuminati are somehow urbane, liberal, internationalist and progressive.
Such contrived difference between Trump and the supposed enlightened elite on a Swiss mountaintop seems wildly overblown.
The corporate and political oligarchs assembled at Davos have much more in common with Trump than what purportedly divides them. Any difference is more to do with rhetorical style, rather than substance. Trump is just more boorish in his manner, while the other elites are more adept at concealing their oligarchic affiliations with palatable rhetoric. Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax giveaway at the end of last year, for example, will have suited the Davos corporate set very nicely indeed.
No more evident of this contrived, false stand-off in Davos was the supposed divergence between European political leaders and Trump. The American media seem to have an overestimated view of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as champions of liberal internationalism, and thereby, putatively, countervailing political forces to “Trumpism".
Before Trump arrived at Davos – the first US president to do so in nearly two decades – Merkel and Macron had delivered speeches to the assembled hobnobs projecting Europe as a vital counterpoint to Trump. Macron reportedly made jokes implicitly contrasting Trump’s denial of global climate change with the supposedly progressive policies of France.
Merkel made a pitch for Europe to assume global leadership since, she said, America under Trump was retreating into isolationism and the “poison” of protectionism and rightwing populism.
Such anti-Trump posing is sheer vanity. The global capitalist elite and their servile politicians are just trying to make themselves out somehow more caring and humane by using Trump as a supposed polar opposite from them. But the difference is illusory.
For example, the European Union is implementing anti-immigration policies that far outstrip those of Trump. Germany and France, in particular, are implementing fast-tracked repatriation of African migrants, dumping them back to Libya and an unknown fate.
In France, Macron is pushing through draconian labour laws that will cut protections for workers and give more power to capital to hire and fire.
What is so progressive about these European leaders?
As for the much-touted “standing up to Trump” notion, this week away from the rarefied atmosphere of the Swiss resort, the European governments were acceding to Washington’s demands for re-writing the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran has warned that the 2015 international accord is not re-negotiable.
Since Trump entered the White House last year, he has taken every opportunity to undermine the landmark nuclear agreement, threatening to walk away from if it is not “fixed” according to his pro-Israeli hawkish demands. Trump wants the accord to be amended with restrictions on Iran’s non-nuclear ballistic missile defenses, and giving even greater access for international inspectors to Iranian military sites.
The president is warning that if he doesn’t get his way, then Washington is going to withdraw. Such a move would kill the deal.
While the Europeans have previously been urging Trump to uphold the accord – which is ratified by the United Nations – they now are changing their tune as a result of pressure from the White House. This week, it was reported that Britain, France and Germany are setting up a “working group” with the Americans to look at ways of amending the Iran nuclear deal. This is shameless pandering to Trump’s worst instincts of bad-faith and arm-twisting.
If the European leaders really had a backbone – as the Davos media contrivance was claiming – then they would tell Trump in no uncertain terms that a deal is a deal, and the Iran nuclear accord is not to be meddled with. Russia and China have already categorically warned that it is not subject to tampering. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in fact warned this week that collapsing of the nuclear deal will strike a grievous blow to international law and diplomacy over other vital issues, such as the Korean nuclear crisis.
Here are a few other issues where the European leaders could actually demonstrate real independence from Trump and global leadership.
Anti-Russian sanctions: Merkel, Macron and the rest could tell the Trump administration that continuing the policy of penalizing Russia’s economy with sanctions is futile and dangerous for geopolitical tensions. Given the severe economic losses to Europe due to the anti-Russian sanctions, the European leaders should be telling Washington to come to its senses and drop the whole unnecessary hostility towards Moscow. If there are disputes over Crimea or alleged Russian interference in elections, then they should be resolved through civilized diplomatic negotiations.
US lethal weapons to Ukraine: The Europeans should be confronting Washington about its incendiary policy of supplying lethal arms to the Kiev regime. This issue should be a matter for an urgently convened international conference in which Merkel, Macron and all make it clear that the Minsk Peace Accord signed in 2015 has to implemented forthwith. Washington’s decision to arm the Kiev regime is a reckless escalation of war in Europe.
Diplomacy for resolving Korea crisis: If the Europeans really had conviction about “global leadership” instead of mere vain pretensions, then EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini accompanied by Macron and Merkel and others should be telling Trump unequivocally that Washington needs to commit urgently to diplomatic engagement with North Korea. The Europeans need to uphold international law and the UN Charter to warn Washington that its provocative military behavior is totally unacceptable.
There are more real-world practical issues where the Europeans could demonstrate actual, concrete opposition to the Trump administration. We could also mention standing up to Trump over the US backing of the Saudi war in Yemen (but the Europeans are also complicit in that too). We could also mention Europe setting up a meaningful forum to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after categorically rejecting Trump’s reprehensible declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
More generally, the Europeans could be telling Washington to stop pursuing its aggressive militarist designs of unipolar dominance, whereby it is recklessly portraying Russia and China as global threats. This American Cold War thinking is so anachronistic and destructive. Why aren’t European leaders opposing this fatuous hostile mentality?
All the media chatter this week about European leaders “standing up to Trump” as somehow them being the standard bearers of liberalism and progressive internationalism is such a load of hogwash. The rarefied debates about “globalism versus Trump nationalism” are nothing but idle indulgence of elite egos. The assembled elites at Davos are all central to a world dictated by capitalist super-exploitation and warmongering.
If Europe did have any backbone, it should be confronting Trump on real-world issues outlined above. But it doesn’t because the current European political leadership is complicit with Washington in destroying the world – albeit with differing rhetorical inflections.
The supposed stand-off in Davos this week between European “liberals” and “nasty nationalistic” Trump is as about as consequential as a snowball fight. A snowball fight, that is, with the fluffiest, softest, most powdery of snow.