Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 October 2020

Trump, Macron and Johnson could reshape the world together

Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron can together reshape the world for the next four years. Getty Images
Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron can together reshape the world for the next four years. Getty Images

Tongues are wagging in Paris over the threats that French President Emmanuel Macron is making to get Lebanon to agree to political reforms a month after the devastating Beirut Port blasts. One line of thought is that he could sign up to a joint line of sanctions with US President Donald Trump that would directly target the power brokers in the country’s Parliament.

Repeatedly over the past three-and-a-half years, the centrist Mr Macron has gone out of his way to have a good understanding with the US leader. Logic dictates that this would be a good time for him to go one step further. Mr Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are missing a gaping opportunity to exert massive influence over the course of the next four years.

The two European leaders – and others – should throw aside caution and negotiate their terms for an endorsement of the US leader as he bids to get re-elected in November.

Our cartoonist Shadi Ghanim's take on Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign after he survived the impeachment challenge.
Our cartoonist Shadi Ghanim's take on Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign after he survived the impeachment challenge.

There are good reasons why foreign leaders try to stay out of other countries' election campaigns. Interference of the type that is consistently alleged in the 2016 presidential election is one of the most controversial aspects of modern-day international relations.

Moreover there is a domestic aspect to issues of this nature.

Mr Macron is technically a liberal from the part of the political spectrum that tends left, while Mr Trump functions from the political right. There are many Conservative members of the British Parliament who cherish ties to the US Democrats and see the bipartisan divide as a regrettable schism to avoid getting sucked into.

However, as with so much else in these revolutionary times, it make less sense than it appears to stick with the tradition of staying out of other people’s elections.

Both Mr Macron and Mr Johnson have built their success on a "sovereigntist" approach to power. That is to say, they prefer the political sovereignty of a nation over the primacy of supranational unions.

Mr Macron did not wait for collective European decision-making before heading to Beirut to direct political change in the wake of last month’s deadly blast. Mr Johnson’s ambitions were made real by his backing of the 2016 Brexit referendum to bring back control of national affairs to Westminster.

Boris Johnson built his run to the highest elected office in the UK on the back of his support for Brexit. Reuters
Boris Johnson built his run to the highest elected office in the UK on the back of his support for Brexit. Reuters

As such, Mr Trump’s approach to wielding power from the White House is not such an outlier. Like his counterparts, he is confronting the established political make-up of his country and the world. Consequential change is the most important goal of his time in power, and transformative polices are his priority.

There is the matter of the outcome of the US presidential election. There is a roughly double-digit lead for former vice president Joe Biden, Mr Trump's opponent, in the polls. That is a disincentive for Mr Johnson and Mr Macron.

It should not be the killer consideration. If he does win, Mr Biden will have to work with the Europeans in a fresh start for the world. A Biden administration is also likely to be just as firm about how China is positioned in global trade and Asian affairs as Mr Trump has been – even if his diplomatic style is different.

That said, anyone who has ever followed Mr Biden's pronouncements on the Middle East can see there will be less follow through than rhetoric. So the attitude in Paris and London should be nothing ventured, nothing gained.

At this stage, it is unlikely that the election is a done deal. A friend who journeyed just now between the states of Georgia and Pennsylvania reports not seeing a single "Biden 2020" sign along the way.

Where the three leaders could be in sync – if Mr Trump wins a second term – was fairly clear from the comments by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s senior adviser, to this newspaper last week.

The US President was characterised as someone who does not rest on his laurels. With the world in the state it is in, that quality is an imperative to action shared by Mr Macron, and perhaps by Mr Johnson. Making a gesture of support to Mr Trump should not be done cheaply by either man. That is why I suggest that they should quickly negotiate terms.

The key is working out a joint understanding now – a time of maximum leverage – that would allow both countries to have an openly co-operative programme with the US to reshape world over the years through 2024. As Mr Kushner said: “When you partner with America, there is no greater partner in the world.”

The big issues of the second term are clear.

Because of technological changes, Europe is being anyway forced to choose sides of the China divide. A deal with North Korea would only be greeted with relief in all parts of the globe.

When it comes to Iran, the pre-positioned Europeans were not able to shift their course. As Washington rolled out the Trump administration's gameplan, the Europeans lost influence and are still struggling to adjust.

Mr Macron’s visit to Iraq was just as significant as his trip to Lebanon. The French leader spoke about ways to nourish and build Iraq’s sovereign independence. It is a sovereigntist agenda, to coin a phrase.

Damien McElroy is the London bureau chief of The National

Updated: September 5, 2020 03:08 PM

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