Secrets Of Statecraft

There is one historical constant when it comes to international relations: words matter, but actions matter even more.  In the often fine line walking game that is diplomacy, all it takes it one ill conceived action, something as supposedly non-threatening as a tweet, to set relations back half a century. The problem with diplomacy is that most non-foreign policy experts look at a relationship in the now…they entirely ignore the history of what got us to the now. World leaders have a tendency to see any diplomatic relationship as a ‘what can you do for me in this moment’ relationship. Unfortunately, what someone can do for you right now depends, almost entirely, on the past. This just in: history isn’t a fad.

There are a plethora of examples to prove the point that history is an essential part of international relations…but one of the best examples is also a very recent example: the President of the United States retweeting from a far-right British organisation.

You’d think that the President of the United States retweeting something from a British organisation would only result in ensuing issues with the United Kingdom. You’d be wrong. The UK is rightfully upset; Britain First, the organisation the President retweeted, is responsible for the death of MP Jo Cox in June 2016. It’s an organisation that espouses severe Islamaphobia, and encourages people toward stalking and violence against Muslims. The thing is, the 21st century’s Islamaphobia is the anti-semitism of the 1920s and 1930s, of which no western nation is innocent. (Incidentally, Britain First has also patrolled Jewish neighbourhoods, but blames anti-semitism on Muslims).

The UK isn’t the only country to take offence at the President’s latest foreign policy faux pas, nor should they be. Nationalism has resulted in two world wars, McCarthyism, an isolated China, the Soviet Union, and the current situation with North Korea. Nationalism, combined with anti-[insert religion or race here] has resulted in the Crusades, the Thirty Years war, the English Civil War, the 100 years war, the American Civil War, WWI, the Russian Revolution, WWII, the Chinese Communist Revolution, the Arab-Israeli War, the Korean War, the 7 Days War, the Yom Kippur War, Palestine-Israel Conflict, the Afghan War x2, the rise of Hezbollah, the rise of the Taliban, the rise of ISIS…you get the idea. Never, in the entire history of human civilisation, has nationalism and anti-religion every ended peacefully.

When the UK Prime Minister pointed out that endorsing such an organisation as Britain First was “the wrong thing to,” the President had a moment where he could have removed the tweets, apologised, and admitted he didn’t realise what he’d done, or that he didn’t know what Britain First was. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the President lashed out at the UK Prime Minister, telling her to get her house in order, essentially agreeing with the rhetoric of Britain First. Even Piers Morgan, whom the world loves to hate, and has defended Trump in the past, spoke sense in regards to Trump’s retweets, calling for the President to remove the tweets.

The problem with the President of the United States, who has shown that he does understand what he retweeted, essentially endorsing the views of a far right, Islamaphobic, nationalist organisation is that actions matter. The image of the President of the United States approving of such rhetoric, particularly when that very organisation has caused such heartache to a close ally, and then standing by that endorsement to the extent that he criticised the leader of that ally in order to defend himself, is what results in devastating diplomatic backlash. There have been calls within the UK to rescind the invitation for a state visit, from MPs and non-governmental citizens alike, which the Prime Minister has rejected. Although it’s unlikely that the US and the UK relationship will suffer any lasting damage from this incident, it’s a trend that’s putting America increasingly on the defensive on the world’s stage.

The UK and the US have had, historically, a very strong relationship based on the shared cultural, and political, ideologies that come with the US being a former colony. The US and Great Britain (since it wasn’t the United Kingdom until 1801) re-established relations in 1783, after the US won the right to independence, and have continuously had diplomatic ties since. Offending, and thus endangering, such a long relationship because of ignorance is one thing…but the President isn’t ignorant, he knows exactly what he did. He’s wilfully ignoring the reality of what his actions have wrought, which seems to be a theme for the Trump administration in regards to foreign policy.

The problem with the Trump administrations foreign policy stance is that it seemingly has no clue how foreign policy actually works. Throwing around the weight of a country whose importance is diminishing on a global scale, as if it was still the 1950s, whilst ignoring history, means situations such as endorsing Britain First will only increase.

The reality is that the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy has already caused several major incidences. At the very beginning of his term, the President questioned the One China policy, and treated Taiwan as a sovereign nation, both of which caused tension with China. The diplomatic corps was able to walk back the President’s comments, and both Trump and Xi seem to have overcome those first few months, but it’s something that never should have happened. Had the Trump administration taken a historical approach to dealing with a foreign power, the China situation never would have occurred.

The President’s approach to foreign policy seems to be limited to “what can you do for me?,” totally dismisses over 230 years of American diplomatic history, and blatantly ignoring the internal history of any other nation. The entirety of international relations between any two countries is completely dependent on history…both the history between those two nations, and the history of each individual nation.

History shapes everything. A nation cannot simply ignore history, and rewrite their approach to foreign policy based solely on how that nation benefits. A nation cannot simply ignore the internal politics, and history, of another nation because it’s inconvenient. A nation cannot simply decide to use a fringe organisation of another nation in order to advance their own agenda. Unfortunately, the President of the United States believes himself to be above that, believes that he’s categorically always correct, believes that the approach of “America First” is a sustainable foreign policy goal, and by endorsing the radical ideology of Britain First, he’s taken one step further along a path that the world should never again go down: ideological world war.

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