FRONT PAGE – Improvised leadership


In early December, the president of the United States announced his decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The statement garnered furious reactions throughout the Muslim world: American flags were burned in Gaza, Jordanian members of parliament protested in front of the US embassy in Amman and the wave of indignation even brought together warring Shiites and Sunnis. The Arab League claimed it was an “unjustified provocation of Arab sensibilities”. And then came the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square.

Shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem without first making progress on engagement in a complex negotiation process is the equivalent to sucker-punching your opponent in the face, a move which predictably results in the consequences we are now witnessing.

This and many other world crises have been heightened by the lack of political aplomb demonstrated by the United States. And this certainly influenced our readers. As many as 40% of them have decided that Donald Trump is the leader that has most impacted our lives in 2017.

A year of “The Donald” as president has made three things clear:

– the system of “checks and balances” is working in domestic US politics: it has ended up being impossible for Trump to overturn Obamacare, his predecessor’s biggest policy achievement. Equally, there has so far been no construction of the controversial wall with Mexico. The president has, however, managed to make an impact with his tax reform plan, to the extent that it fits snuggly with Republican orthodoxy and has led to Congress approving a tax cut worth $1.4 trillion (€1.18tn), the largest in American history.

– In foreign policy, however, the Americans are no longer considered to be a reliable ally. Since taking office, Trump has dismantled the US’s many multilateral policies: he has taken the country out of TTIP with the EU, withdrawn from the UN global compact on migration, UNESCO, the Paris climate accord and is thinking of leaving the WTO as well; he has questioned the nuclear deal with Tehran and the NAFTA deal with Canada and Mexico. Moreover, the security outlook seems to have taken a turn for the worse in the past 300 days: the risk of war with North Korea has never been so high (thanks partially to Trump’s tweets), and the juxtaposition between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the one hand, and Iran, Qatar and Turkey on the other, seems to be spinning out of control after the US president’s very outspoken visit to Riyadh.

– Europe is coming to realise that it must shift gears in its integration process in order to establish a role on the international stage without America by its side. It is thus hardly surprising that this year, for the first time since the failure of the Defence Union, 23 EU countries have decided to work towards reinforced cooperation on defence (PESCO), a very important step in the right direction.

We are not appeased by the fact that no president has ever been less popular in the history of the United States: just 300 days since taking office, only 37% of Americans approve his efforts, as opposed to 48% for Obama and 85% for George W. Bush.

On the eve of a crucial vote in Italy and possibly new elections in Germany, must remember that phenomena like Trump usually indicate a systemic structural defect that hinders credible alternatives. The Trump vote was also a vote against the Clinton dynasty and could be reiterated in three years’s time if the wrong candidate is once again put before the people. In cases like France, which demonstrated the courage to stand up for a new, non-populist force that doesn’t pin its hopes on simple solutions, populisms have been vanquished.