From Iran to UNESCO: Trump's Withdrawal Doctrine

From Iran to UNESCO: Trump's Withdrawal Doctrine
Comment: Trump's withdrawal of the US from landmark international agreements is little more than a fast-track to easy praise from Fox News and conservative media, writes Andrew Leber.
5 min read
13 Oct, 2017
Trump cited 'anti-Israel bias' as his reason for withdrawing the US from UNESCO [Getty]
Among science fiction writer Larry Niven's laws on "how the Universe works", one is blindingly simple – it is far easier to destroy than create.

Little wonder that the Trump administration has settled on what Richard Hass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, dubbed on Twitter as the "Withdrawal Doctrine" - the administration threatening to or accomplishing US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA trade agreements, the Paris Accord on climate change, the JCPOA on Iranian nuclear technology.

And now UNESCO.

Citing "anti-Israel bias" - recognising Palestine as a state, recognising Hebron as a "Palestinian" heritage site - the Trump administration has axed US participation in the UN's hub of educational, scientific and cultural exchange.

Americans need not look far to see tangible evidence of UNESCO's presence within their borders: The Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, even the University of Virginia are all World Heritage Sites.

The Egyptian temple in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art comes as a token of gratitude from Nasser's government for American efforts with a multinational UNESCO team to salvage archaeological treasures from Nile waters held back by the Aswan High Dam.

Ah, but facts. What have facts to do with any of this anymore?

When virulent nationalism convinces you that your nation is uniquely powerful, what are bridges to other nations but ample firewood to be burned?

American ties to UNESCO are easily severed to fuel yet more glee among the president's base that something, something is being done. When virulent nationalism convinces you that your nation is uniquely powerful and special in the world, what are bridges to other nations but ample firewood to be burned?

The Withdrawal Doctrine is about finding the path of least resistance for Trump to get sycophantic praise from the bile-spewers of Fox News and the darker denizens of conservative media.

Read more: Despite the bravado, Trump will leave Iran deal decision to Congress

Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem would take a modicum of logistical coordination and diplomatic finesse. Achieving peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict - let alone any other of the Middle East's raging fires - would require an enormously coordinated effort and State Department leadership, to make sure passports are stamped and that allies are reminded every single day, that the 2020 election is in 1117 days… 1116 days... 1115 days…

Now the choirs of hate can happily stand for days praising the dear leader for taking the harsh decisions nobody else would. Cutting oneself off at the knees is a harsh decision few people would take - this does not make it a sensible one.

The Withdrawal Doctrine is about finding the path of least resistance for Trump to get sycophantic praise from the bile-spewers of Fox News

Far easier to stand alone with Israel - a country on its own long day's journey into a right-wing night - in lampooning UNESCO as a biased "theatre of the absurd", rather than tolerate its recognition of a state whose eventual existence US and Israeli leaders pay lip service to (at least when they remember to).

I could go on about how this damages America's standing in the world and is not in line with our values and so on and so forth, but it's not clear there is anybody listening who is in need of being convinced. Far too many will justify the president's decision by demanding the world take us seriously, as our government veers from laughing stock to reckless menace in the eyes of others.

The situation is little improved on the domestic front.

Furious organising on the Left and utter moral and policymaking bankruptcy on the Right barely held efforts at repealing the Affordable Care Act to a standstill. The vast majority of Republican lawmakers are all too happy to sacrifice the well-being of millions for the delight of tax-break-seeking donors, and the roar of a white-hot partisan voter base stoked to nth degree.

But of course, for Trump, why bother putting in the long hours to improve American health care when you can get the heads nodding on Fox and Friends and the headlines thundering on Breitbart by flat-out tearing health care away from the poor?

Why bother getting your hands dirty trying to sort out permanent residency for undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors when you can simply upend their entire lives while leaving it to other plausibly adult lawmakers to try and present you with a solution?

Why bother fulfilling op-ed writer fantasies of a post-partisan presidency when you can run an endless campaign against protesting NFL players (unpatriotic), Hispanics (criminals), the queer and transgender community (no right to protection), and even the storm-stricken island of Puerto Rico (deadbeat dependency)?

The president is not well, but nobody - least of all the Donald himself - is going to do anything about that anytime soon.

Local and state-level organising on the Left is certainly forging ahead, but it is far from clear whether activism rather than apathy will be the order of the day, as dumpster fire after dumpster fire of policy proposals and provocations pour into the news cycle.

And even assuming a robust response, there's only so much the rest of us can do for the next 1117 days… 1116 days... 1115 days…

Andrew Leber is a PhD student in the department of government at Harvard University.

Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLeber

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.