4 things President Trump could learn from Jimmy Carter

Trump Gutteres 2018

UN Photo/Rick Bajornas Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with United States President Donald Trump at the 72nd session of the General Assembly at the UN Headquarters, New York

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stuart E. Eizenstat

As President Donald Trump completes a turbulent period, in which he ruffled the feathers of America’s G7 allies and attended a historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, it is worth comparing his approach with that of one of his predecessors in the Oval Office, President Jimmy Carter.

Carter believed that he strengthened America by also strengthening its allies, working with them rather than criticizing them. His example serves as a counterbalance to the current “America First” policy, which places the US in isolation.

When it comes to G7 summits, independent experts view the 1978 economic summit at Bonn as the high-water mark for success. With the leadership of President Carter, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Giscard d’Estaing, economic, energy and trade policies were harmonized. This contrasts sharply with the divisive actions of President Trump in Canada at this year’s meeting, withdrawing from the joint G7 Communique only hours after his administration had agreed to it, and making unprecedented personal attacks against the prime minister of Canada, our neighbour and close ally.

Whether intended as a signal of his toughness to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, potentially weakening the Western alliance the US created can only help adversaries like Russia and China. In a multi-polar world, leadership is not automatically conferred on America but must be continually earned. President Trump has the forceful personality to be at the forefront of invigorating American leadership. I hope he seizes the opportunity.

Image: Statista

Second, it is critical to America’s credibility as a world leader that agreements reached by former presidents be honoured by later presidents. They can certainly be improved, as President Bill Clinton did in strengthening the NAFTA trade deal, initially negotiated by President George HW Bush, and as Carter did in negotiating SALT II with the Soviet Union from the framework agreement reached by President Ford.

President Ronald Reagan set a gold standard by faithfully implementing the SALT II nuclear arms treaty even though it was never ratified by the US Senate. By stark contrast, the administration has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord, and the nuclear agreement with Iran. Hopefully, the administration will succeed in updating NAFTA, which needs it, rather than abandoning it.

Third, free trade has negative effects on wages and jobs that most economists did not foresee. Trump correctly identified them and rode the wave of dissatisfaction to the White House. They must be actively addressed if a political consensus for free and open trade is to be preserved as an important factor in economic growth and wider consumer choice of goods and services at affordable prices.

Although Carter was a free trader whose administration completed the Tokyo Round of multilateral trade negotiations, he, like most presidents, succumbed to some protectionist measures for industries like shoes, textiles and steel. But he did not see trade as a zero-sum game. By contrast, the Trump Administration has abandoned traditional Republican free trade orthodoxy and imposed unilateral tariffs on our close allies – Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China – on national security grounds. This invites retaliation from friends and adversaries alike.

I applaud President Trump for entering a risky but historic meeting with Kim Jong-un, against the advice of many of his advisers and outside experts. President Carter employed the same top-down tactic, also against the advice of his advisers, in inviting Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat to Camp David. But success at summits with heads of states comes from detailed preparation. Carter studied background papers intensively, his administration held numerous preparatory meetings, and he personally spent 13 agonizing days and nights during the summit writing more than 20 drafts to obtain a historic agreement that has been the foundation of America’s Middle East policy for 40 years.

No one expected such a breakthrough at the brief Singapore Summit. Its one clear success is that it actually took place, helpfully reducing serious tensions between the two countries. But the barebones one-page communique released after the summit showed the same standard North Korean promises seen in previous false starts in 1994 and 2005. These also promised denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula, yet contained no timetables or commitments to verifiable dismantlement. The concessions came mostly from the US side, with President Trump cancelling joint military exercises with South Korea, which he called “provocative”. He even held out the prospect of withdrawing American troops in South Korea, which US allies see as protecting their security.

But as the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. It will be up to President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to find the patience and diplomatic depth to persevere in moving from nuclear confrontation to a more peaceful resolution, even if not a complete denuclearization – and all without upsetting the delicate balance of power that has preserved even the cold peace that has prevailed in North Asia for more than 60 years.

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