Strange things are happening in “Old Europe,” as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld famously called it in 2003. At that time, transatlantic differences were over Iraq, when two major members of “Old Europe” condemned the war against Saddam Hussein that was destined to open a disastrous Pandora’s box in the Middle East. Now, once again, the United States is playing the dissonant scheme of dividing Old Europe and New Europe by sponsoring a meeting in Warsaw ostensibly addressed at opening a new era of cooperation in the Middle East but in truth aimed at rebuking those European allies – once more, France and Germany in particular – over their efforts to protect their business from US sanctions on Iran. A strange state of affairs was on display in the Polish capital, where the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sat in the midst of the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel. Of course, Germany, France and other major members of the European Union were not present in Warsaw while Russia was hosting a meeting with Iranian and Turkish counterparts to discuss a final settlement in Syria. As the United States continues to lose prestige and leadership in Europe as a result of President Trump’s disruptive actions, Russian President Putin is increasingly seen as the key player in the Middle East.
The parade of strange bedfellows in Warsaw had many actors, among them Trump’s lawyer Rudi Giuliani. He was there at the invitation of the MeK (Mojahedin-e-Khalq), an Iranian movement that was on the U.S. State Department terrorist list until 2012. Giuliani has been paid in the past for giving speeches for MeK, a political militant organization that espouses Islamic and Socialist ideology and the violent overthrow of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is not exactly the objective of the United States, given the repeated statements by National Security Adviser John Bolton that it is ultimately up to the Iranian people “to determine the direction of their country.” From the outset in 1965, MeK launched terrorist actions and bombing that among others killed American military personnel stationed in Iran prior to the revolution and the takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979. MeK supported the taking of American hostages. Clearly, MeK can hardly be looked upon as the legitimate opposition to the Islamic Republic and in this context Mr. Giuliani undercuts U.S. policies.
As an attempt to find broad consensus on Middle Eastern issues, the Warsaw conference is a failure. Splitting “Old Europe” from “New Europe” is a bad idea that former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had tried to sideline. Mattis’ presence was reassuring to European allies that fear the consequences of President Trump’s opposition to global alliances, NATO at the forefront. By embracing Poland and indirectly the other three countries of the so-called Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia), the Trump Administration is pitting this kind of “New Europe,” a grouping of nations that range from illiberal to blatantly nationalistic, against the “old” and trusted transatlantic allies.
The Trump Administration is well aware that accusing the allies of trying to break U.S. sanctions will contribute to fraying solidarity within the European Union. Germany, France, and England are unquestionably united in their strategy to shape a financial arrangement to help European firms with business in Iran avoid US sanctions. This effort has prompted Vice President Pence to accuse those countries of being “uncooperative” with the United States, whose government broke the nuclear deal that Europe had helped negotiate. Moreover, Pence called the European financial tool “an ill-advised step” that will create still more distance between Europe and the United States. The unrelenting assault on U.S.-European ties, both strategic and commercial, raises the issue of how far the Trump administration is ready to go in undermining the European Union. The union itself is in trouble to the point that billionaire financier George Soros is arguing that anti-European Union forces are driving it toward the same fate suffered by the Soviet Union in 1991. For sure, this calamity is something that the United States would not want to happen. Is the obsession with punishing Iran and destroying its regime worth the perverse anti-European mission of the Trump presidency? Those Americans who enjoy their affinity and sympathy with “Old Europe” should reflect upon the lamentable effect that the obsession with one country – that realistically can be easily contained – is having on a continent that is crucial to American security interests and is more and more in the crosshairs of the main U.S. antagonists, Russia and China. It is not too late for the Trump administration to come to its senses. A sign of forthcoming balance on the part of the United States would be welcome before the European parliamentary elections next May when a far-right populist coalition will grow in numbers and threaten not only the survival of the union but the very texture of its historical ties, both political and economic, with the United States.