The chanceries of allied countries in Europe must have uncorked quite a few bottles of champagne over the sudden disappearance of John Bolton, the third national security adviser of a Trump administration in constant turmoil. Bolton was not a friend of the European Union that he regarded as an impediment to strong foreign policies of America First. And yet, the former hawkish assistant to the president held the line against concessions to the adversaries of the United States and Europe, mainly Russia’s Putin and North Korea. It is already appearing that the European partners of America hope that something good will come out of the firing of John Bolton, a fervent hawk who advocated bellicose courses of action in multiple theaters. Specifically, they hope that absent Bolton the president may entertain serious thoughts about de-escalating the tensions with Iran, launching one more unexpected adventure into high risk personal diplomacy. As erratic as Donald Trump’s actions tend to be, one doubts that the Iranians may accede to a surprising opening by Trump without first securing an economic counterpoint, namely the ability to export their oil. In addition, Iranians are wary of the influence that will be exercised by the principal beneficiary of John Bolton’s exit, Secretary of State Pompeo, whose Twelve Points are the equivalent of a declaration of war against Iran. The strategy of regime change in Iran pursued by Bolton is a close relative of Pompeo’s confrontational approach.
The same caveat applies to the European allies. A new alignment in the political structure of the European Union, where French president Macron is cleverly exploiting the decline of influence of German chancellor Merkel, is at least opening the possibility that the changing European leadership may find another avenue of discussions with the Trump administration, not just on the Iranian escalation, but in working with Russia to bring a modicum of stability in Syria and the Middle Eastern cauldron, where the Saudi Arabian – Israeli entente threatens open warfare. Stronger integration between European states and institutions should facilitate cooperation with the United States, lowering tensions and disagreements on issues such as the International Court of Justice, an international body that arbitrates legal disputes among UN member nations. The U.S. has never been willing to submit to the plenary authority of the court and formally withdrew from the court’s jurisdiction in 1986. Most importantly on the economic front, the Europeans are hoping for an end to the obdurate tariff war initiated by Trump, a global offensive that inflicts considerable damage on the European exporting nations. To counteract it, the European partners have signed commercial accords with Canada and Latin American countries. The situation, however, will not improve unless and until president Trump relents.
The best hope that the allies and partners of American can nourish after Bolton’s demise is that Trump may consent to re establishing a disciplined policymaking process that could revitalize the functions of the State Department and particularly its interchange with allies. Much depends on whether Secretary of State Pompeo will prove able to build a consensus that should rely in good part on the input of intelligence agencies systematically downgraded by the president and his former national security adviser. The prospect of a better functioning national security apparatus will be sorely tested by the president’s penchant to act on his own by catering to the right wing politics of his electoral base. One has to doubt that Secretary of State Pompeo will be up to a restorative job in the administrationbut there is a sliver of hope that his performance will not be subservient to the pressures of the hawkish elements of the Republican Party. Last but not least, one must take into account president Trump’s obsession with making a deal. Bolton wanted war, the president apparently wants a deal. Without Bolton, it will be easier to achieve. Some people are betting that Trump will surprise all by calling for a meeting at the U.N. General Assembly’s session with the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. Now, even Secretary Pompeo says it is possible. A subtle hint that the administration is holding off on new sanctions against Iran would be conducive to such a meeting. But it takes two to tango, and the Iranians do not trust Trump. Nevertheless, absent the bellicose Bolton, something may give.