Has the US Changed, or Just Its President?
Al-Etihad, UAE, July 17
Europe emerged from World War II in a deplorable state. The winter of 1947 was a tragedy unlike any other witnessed before. The continent was totally destroyed and famine was widespread. The European economies collapsed. In France, inflation reached 49%. In Italy, it exceeded 62%. In Germany, the Allies did not leave a single city intact. Almost every major factory around the country was destroyed. Across the ocean, the United States was concerned with returning its soldiers from the battlefield in an effort to begin healing the wounds of those families that lost loved ones in the war. However, geopolitical developments soon imposed other priorities. Chief among them was rebuilding and rehabilitating Europe in an effort to curb the westward Communist advance coming from the Soviet Union. Thus the famous Marshall Plan, named after the US secretary of state at the time, was born. Under the plan, the US provided $14.3 billion in direct aid to rebuild European economies between 1948 and 1952. The value of this amount in 2018 dollars is some $130 billion. The Soviet Union interpreted Marshall’s plan as an attempt to resurrect Germany. That is why Joseph Stalin hastened the acceleration of the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe, including the eastern part of Germany. The United States responded with the creation of NATO. The goal of this alliance was to push the Soviet Union back east, to maintain an American presence on the continent and to ensure a continuation of the German defeat. This helped rebuild a new Europe, which evolved into today’s European Union. Compare this experience with what we’re witnessing today. Unlike the winter of 1947, US President Donald Trump, in the winter of 2017, announced a new policy based on the principle of “America First.” Under this principle, to which Trump adheres despite European and American opposition, the US has been seeking to reduce its financial commitments to NATO while imposing unprecedented taxes on European exports to America (for example, steel). Today, President Trump is trying to reduce his country’s obligations to others while turning a blind eye to what is happening in Europe. But unlike his predecessors who saw the Soviet incursion into Czechoslovakia as a reason for grave concern, Trump views the Russian takeover of Crimea as a non-issue. He refuses to be drawn into any form of confrontation with the Russian Federation because that would come at the expense of America First. In the winter of 1947, when the United States approved the Marshall Plan, President Harry Truman was surrounded by legendary figures like George Marshall, George Kennan, Will Clayton and Adlai Stevenson, who were not only great advisers, but also shrewd thinkers. They were academics, policymakers and seasoned diplomats. Conversely, today’s White House is filled with staffers who have an insanely limited experience in international affairs. In order to fulfill his commitment to the Marshall Plan to restore life to Europe after the war, President Truman had to pursue a policy of economic openness. As for President Trump, his commitment to America First has led him to pursue a policy of isolation and seclusion, even with his closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada. Hence, the question is: Has the United States changed or is it only the president? – Muhammad Al-Sammak (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)