Telegraph: William Hague opines on USA Politics
- It’s in the UK’s national interest that Joe Biden wins the presidential race; William Hague 24 August 2020 • 9:30pm
- Under Trump, the US has stopped leading on global issues and shown disdain for democratic values
- As the United States embarks on what might be its most acrimonious election in living memory, what outcome would be in the interests of the UK? A case can be made that the first term of President Trump has been not too bad from the British point of view. He is warm towards Britain, likes our Prime Minister and is in favour of a free trade deal. His administration has backed us up at some crucial moments, such as over the Salisbury poisonings, or China’s breach of its agreements with us over Hong Kong. He never looks happier abroad, or behaves with more decorum, than when visiting the Queen.
- These are actions we can appreciate, as are the tireless efforts of American diplomats to keep cooperation with allies on the road. Trump’s inability to keep a team together – with repeated changes of defence secretary, national security adviser and senior intelligence officials – has been damaging, but at lower levels the US system works closely with us every day, sharing valuable intelligence, keeping our militaries aligned and helping with law enforcement.
- Furthermore, it can be argued, many of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements are part of a longer-term trend in US thinking. His attitude to China is symptomatic of Washington waking up to the rise of a new strategic adversary. The lectures to allies about paying their own way are an extension of appeals made by Obama, albeit more threatening. And his desire to bring troops home from Syria and Afghanistan is also part of a common American exhaustion after Iraq, even if more erratic and temperamental.
- So far, so much relief. Trump has not wrecked Nato or blown up the world. Yet we British have to recognise that something is fundamentally wrong. Something vital to us, as a medium-sized, transatlantic, democratic nation, is missing. We need the US to be the active leader of a network of alliances, of which we are a part, and to combine its great financial and physical strength with moral authority and respected global leadership. In the next four years, the need for that leadership will be as vital as it ever has been since the end of the Cold War. No other country can come close to providing it. And we have seen enough now to know that Donald Trump is not going to give it.
- The Covid-19 crisis has been, as in so many ways, a revelatory moment. Leave aside the chaotic domestic response in America – we have not been in a position to preach, and Europe’s problems are far from over. But the most striking aspect of the crisis has been the absence of any attempt at global leadership. The one person who could have moved other nations and his own to take it seriously, to coordinate policies, to consult on closing borders, share vaccine research, and act to prevent future pandemics, was the US president. The leader who could have summoned the G20, and even now could be ensuring sufficient support for developing countries to prevent a health and economic meltdown with far-reaching consequences, is in the White House.
- Next year, the UK will host the Cop26, the world conference on climate change. It will be the most crucial such meeting since Paris in 2015, and a decisive moment in seeking agreement from all countries to take necessary action. The Trump administration is uninterested in such issues and even hostile to addressing them. Within the US, it is pushing ahead with the obscenity of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Internationally, it is unwilling to give the lead that would bring a global agreement within reach.
- Other issues of vast and lasting importance are coming to a head. Rivalry with China may well be unavoidable, but we need America to be at the centre of strong alliances as it faces up to that, not striking out on its own. Trump’s early decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership weakened his own country’s position on international trade, and the value to this country of ultimately joining the pact. More widely on China, Western countries are on the strongest ground when opposing totalitarian behaviour but still seeking a framework of coordination with Beijing on pressing global issues – arms control, climate change, and economic stability. Trump, however, often seems to have this the wrong way round: raising few objections to dictatorship while failing to find a constructive framework.
- One excruciating extract of the book by the most recently departed national security adviser, John Bolton, recounted how “Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do.” This is part of a pattern: he greeted Xi Jinping becoming president indefinitely with “I think it’s great”, said Kim Jong-Un had “a great and beautiful vision” for his country and has repeatedly raised inviting Putin to the G7, despite the deep discomfort of the leaders of other free nations.
- At a time when democracies, though resilient, are under the great strains of internal discontent and growing external interference, this disdain for the values of freedom and democracy is deeply damaging to the West. It is amplified by Trump’s unsubstantiated charges of fraudulent voting in his own country, intended to undermine confidence in any unwelcome result. It is in the vital interests of the UK that America, our indispensable ally, is ironclad and steadfast in its attachment to democracy at home and abroad: the capital and the arsenal of freedom.
- Last week, 73 former US national security officials who worked under the Reagan and Bush presidencies called on Republicans to forsake their party and vote for Joe Biden. Many British Conservatives, even those of us with decades-long friendships among Republicans, will feel the same. Biden will face his own problems, particularly of how to restrain the Left of his own party. But if he wins, which is by no means certain, he is committed to uphold human rights and democracy, persuade other countries to join the US in more ambitious environmental goals, and “restore a commitment to science and truth in government”. Such an approach would be good for the world and for America. And that means it would be good for Britain.
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