Global Pairings, Rethinking America

US Diplomacy: A Whiff of the 1920s

Trump’s decision to pull out of UNESCO is another sign of the growth of isolationism in modern America.

Credit: Stas Walenga Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Trump’s decision to pull out of UNESCO has come at the wrong time and will be counter-productive.
  • The response of UNESCO to Mr. Trump’s announcement was to elect its first ever Jewish Director General.
  • The US government will be unable to influence the soft-power policy and work of UNESCO until the Trump pull-out is quietly reversed one day.

Today’s United States seems to be going for a repeat of the 1920s. After World War One, the U.S. government spent two decades opting out of international treaties and global treaty outfits, such as the International Labour Organization and the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.

Trump’s decision to pull out of UNESCO – another sign of the growth of isolationism in modern America – has come at the wrong time and will be counter-productive.

The nominal reason given by President Trump is UNESCO’s proclivity – in line with innumerable other UN and international treaty outfits – to criticize Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian land conquered in 1967.

Global double standard

To be sure, there is a global double standard. None of Israel’s neighbors – Arab autocracies with atrocious records of political repression, denial of political and free media rights, as well as a highly discriminatory treatment of women – ever get signaled out by any UN body for the regular denunciations Israel faces.

However, there is not the slightest evidence that Israel is helped by such an isolationist type walk-out from UN bodies.

Indeed, the response of UNESCO to Mr. Trump’s announcement was to elect its first ever Jewish Director General. Audrey Azalay, 45, was previously the Moroccan-French Minister of Culture under François Hollande. Her father, a Moroccan Jew, was a senior adviser to the current and previous King of Morocco.

So savor the irony: The U.S. quits UNESCO on the ground of anti-semitism — at the very moment its new Director General is Jewish.

The French have a saying that sums up Trump’s policy – “Les absents ont toujours tort.” Those not present are always in the wrong might be a loose translation.

The US tradition of playing games with UN

In 1975, Henry Kissinger announced the U.S. would quit another UN agency, the venerable International Labour Organization, set up in 1919, at the time mainly on a British initiative.

Kissinger’s nominal reason was to strike back at the UN resolution stating Zionism equalled racism. He dared not quit the UN, so found one of its linked bodies to get tough with.

As a result, when the eruption of the Polish trade union, Solidarity, happened in 1980 – the revolt that signaled the end of Soviet communism – the U.S. was absent at the most important global forum where Solidarity could be defended by the democratic world between September 1980 and the imposition of martial law 15 months later.

At every ILO meeting in every corner of the world, the world’s democratic trade unions, headed by the TUC, hammered home the message that Solidarnosc spoke for Polish workers not the Stalinist, communist controlled official unions.

The ILO is a tri-partite outfit with governments and employers taking part as delegates as well as trade unions. It was a miserable time for the USSR and global communism, as the ILO became the world’s foremost forum to expose communist oppression and wrong-doing.

But the U.S. could play no part — just as the U.S. government will now be unable to influence the soft-power policy and work of UNESCO until the Trump pull-out is quietly reversed one day.

The shortsightedness of feel-good actions

Walking out of an international treaty organization may feel good to those who announce it. But if you are absent, you have no say.

The UK is in for its own dose of that highly counterproductive medicine. In private, every British diplomat agrees that quitting the EU will see the biggest loss of geopolitical influence for Britain in centuries.

It is no saving grace that Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, is quite right to urge Donald Trump to keep working within the Iran Nuclear Treaty framework.

Normally, a British Foreign Secretary, and a slavishly pro-American conservative to boot, does not wag his finger at a U.S. President. But this time Johnson is right.

Johnson’s mental disconnect, of course, is that he argues at the same time that Britain should do a similar thing — leaving the EU, the most important treaty organization the UK has ever belonged to.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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