You might think that the Trump administration’s foreign policy consists only of haphazard attempts at economic pressure. You could not be more mistaken. The Trump administration is also responsible for haphazard attempts at running international conferences.
I will grant you that the economic pressure is definitely the major key in the cacophony of Trump’s foreign policy. In between the time I decided to write this column and when I actually sat down to compose it, two economic coercion attempts by the Trump administration made the news. There was the decision to cut off “any further aid to Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador until the countries take ‘concrete actions to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to the U.S. border’ ” according to Axios’s Stef Kight . And there was the Financial Times story by Neil Hume and Harry Dempsey reminding me that the administration might raise national security tariffs on uranium.
Neither move makes much sense. The failure of the Central American countries to comply seems more like a capacity issue than a willingness issue. Withholding aid will do little more than exacerbate the crisis (which might be what Trump wants). Mieke Eoyong accurately described it as “the foreign policy equivalent of ‘the beatings will continue until morale improves.’ ” As for the uranium restrictions, these too are curious. According to the FT story, the United States produces only 4 percent of what it consumes for uranium. Raising that percentage is likely to raise production costs for the nuclear sector by at least half a billion dollars. That seems like a dumb, counterproductive move, which is admittedly on brand for this administration.
But hey, this column is not about sticks, it’s about carrots. Surely, an administration that believes in the power of glitz should be able to razzle-dazzle other countries into greater cooperation, right?
Alas, the Trump administration seems incapable of following through on even the hint of commercial cooperation. For example, the U.S.-Africa Business Summit will be taking place this week in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. According to the conference website, this meeting offers an opportunity to “NETWORK with key private sector and government decision-makers.” Twelve African heads of state and government will be in attendance.
You know who will not be in attendance? A single Trump administration Cabinet official. According to Deutsche Welle’s Silja Fröhlich :
Despite the large presence of African leaders, the U.S. government will be poorly represented. The highest-ranking member of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to attend will be Deputy Secretary of Commerce Karen Dunn Kelley.
“It was unlikely that President Trump would ever attend an event like this,” says Judd Devermont, Africa Director of the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “He has done very little personally when it comes to Africa. He has so far only welcomed two African heads of state from sub-Saharan Africa to the Oval Office.” More important for Devermont is the question why no cabinet member will attend: “I think this is disappointing.”
Seriously, if Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross serves any purpose other than being the butt of John Oliver jokes , this should have been it. But no, he apparently could not be bothered to attend.
To be fair, this was not a conference that the Trump administration was running. Surely, if there was an event that the White House cared about, it would be better run, right? Right?!
And now we have reached the moment in this column when we pivot to Jared Kushner .
For two and a half years, Donald Trump’s son-in-law/secretary of everything has been working on a Middle East peace plan. We do not know the details of that plan. All we know is two things: (a) Kushner thinks that he cannot possibly make things worse ( he’s wrong ); and (b) the rest of the Trump administration is pretty dubious about his ability to make this work. As my Washington Post colleague John Hudson and Loveday Morris reported this month, “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a sobering assessment of the prospects of the Trump administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan in a closed-door meeting with Jewish leaders, saying ‘one might argue’ that the plan is ‘unexecutable’ and it might not ‘gain traction.’ He expressed his hope that the deal isn’t simply dismissed out of hand.”
The first step of Kushner’s peace plan rollout is supposed to be an economic conference in Bahrain in which the Palestinians would learn about all the economic incentives they might get if they give up these silly notions of sovereignty. It will shock you to learn that almost no Palestinians have agreed to attend the conference; indeed, the Palestinians have organized a rival conference in Beirut at the same time.
There has been a lot of uncertainty about who is scheduled to be at Bahrain. Today, however, Axios’s Barak Ravid confirms another nonattendee: the Israelis:
The White House has decided not to invite the Israeli Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon or other Israeli government officials to the Bahrain conference in Manama on June 25, where it plans to launch the economic part of the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, U.S. officials told me….
Israeli officials told me the White House was telling them for some time that Israel would be invited to the conference after all major Arab countries confirmed their participation. After Egypt, Jordan and Morocco confirmed, Israel was hoping to get an invitation
The Israeli officials told me that in the last few days, when an invitation didn’t arrive, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in closed meetings that he is not going to “chase an invitation.” Netanyahu’s office denied he said he will not chase an invitation…..
The Jordanian foreign minister on his part tried to play down the conference: “Let’s not exaggerate the significance of the Bahrain workshop. It’s a workshop.”
So, to sum up: the first big event designed to promote a peace plan for Israel and Palestine will contain no official representatives from either Israel or Palestine.
As someone who has had to run a few international conferences in my time, I feel a twinge of sympathy for Kushner. It is never easy when one’s grandiose plans of masterminding a game-changing conference faces the cold reality that no one really wants to attend. Conditional acceptances turn into a cascade of folks bailing out at the last minute.
This event is scheduled for next week. At this rate, what was supposed to be an ambitious effort to cobble together the “deal of the century” will devolve into some poster sessions and the Jared Kushner TED talk that no one has ever wanted to hear. As a symbol of the Trump administration’s ham-handed efforts to win friends and influence people in the Middle East, it will be too on the nose.
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