WASHINGTON - Since President Donald Trump announced an America First approach on foreign policy in his inaugural address in January 2017, critics have accused him of abandoning international norms and forsaking U.S. global leadership, while supporters say he has boldly taken on foreign policy challenges that his predecessors have failed, including defeating a global terrorists network and challenging a rising China.
“His America First agenda has secured the elimination of two most-wanted terrorists, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani, the destruction of the ISIS caliphate, and sustained strong political and economic pressure on adversaries like Iran, Venezuela, and Russia,” Ken Farnaso, the Trump campaign’s deputy national press secretary, told VOA.
But, for a president who once promised to bring his “Art of the Deal” business savvy to settling foreign disputes, and has spent considerable diplomatic resources on them, Trump has yet to deliver in his efforts to mediate peace in conflict hot spots around the world -- from the Balkans to the Nile Basin.
Trump the mediator
Trump, the one-time New York real estate businessman and reality TV star, has inserted his administration in dispute negotiations, some of which began in his first year in office. He has more than once offered to mediate between India and Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir, which New Delhi has rejected. India has also rebuffed Trump’s offer to mediate its border feud with China.
In trying to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, and Kosovo and Serbia, Trump picked up on efforts by past administrations. Other efforts at intervention, including getting involved in the feud over a hydroelectric dam between Egypt and Ethiopia, are entirely of his own making.
So far, none of these initiatives has borne agreements accepted by the disputing parties. Israel is on the brink of annexing about 30% of the West Bank which includes areas populated mainly by Palestinians. Meanwhile, Addis Ababa is allowing rain water to fill the Grand Ethiopia (GERD), angering Cairo officials who fear the massive hydropower dam will cut off their water supply.
Meanwhile, the June 27 Washington summit between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia -- once envisioned to be a triumphant opportunity to show that the Trump administration can supplant the European Union in brokering a final peace deal between two Balkan countries who went to war in the late 1990s -- was abruptly canceled days before the event after Kosovo announced its president was indicted on war crimes. The indictment against Hashim Thaci was filed by the country's prosecutor's office in April, and announced as Thaci was already on his way to the Washington summit.
These lesser-known Trump administration mediation efforts have added to an already sizable list of negotiations currently at an impasse, including with North Korea, China and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Analysts say the president’s bid to facilitate resolution of these long-running disputes have stalled partly because he is not seen as an honest broker attempting to placate both sides in sensitive talks.
This is most apparent in the administration’s Middle East peace plan led by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, that was released in January 2020. The plan was drawn up without any Palestinian involvement and its leaders have rejected it. Critics say negotiations had a distinctive pro-Israel tilt from the start.
A negotiation is a conversation between two equal parties, said Halah Ahmad, a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka, a transnational Palestinian think tank, in an interview with VOA. “The Palestinians have not been brought to the table as an equal party in negotiations with the Trump administration, and the stipulations of the administration really cast aside international consensus and decades of U.S. foreign policy.”