Nikki Haley explains the Trump administration’s approach to managing relations with allies:
Nikki Haley says US will have the backs of its allies and expects them to have America’s back. For those who don’t: “We’re taking names.”
— columlynch (@columlynch) January 27, 2017
If the administration views allies this way, that suggests that the U.S. will be reverting back to Bush’s ham-fisted treatment of allied governments if they don’t always fall in line. That approach treated many allies as if they were vassals to be commanded rather than independent states with their own interests. Unsurprisingly, relations with many allies in Europe deteriorated significantly during those years, and they recovered only after Bush left office.
Healthy relationships with allies or any other governments depend on the recognition that we will sometimes disagree on important issues, and on an understanding that disagreement doesn’t constitute betrayal or abandonment. On some occasions, as we saw in the months before the invasion of Iraq, the better allies are the ones warning us about the pitfalls of a proposed course of action. Threatening to punish other states if they don’t always “have our back” suggests that Trump and his officials don’t appreciate any of this.
At the same time, the administration seems only too happy to bend over backwards to please client states that aren’t proper allies at all. Considering how much Haley emphasized the importance of providing cover for Israel at the U.N. in her confirmation hearing, her remarks about “taking names” seem to imply that the Trump administration is willing to penalize genuine allies if they don’t toe the new U.S. line on Israel. Since almost every real ally that the U.S. has doesn’t share the hard-line approach Trump seems to be taking on issues related to Israel, that spells trouble for our relations with most of them.