In the last two weeks, two moves of U.S. foreign policymakers have demonstrated the basic problems of their strategy, potentially challenging Washington’s own interests and international relations. U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem fits the pattern of steps the U.S. has taken in the region over the past two decades. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.S. administration began a process of going alone when necessary while underestimating and underemphasizing the significance of allies and alliances around the world. Before and during the war in Iraq, this behavior generated major problems for U.S. foreign policy. Washington failed to understand its mistakes in the absence of close allies and engaged in its longest military conflict. This unilateralism did not end with the changes in U.S. administration.
Former President Barack Obama, who criticized the George Bush administration for its unilateralism and promised to follow a multilateralist approach in foreign policy, made the same mistakes in the Middle East. The Obama administration’s decision to withdraw from Iraq and the decision not to take any steps to stop the bloodshed in Syria were all done unilaterally by the administration in Washington. His change of heart about the U.S. operation in Syria following the chemical weapons attack has become the zenith of U.S. unilateralism. There was no deliberation with allies and no consideration of the potential steps following the sudden change of mind. In each and every unilateral decision, the outcome was a prolonged conflict with no solution or no strategy. U.S. allies in the region felt excluded from the process but faced the consequences of the actions. Each of these decisions generated negative attitudes toward the U.S. in the region and politically isolated the country even more. These decisions also generated serious tension with allies and the created deep mistrust. The skepticism about the U.S.’ commitments and the confusion about its intentions in the region weakened the ties between it and other countries.
With the election of Trump, this unilateralism reached a new height in the Middle East. Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel generated serious repercussions for Washington. The United Nations General Assembly vote shortly after the statement by the president demonstrated how isolated the U.S. has become in the international arena. None of the major U.S. allies endorsed the decision. Later with the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, Washington found itself once more alone in the international arena. None of its partners in the P5+1 — a group that includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the U.S., China, Russia, France and the U.K. plus Germany, who worked together to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal — supported the decision. In both instances, the administration could not even gain the full support of different agencies within the government. Although the president and his inner circle may believe that it demonstrated Trump’s commitment to his promises, it actually demonstrated the unpredictability of the U.S. administration when it comes to key foreign and security policies. The ceremony last week in Jerusalem and the protests following that move will further consolidate this perception around the world.
The outcomes of this unilateralism and this disregard of the world and its allies will increasingly isolate the U.S. in critical regions. It will make it harder for Washington to establish cooperation and initiatives pertaining to international order. The increasing anti-Americanism around the world as a result of these steps will make it harder for the national governments to cooperate with the U.S. and more significantly, Washington will continue to make the same mistakes in different forms through different administrations. If there are no steps to fix this situation, the isolationism will not be by choice, but rather a fact on the ground.