The British government has decided to flout the will of the United States, giving the Canadian government cover to do the same. This is how much Donald Trump has corroded America’s standing in the world.
The Trump doctrine of America First has devolved into America Ignored. This President has brought the United States to its lowest ebb in the eyes of the global community since the isolationist years between the two world wars. And even then, no president was seen as this President is seen – to quote former secretary of state Rex Tillerson – as a moron.
The question now is whether America will ever be able to come back.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government announced on Tuesday that Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications company, will be allowed to participate in the rollout of Britain’s 5G wireless network, with strict conditions. The Americans have been trying to convince or coerce their allies into freezing Huawei out of 5G, fearing surveillance, intellectual-property theft and other security concerns due to Huawei’s close ties to the Beijing government. But the Brits chose to reject American pressure.
Britain belongs to the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, along with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. With any other president, Democrat or Republican, the Five Eyes security establishments would most likely have assessed the Huawei threat, forged a consensus and then pressed their NATO and Pacific allies to embrace that consensus.
But that’s all gone now.
“The U.S. under Trump is unable to rally Western allies,” said Stephanie Carvin, assistant professor of international relations at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. “There is a huge vacuum here. And what’s left is countries trying to figure out what other countries are doing.”
Unless the Americans convince the Johnson government to reverse or at least modify its decision, "they’ve lost Europe. It’s game over,” Prof. Carvin predicted. Germany is likely to follow Britain’s lead, and France may follow suit as well, offering Huawei at least partial access to markets across Europe.
The British decision gives the Trudeau government considerably more manoeuvring room as it prepares to announce its own decision on Huawei and 5G. For Canada, the situation is even more fraught. The U.S. is right next door and pushing hard for the Huawei ban. Canada is holding Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for extradition at the request of the U.S. government, causing China to retaliate by arbitrarily detaining two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
Banning Huawei in Canada would further anger the Chinese, who are flouting all international norms in their belligerent conduct over Ms. Meng and the two Michaels. Allowing Huawei in would equally anger the Americans, although the Trump administration has shown little interest in resolving the Meng affair with China on its own.
Britain’s decision would allow the Trudeau government to grant similar access, with similar restrictions, to Huawei, without looking as though Canada is giving in to Chinese bullying. We would simply be following the British lead.
The Trump administration will protest, but at this point, Justin Trudeau doesn’t owe Mr. Trump a thing. Once the renegotiated NAFTA is passed by Parliament, Canada can wash its hands of this President, putting its trust in the American people to choose someone else in November.
If the Democrats win that election, the next president will try to recover as much as possible of the influence that has been lost. But part of that loss is permanent. No global power has ever veered so suddenly and sharply from a position of leadership to one of mistrust and even ridicule for no good reason. That loss of trust doesn’t go away.
American military and economic power remain vast. In the hands of the right president, the United States can once again become the dominant power within a functioning Western alliance. If Mr. Trump wins in November, however, it’s hard to imagine what will be left after four more years.
For now, all we know is this: The United States urged its allies to ban Huawei from their 5G networks. At first, a few complied. Then, as the Trump administration became more and more incoherent, former allies began to resist. Britain, risking the so-called special relationship, has decided to let Huawei in. Other European countries and Canada are likely to do the same.
Well played, Mr. President. Well played.