This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group.
Project Syndicate: You’ve argued that the European Union needs to recognize that the United States is an unreliable partner, and take action to bolster its own security. Now, after years of trashing NATO, US President Donald Trump says the Alliance must increase its involvement in the Middle East to rein in an Iran that, thanks to Trump’s own actions, is no longer bound by the 2015 nuclear deal. How should European NATO members respond?
Ana Palacio: One of the unfortunate realities of Trump’s mercurial administration – and a leading source of global uncertainty – is that its pronouncements cannot be assumed to be authoritative or fixed. So his surprising and somewhat vague call for NATO to “become much more involved in the Middle East process” should be taken with more than a grain of salt. This is all the more true because Trump followed his initial call for greater NATO involvement in the Middle East with musings about enlarging the Alliance to include Middle Eastern states. There is no comprehensible picture here.
That said, America’s Western allies – and Europe, in particular – should be very concerned about the prospect of a large-scale US withdrawal from the Middle East. There have been worrying signs that the Trump administration is considering such a move – the most obvious being the leaked (and subsequently rescinded) letter from a US general suggesting that plans are underway to prepare troops to leave Iraq.
This would undermine efforts to keep the Islamic State in check and push regional powers even closer to Russia, reinforcing the Kremlin’s strategic position. To prevent this outcome, NATO’s European members should increase the Alliance’s presence in the Middle East, thereby bolstering security and providing tangible evidence of NATO’s value (and some political cover) to a US president who has consistently doubted it.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Palacio's picks:
by William J. Burns
A powerful firsthand account of America’s role in the world over the last four decades, written by a consummate analyst of foreign affairs. Burns’ diplomatic perspective provides a clear and compelling picture of the ups and downs of US foreign policy through Republican and Democratic administrations, from the peak at the end of the Cold War to the depths of the current chaos. At a time when the State Department seems to be in disarray and the American diplomatic corps faces formidable challenges, Burns shows what US foreign policy at its best can achieve.
by Karina Sainz Borgo
The human suffering in Venezuela has persisted for so long and reached such depths that it can sometimes feel almost abstract. Borgo’s remarkable debut novel changes that, by taking the reader along on a deeply unsettling but supremely enlightening personal journey through a country’s disintegration. Told from the perspective of a young woman whose future is consumed by the struggle for survival, we see clearly how circumstances can propel a person’s life into a spiral of chaos and cruelty. It is a book that will not only deepen your understanding of Venezuela’s plight, but also cause you to reflect on the human condition. It has already been translated into numerous languages, but I recommend reading it in the original Spanish if you can, as Borgo has a unique style in the tradition of Miguel de Cervantes.
by Stefan Zweig
Over the holidays, I found myself picking back up this 1942 classic, not because I believe, as many others do, that we are reliving the 1930s. Rather, I did so because we are living at a time of upheaval. And it is precisely the disorientation that this type of disruption produces that Zweig so keenly captures, providing the reader with some much-needed perspective. Though not the most original, this book is a favorite – one that triggers different reactions each time I read it.
From the PS Archive
Palacio worries that the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder and the US response may accelerate a dangerous shift. Read the commentary.
Palacio explains why the duty to defend the Western-led rules-based system falls squarely on Europe. Read the commentary.
Around the web
In a 2014 interview with the Tehran Times, Palacio promoted a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Read the transcript.
At a 2017 International Energy Agency Big IdEAs conference, Palacio discussed modern energy challenges from a geopolitical perspective. Watch the video.