Wednesday, 1 February 2017

What posture should Enda adopt towards the Donald? A pro-Irish one perhaps?

So now the Irish establishment knows the nausea I felt watching each of the Taoiseach's annual Paddy's Day pilgrimages to Washington to meet and lard unctuous praise on Barack Obama - or they soon will. Not that they'll be justified, of course, but in the Irish establishment's schema, treating Donald Trump with basic and businesslike respect is somehow equivalent to the craven and embarrassing obsequy lavished on his predecessor. Forgive me if I feel some Schadenfreude (no, scratch that, there's no shame in my joy; just plain Freude will do nicely). Between 2001 and 2008, I watched the Irish establishment bifurcate. Those in power treated George W. Bush with guarded respect. Those in opposition denounced his war in Iraq and decried Bertie Ahern's supposed complicity in it; some, such as Pat Rabbitte and David Begg boycotting diplomatic receptions. Of course, when Barack Obama started the equally idiotic and, arguably, more disastrous Libya war, nobody in Ireland's higher echelons could bring themselves even to suggest that the blessed one should be spared the "Is feidir linn" Blarney in favour of a more arms' length treatment. In so doing, the elites (and especially their leftist cohort) showed that they had no genuine anti-war feelings, merely a pathetic tendency to ape the opinions and attitudes of the "sophisticated" coastal Americans, who hated Bush and loved Obama. 

Was Bertie Ahern wrong to visit DC despite Iraq and should Cowen and Kenny have boycotted Obama over Libya? No, and nor should they have engaged in the narcissistic virtue signalling which accepting their hospitality and using it as a platform to criticise them would have entailed. Contrary to the image that our delusional political establishment has sought to project, Ireland is not a small country that punches above its weight in geopolitical and geostrategic influence. Rather, we are a small country which , in common with all countries below a certain critical mass of population, punches with no weight at all. Nothing Ireland says about any great issue outside our borders is capable of exerting any fundamental influence at all. With no ability to affect reality, the fundamental duty of our government is to negotiate that reality to ensure that Irish interests are best served. In 2003, the Ahern government, in its own incoherent way, represented Ireland's interests well with regard to the Bush administration. By pointedly neither endorsing nor opposing the Iraq expedition, Ahern kept on the right side of the Bush/Cheney compact. This was useful. The Bush administration largely ignored the offshoring of US corporate profit streams to Irish vehicles. Meanwhile, when Ahern shrewdly sought to use the murder of West Belfast man Robert McCartney to pressure Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, Bush helpfully backed him up by inviting the dead man's sisters to the White House. Moral grandstanding would have done nothing to prevent the Iraq war and it's unlikely that a more fulsome or laudatory approach to Bush would have delivered anything more. All the evidence is that Bush respected Ireland and acted accordingly.

By contrast, in spite of the condescending pats on the head from Obama and our puppy dog like yelping in his midst, what did we get from him? Arguably worse than nothing. When the US Congress started to assail Ireland as a global tax haven, Moneygall's favourite son was nowhere to be seen. So what should Enda learn from Ireland's relations with the last two POTUSs? Insulting Trump will do us no more good than canonising Obama did. America and the world don't care what we think - and we should not be narcissistic enough to think they should. All we can do is behave in a businesslike manner, command respect, engender some passive goodwill and hope that each yields some low hanging fruit to be picked. Kenny will go to Washington on St. Patrick's day under pressure from some not to go at all and from others to go and condemn his so-called Muslim ban and his Mexican border wall. Many of those who advocate the latter also want him to raise the issue of the 50,000 or so Irish illegals living in the US. This final issue is a classic example of low hanging fruit that can be picked by a deft harvester. So what should Kenny do?

First, let me answer by saying what he should not do. He should not ignore the fact that it is in Ireland's indubitable interest not to have to assimilate tens of thousands of deportees from the US. By the same token, if it is not in Ireland's interests to have them back, it's logical to presume that it's not in America's interests to keep them. This leads to the second thing he should not do. He should not insult Mr. Trump by asking him to ignore law breaking by tens of thousands of our citizens and the socialised costs associated with their presence in his country. Big countries like the US can (for a time) pretend that the rest of the world is obliged to operate in their interests. Ireland has no such luxury. Kenny should thus say nothing about these 50,000 in public and anything said in private should be said through diplomatic back channels. Behind the scenes, Enda needs to talk the language that the Donald himself speaks like no other: The Art of the Deal.

So what trade is to be had? First off, Kenny should publicly call on Trump to take Ireland's interests into account when negotiating a trade deal with post-Brexit Britain. This will send Trump the tacit message that Ireland will adopt, at worst, a benign neutrality with respect to his and Theresa May's attempts to craft a new international order for when the terminally ill EU finally dies. Secondly, when asked about Trump's border wall and his so-called "Muslim ban", he should pointedly say that the US's immigration policies are a sovereign matter for the American people and not something upon which a foreign leader should comment. He should then add, as an aside, that, so far as he is aware, Mr. Trump's executive order does not even mention the word "Muslim" and that there is thus no "Muslim ban" for him to condemn or endorse and, so far as he knows, no plans for one. Finally, Kenny should sound the distinctly Trumpian note of endorsing the latter's policy of replacing "refugee" resettlement in western countries with a policy of locally guaranteed "safe zones" in the Middle East, where far more, far more desperate people can be helped at a far lower per capita cost. In addition to being something approaching the most principled stance any Taoiseach has taken in relation to international policy in the history of the State, such a statement would be a deposit in the bank of goodwill which can allow Kenny to quietly work out a deal exempting the Irish illegals from whatever Trump has planned for the Mexicans et al. This is Trumpian dealmaking avant la lettre.

Enough of the "should" though. What do I predict Kenny will do instead? He will go to Washington, thereby offending the terminally Donald-deranged. He will present his bowl of shamrock without enthusiasm. He will use his 15 minute photo-op to insult his host by blatantly prying into matters of American domestic policy that are none of his business. Trump, who, whatever one may think of his qualities, does not suffer fools gladly, will see the Taoiseach as a glorified mayor who takes his marching orders from Angela Merkel, a politician who, all the evidence indicates, he (justifiably) despises. There will be no respect, no goodwill, just a fixed and sour smile on his perma-tanned visage. Meanwhile, when his Treasury and Justice Departments cast a beady eye over our illegals and our tax laws, Ireland will be overdrawn at the United States Bank of Goodwill. But hey, who wants to be a normal, self-respecting country that looks out for its own interests when there's virtue to be signalled?     

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