US Steps Back

International agreements are enormously complex.  They cannot be explained in sound bites so no one understands them completely except the negotiators and the handful of speed-readers who are dedicated enough to read through them.  Both political parties can find some language in them support their positions. So how are we to know whether the Trump administration should be applauded for withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord or castigated?  Three possible answers.

  1. It is a Trump administration decision so anyone with a brain
    1. should oppose it
    2. should support it
  2. It was negotiated by the Obama administration so anyone with a brain
    1. should oppose it
    2. should support it
  3. Other

Ok – that was a trick question.  The answer is of course Ÿ.  [Editor’s note – this character was not able to be interpreted from the original manuscript.  Apologies.]

You can argue the facts . . .

You can argue whether is good or bad for the US, whether it is binding enough on other countries or too binding on the US, whether the Senate should have been asked to ratify it.

[Tangent:  Would anyone seriously ask the Senate of the United States to take some substantive action on a matter of world-wide importance when they can’t even pass a budget?  When they only work around 130 days a year (that’s 100 or so days less than you do).  When they are more interested in investigations and photo-ops than in legislating?  When they would rather pass symbolic acts with no possibility of becoming law than take a risk on a real law?  And now back to the main show.]

You can argue that we should not be subject to any level of control by foreign organizations even though the agreement is not binding and we can unilaterally change our level of commitment.  You can even argue whether we should be good and effective neighbors with our fellow world inhabitants.

But you can’t lead from outside . . .

But, it is hard to see any positive relationship between leaving the Paris accords and our ability to continue as a world leader.  We will create a vacuum that someone will fill in climate change debates and international bodies.  Our influence in the UN will diminish leaving the world’s strongest advocate for human rights and individual liberty on the sidelines.   That in turn reduces our ability to protect countries like Israel from what many perceive as UN heavy-handedness.  If there is a need for another treaty or sanctions against a rogue nation like North Korea or Iran, other countries may be less likely to trust us to lead the negotiations for fear we’ll quit if the result isn’t perfect for America.  (Remember the saying “the perfect is the enemy of the good”?)

It is also hard to see how our security is in any way enhanced by leaving the climate accord.  It will cost us friends in Europe.  It will cost us something in our relationship with China as they step up to take our place in climate debates and use their position to improve their own strength in east Asia.  It continues the message that the United States is not going to be a player in mitigating world issues.  We will not be the world’s police force nor the world’s honest broker.  They can work out their issues on their own.  And we’ll deal with the consequences.  The last time the world was in the position of having no police force and no semi-trusted broker was 1939.

We could join the league of irrelevant nations . . .

There is one good thing about withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  That is we will become a member of that exclusive club of first class nations known as the “Irrelevant Three”.  We’ll join Syria, defender of injustice, and Nicaragua, who thought the treaty was not aggressive enough.  Maybe we can negotiate a better deal with them.



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