The United States must take on a “more assertive” role on the global stage as President-elect Donald Trump and his newly appointed team devise a cohesive national security strategy to deter and counter both immediate and looming challenges, according to the Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel, who is a former member of the National Security Council staff.

“It’s a propitious time for a more assertive US approach to a world that’s very complex and full of a lot of dangerous and unpredictable challenges,” said Pavel, vice president, Arnold Kanter Chair, and director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Comparing the incoming Trump administration’s commentary on global challenges with the approach of the Obama administration, he said: “We’ve been relatively withdrawn over the last several years. I don’t see too many areas where a softer approach would be useful. It’s probably a good time for the Trump administration to be more assertive.”

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Even as Donald Trump was preparing for his inauguration as the next president of the United States, a more contentious transition of power was being attempted in the Gambia, where the incumbent president, Yahya Jammeh, has stubbornly refused to make way for President-elect Adama Barrow.

Senegalese forces under the umbrella of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, entered the Gambia on January 19 to assure the democratic transition from Jammeh to Barrow, who won the presidential elections in December.

If it goes awry, the military intervention in the Gambia could present an early crisis for Trump, but the new US administration must avoid the temptation of getting its wires crossed with ECOWAS. It should, instead, support ECOWAS’ efforts to resolve the crisis, an example of the Western mantra “African solutions for African problems.” The United States must publicly support a peaceful transition of power in the Gambia and offer its full support to Barrow, who will need all the help he can get.

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‘Channeling Brussels’ with Yehor Bozhok, Ukraine’s acting head of mission at NATO

While the United States’ allies in Europe have been shaken by US President-elect Donald Trump’s description of NATO as “obsolete” and his suggestion that he may consider relaxing US sanctions imposed on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Ukraine’s top diplomat at NATO is confident that US commitment to his country will remain firm.

Whatever is said on the campaign trail, said Yehor Bozhok, Ukraine’s acting head of mission at NATO, every US administration turns out to be a strong supporter of Ukraine.  Bozhok attributed that to a recognition by US leaders that the conflict is not a “bilateral conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” but an attempt to attack “democracy, the rule of law and respect” between nations. He said there’s no option other than to defend Ukraine, otherwise “we will have to deal with the opened Pandora's box all over the world.”

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Though inauguration speeches are not known for their foreign policy pronouncements, the world’s complexity demands that US President-elect Donald J. Trump mention foreign policy in his address to the nation during his inauguration on January 20. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt used his speech to describe how the United States could continue on the path to becoming a global power. In his inaugural address in 2009, Barack Obama talked about getting out of Iraq, denuclearization, and working with authoritarians who would “unclench” their hold on power. Otherwise, that speech is known more for its call to heal social and political divides in the United States.

No doubt Trump will attempt to strike a similar message on January 20 using “Reagan’s style and Kennedy’s vision.” Though it is hard to predict what Trump and his inaugural speechwriter, Stephen Miller, are drafting (and revising, and editing, and re-revising…) with regard to US foreign policy, common threads abound in Trump’s worldview, as a result at least some thematic projections can be made.

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A closer look at some of Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions

US President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about NATO, the European Union (EU), and Russia have rattled US allies as they look for indicators as to how the United States will engage with the international community and establish its role in the world.

On January 16, Trump gave an interview to The Times of London and the German newspaper Bild in which he discussed his opinions on a variety of global challenges. As the inauguration nears, Trump’s statements have been taken as indicators of the direction of the new administration’s foreign policy. Atlantic Council experts weigh in on the president-elect’s comments and discuss their significance.

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Incoming US administration must draw a red line between al Qaeda and US-backed rebels, say analysts

US President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration must consider the far-reaching consequences of allowing US-backed opposition forces to work with al Qaeda in Syria, Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said at the Atlantic Council on January 12.

Policy should not be dictated simply by whether or not a particular extremist group poses an immediate threat to the United States, said Lister. Rather, “there is a broader interest-based assessment that needs to be made,” he said. Because al Qaeda was not countered from the outset of the conflict in Syria, its extremist ideology has become normalized within the opposition, and they are now far more dangerous to the United States, Lister added.

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The United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, on January 17 described Russia as a “major threat” facing the United States and the rules-based liberal world order, and cautioned Americans against allowing Moscow to divide them in the face of this threat.

“Our values, our security, our prosperity, and our very way of life are tied to this [rules-based] order and we… the United States and our closest partners, must come together to prevent Russia from succeeding in weakening that order,” Power said at the Atlantic Council in her final public remarks as ambassador.

Power called for a renewed commitment to the rules and institutions that have underpinned the liberal world order for the past seven decades, and the development of new tools to counter Russia’s attempts at undermining it. Russia’s attacks have “exposed” and “exacerbated” vulnerabilities within Western democracies, she said, adding, “we cannot let Russia divide us.” 

Citing George Washington’s warning about the danger of foreign interference, Power said: “More than 220 years later, Washington’s warning feels strikingly relevant.”

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The transatlantic relationship is in for a rough ride over the course of Donald Trump’s presidency simply because there is no “correcting mechanism” among the incoming cabinet to counter the next US president’s rhetoric on the European Union, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

In an interview with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper published on January 15, Trump bashed NATO as “obsolete,” described the European Union (EU) as “basically a vehicle for Germany,” applauded the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, and predicted that more EU member states would follow. The comments rattled the United States’ European allies.

Trump’s key cabinet picks—secretary of state nominee former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson and defense secretary nominee retired Gen. James Mattis—broke with the president-elect and spoke favorably of NATO at their confirmation hearings earlier in January. However, the absence of a depth of EU expertise among Trump’s cabinet is striking, said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“They know about NATO or have had experience in NATO, but not regarding the EU. There is no correcting mechanism at the cabinet level that we see so far that would present a counterview to what Trump has said” about the EU, said Burwell.

“The EU itself is in for a rough ride over the next few years,” she predicted.

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French President François Hollande went to Bamako, Mali, last week for the twenty-seventh Africa-France Summit, his last scheduled visit to Africa before he leaves office in May, having been forced to give up any hope of a second term by the most abysmal approval ratings of any head of state in this history of the Fifth Republic. Running for the presidency five years ago, Hollande included in his election manifesto, 60 Engagements pour la France, a promise to definitively break with “Françafrique,” the neocolonial pact between France and its former colonies, in favor of “a new relationship founded on equality, trust, and solidarity.” Given Africa’s rising geopolitical heft and burgeoning economic dynamism, the legacy the French leader actually leaves in the region—which has been a bright spot amid Hollande’s widespread unpopularity—is of significant import not only for Africans, but also for France, its European neighbors, and, indeed, the wider transatlantic community.

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White House ends policy that allowed Cubans reaching US soil to automatically apply for asylum

US President Barack Obama’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed any Cuban migrant who reached US soil to stay in the country will slow the number of Cuban immigrants rushing to the United States, but is unlikely to deter US President-elect Donald Trump from reversing some of the recent progress in the bilateral relationship, according to two Atlantic Council Latin America analysts.

Trump has said that he will dismantle the progress made in the US-Cuba relationship—a progress marked by a historic diplomatic détente in the summer of 2015 and US President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana in March of 2016—unless he gets a better deal.

A wholesale reversal of the advancement in the bilateral relationship would give China unchallenged access to Cuba, said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

“By disengaging from Cuba, what the administration would be doing is giving China a beachhead ninety miles off our shores,” he said.

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