Looking at Transatlantic Relations from the American-German Situation Room
I spent four weeks from late August to late September 2017 in the American-German Situation Room (AGSR), working to find out what direction the Trump administration’s trade policies would take and how they would affect the transatlantic relationship. There is no better vantage point to do this than from AGSR. You are immediately in the activities of AICGS and GMF, as well as other think tanks such as Brookings, AEI, and CSIS. Access to transatlantic scholarly networks can be easily facilitated. In addition to think tanks, there are area universities, business organizations such as RGIT, Congressional staff, the executive branch, and foreign embassies.
One big plus is certainly that you can meet other German scholars and fellows at AGSR, which makes for stimulating discussions beyond your actual area of expertise. Looking at the evolution of Trump administration policies, you learn that you are not alone in trying to figure out which direction the administration may take, and which statement reflects the official line. Interestingly enough, at most events I attended on foreign or trade policies, administration spokespersons were not present. You find plenty of ex-Obama administration people, but few voices speaking for the Trump administration. In the administration’s ninth month, there was still plenty of uncertainty about where things were headed. One exception was a session with USTR Robert Lighthizer at CSIS, but with limited opportunities to ask questions.
For my trade policy project, the most interesting insight was how opposed agricultural groups are to the direction the administration is taking on trade. The withdrawal from TPP was seen as clearly damaging American export interests, and the renegotiation of NAFTA was seen as very risky regarding U.S. export opportunities in North America. Remembering that Trump won the rural vote in the 2016 presidential election, what is he going to deliver for this constituency that lives in areas dependent on access to world markets? In general, many of my interlocutors cautioned not to heed what the official rhetoric is, but to look at what the administration is actually doing.
The other clearly rewarding thing of being at AGSR is that it is a two-way exchange. This was particularly true as September was the month of the German federal elections. There were plenty of opportunities to answer questions on the outcome, what the mood was, how the campaign went, and how a new government would tackle EU issues and work with the new French president. What also was obvious: Germany is now the key actor in Europe whether the Trump administration acknowledges this or not. It remains to be seen whether Germany will be able to meet the expectations, but the German-American relationship remains crucial. No better place to learn that than at AGSR.