This week Room For Discussion will be hosting Peter Hoekstra, U.S.Ambassador for the Netherlands. The interview will cover the US – Netherlands relationship along with numerous points in Washington’s foreign political agenda like Venezuela, Syria and trade tariffs. The recent government shutdown in the US and Trump’s current situation are expected to be other agenda points.

Peter Hoekstra was born in Groningen and immigrated with his family to the United States. There he had a notable career of public service and the private sector. He served as a Member of Congress for eighteen years (1993-2011), chairing numerous committees. During this time, he was in charge of leading Congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence during its modernization and restructuring after the 9/11 attack. During the 2016 Presidential Election, he served as Co-Chair of the Trump/Pence campaign in Michigan and was a campaign National Security Advisor focusing on intelligence, cyber, and other security issues. He also worked as a high- level executive in firms like Herman Miller Inc. and Gentex Corp.

Unquestionably, Mr. Hoektsra will provide an unusual angle to us in U.S. politics as one of the “inside men”. So what is the last situation in U.S foreign policy as seen from the media?

Washington recognized Guaido as the “interim President of Venezuela” over Maduro without any elections taking place yet. The situation is hectic in Venezuela as the public is fragmented between two different views of leadership as much as the army (officially, the Venezuelan Army still remains loyal to Maduro). Most recently, Mike Pence announced that they will meet with Guiado on February 25th, to discuss whether the aid to the opposition will keep flowing and what is the new direction to go. Several EU countries including the Netherlands formally recognized Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president, after their ultimatum for calling elections in Venezuela faced a harsh response from Maduro. The fragmentation within Venezuelans transcended the borders already. The world began to see this as an American – Anti-American issue rather than Maduro – Guaido one. The US takes the leading role in facilitating the formality of Guaido outside Venezuela while aiding him inside. No wonder it will be a hot topic for Peter Hoekstra in the interview as well.

Coming to another prominent foreign issue, Syria, seems no good than it was before. In fact, the Middle East hasn’t seen any stability since the US took over Iraq and Saddam was executed. Now there is Bashar al-Assad being incumbent since 2000 and Civil War in Syria goes on between Syrian Army and the opposing Free Syrian Army, not to mention the other terrorist groups in the Middle East being supported by various players in the world like France and UK. In the Middle East, the big question is always “Who fills in the authority gap now?”. May it be after ISIS is gone or after Saddam is gone. It is all about being the new status quo. In this game, The US has always taken the role of a “mediator” in the region. Or the ‘’facilitator of democracy’’. In practice, the Middle East has not even been close to democracy. After the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the polarization and conflict of interests between USA, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Israel transformed the region to a great extent, introducing gun trade and proxy wars as the tools of political influence. We’ve been way past the times when the US, being the ‘’Democracy Hero” in the Middle East. Right now they look like the naughty child who puts everything on fire until their interests are met. Partnering with the oil refinery of the world, Saudi Arabia, the US is trying to re-facilitate its reputation in the world by resembling themselves the guaranteer of restructuring a new open, modern Saudi Arabia. ‘’We bring the good, not always the bad.’’ Is the motto.

 

Coming back to inside politics of USA, no doubt that Peter Hoekstra will cover the last government shutdown in the most informative way as he has seen the 2013 Shutdown himself. The most recent one, lasting from December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019, was the longest shutdown in history. Even if the reason seems like the 115th United States Congress and Republican President Donald Trump, could not coming to an agreement on an Appropriations Bill to fund the operations of the federal government for the 2019 fiscal year, it all stemmed from Trump, asking for funds to build the wall on the Mexican border. January 2018 Shutdown stemmed from the same reason. This shutdown cost the US economy at least $11 billion. Government shutdowns are one of the biggest arguments in favor of the authoritarian governments on democracy, not being efficient enough. But if an incumbent president intends to build a wall between a country, some other reliable governance mechanism should go over that indeed.

I wonder what is Mr. Hoekstra’s point of view on inside politics and outside politics of the US, and of course Trump. He has witnessed recent US politics from the first eye and worked with Donald Trump quite some time. Good to have somebody in RFD where we can get first person info on politics because I think that the perception of US politics, and especially Trump, is biased on European media as everybody wants to talk about his scandals, but not what he aims. Labeling someone as a ‘’maniac” and looking the other way is easy. What Trump tries to do is he wants to turn the US production back to the US from China and Mexico. This is the main reason for trade tariffs. Not to abolish trade as the first motivation (that is a general perception) but to stimulate inside production and take the lead from cheap-labor countries. That is how he got the votes of blue-collar as they are unemployed after the production has moved to China and other cheap labor countries after the 2008 crisis. Now he is more reluctant on tariffs as he delays the sanctions one after another, but we will see what Mr. Hoekstra has to say about it.