The Washington Post reports that European leaders are vexed with President Trump. Sorely vexed.
Our European partners feel that Trump “delight[s] in smashing transatlantic bonds.” The situation is so dire that, according to Josef Janning of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the post-World War ties that provided the basis for Western strength and peace for 70-plus years are probably gone forever.
The end of the Trump presidency won’t restore the alliance, Europeans fear. Rather, “the blend of unilateralism, nationalism, and protectionism Trump embodies may be the new American normal.”
But what actual policies and controversies support this European pessimism? The Post’s article, by Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum, cites three.
First, and apparently foremost, is Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Second, Witte and Birnbaum point to “the bloodshed in the Gaza strip,” referring to it as a “Trump-ignited brushfire.”
Americans had no role in the Gaza bloodshed, so I assume the Post and the European leaders it speaks for mean the decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. In reality, the Gaza bloodshed was not caused by this decision, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it was.
Does the transatlantic alliance really depend on America’s willingness to abide by what it considers a terrible nuclear deal and to keep its embassy in Israel outside that nation’s capital? These aren’t transatlantic issues (though, to be sure, Europeans want desperately to make money in Iran).
By treating these two decisions by the Trump administration as serious affronts to the transatlantic alliance, Europe’s leaders seek, in effect, a veto over American foreign policy decisions that don’t directly affect Europe. If that’s their demand, then the Post is right; the alliance isn’t viable. But that’s not President Trump’s fault. Blame it on European overreach — and arrogance.
Keep in mind, too, that Trump’s decisions reflect an American consensus that predates his rise. In 1995, Congress passed the “Jerusalem Embassy Act.” It formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called for the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be moved there from Tel Aviv by 1999. This bill passed the Senate by a 93 to 5 vote and the House by 374 to 37.
As for the Iran deal, it came nowhere near garnering the support it needed in the Senate to become a treaty. That’s why Trump was able to walk away from it as president. Nor was Trump a national political figure when the agreement was before the Senate.
The third grievance of the Europeans/Washington Post is “the specter of an international trade war.” Here we finally have a legitimate transatlantic issue.
But right now, there is only the prospect of new American trade policies directed against European firms. A compromise may be in store.
It is premature, to say the least, to declare defunct “the post-World War ties that provided the basis for Western strength and peace for 70-plus years” based on a trade dispute. Things would have to spiral out of control before this fear would become legitimate.
As noted, the Europeans leaders fret that even Trump’s eventual departure from the White House won’t cure the problems they perceive. They are probably right. A post-Trump U.S., even one controlled by the Democrats, will probably be more “protectionist” than the Europeans desire. And a post-Trump U.S. controlled by the GOP won’t yield to European policy preferences for dealing with the Middle East.
But Europe’s leaders should be worrying about public opinion in Europe, not the U.S. Disgust with their brand of internationalism and elitism was evident when Great Britain voted in favor of Brexit. It is evident from the recent Italian elections. There are indications of it even in the German election results.
It has a name — populism. When one contemplates the arrogance on display by Europe’s elites in the article by Witte and Birnbaum, it’s easy to understand why European populism is on the rise.