Trump: Washington and Europe’s Inconvenient Truth Teller
From the moment President Trump won the presidency, he became an object of scorn and derision in Washington and most European capitals. The reason: Trump insists on seeing the world as it is; a virtue that mobilized 60 million Americans to vote for him.
Serious-minded people can come to different conclusions about a given set of facts, but Trump’s willingness to declare openly that the world changed dramatically from what it was 20, 30 or 50 years ago was too much for the self-appointed elites in Washington and Western Europe. Trump’s early recognition that the Trade Agreements Washington made in the 1960s are legacies of the Cold War when America’s interest revolved around creating and maintaining a global community of nations committed to containment made him extremely unpopular in Europe’s capitals.
Absolved of the responsibility to defend themselves for many decades, West Europeans grew accustomed to a kind of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” approach to national security. Trump’s underlying message that Washington would no longer play the role of a global “Daddy Warbucks”—that the national economies previously in recovery from two world wars had in fact recovered—was unwelcome news.
Since 1991, the deterioration of the postwar order has accelerated, in part, because of U.S. actions in the Middle East after 2001, but in larger part due to the dramatic rise of new regional powers and coalitions of powers with renewed economic strength. The outcome is a mixed bag for NATO States.
Smaller powers inside NATO—like Greece—are behaving more and more like neutral States. Greece, like many Mediterranean and East European States, is trying to maneuver for advantage within the framework of Washington’s competition with Moscow. Why not? Greece shares Russia’s religion and much of its culture making reliance on Russia in a conflict with Turkey a safer bet than reliance on Western Europe or the United States.
On the one hand, the Europeans struggle to reconcile their desire for prosperity and stability with an increasingly aggressive Russian State. But Europeans also decline to go their own way, or at least, push for a European Defense Community with a focus that is different from the Cold War Atlantic Alliance.
Europe’s NATO members also refuse to collectively eject the Turks from NATO and expel the ‘soft’ Muslim invasion orchestrated by Elites in the Arabian Peninsula and Ankara. Why not? The strategic implications for Europe of Turkish-led Muslim hostility to the West are far more ominous than Moscow’s re-conquest of Crimea.
It’s all too clear that the mass migration aims to demographically replace Europeans with Muslims. How can Europe ignore Erdogan’s brand of Islamist Nationalism distinguished by its hostility to Christianity and Israel has decisively triumphed inside Turkey?
In Washington, the real question is what the West European powers would actually do to help the Baltic States if the Russians suddenly marched into Tallinn on the pretext that Moscow is protecting a large Russian minority? The answer is unknown, however, many in uniform think they would whine, complain and beg the United States to act for them. Trump sees no future in this kind of behavior. Like the great European powers of the past, he seeks a viable alternative.
In 1878, the Russians were poised to occupy the Bosporus. The Russians did not do so, and a war was avoided. Why? Because the European Powers led by Britain and Germany found alternative solutions that were not designed to humiliate or punish the Russians. The unspoken truth was that the negotiated arrangements were also backed up by the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Army.
Would Otto von Bismarck and Benjamin have sought a settlement over territory that had no strategic importance to Britain or Germany, or would they have presented Moscow with an ultimatum similar to the one Vienna sent to Belgrade in July 1914? The answer is clear: the two would have sought a settlement that closed the open wound.
In Singapore, Trump prefers the approach that Disraeli and Bismarck favored. Trump recognizes that North Korea is a dying society. North Korea is as moribund as postwar order that created it. Trump also understands that China is not a military threat to the United States or its strategic interests.
Trump and Xi have serious disagreements on trade, but both believe that business can be conducted on new terms that minimize the potential for conflict. For this wise policy, Trump is attacked in Washington even as an agreement is emerging. After all, an end to nearly 70 years of conflict on the Korean Peninsula and a mutually beneficial modus vivendi with Beijing would change the redistribution of cash in Washington, D.C., would it not?
Colonel Douglas Macgregor (U.S. Army, Ret.) is a decorated combat veteran, a Ph.D. and the author of five books. His most recent is: Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).