Our bull visits Europe's China shop
President Trump's trip to Europe has managed in a few short days to undermine what seven decades of bi-partisan foreign policy have accomplished. He has not only left a trail of wreckage in his wake that he cannot easily repair, but he probably doesn't even notice the mess.
At least for the moment, the link between America and a democratic Europe which shares its most basic political values has been weakened and all but broken. Our bull-in-a-China-shop President has for once taken a giant step for a change toward a goal he clearly articulated during the campaign: isolating us from our allies and from other democratic nations and thus freeing us from our obligations around the world. He and those who blindly follow him seem unable to comprehend that doing so leaves us not merely alone, but vulnerable to itches in places we cannot scratch; as I pointed out in my post on the debt we owe to foreign intelligence services, the spies and even soldiers of our allies serve our interests by proxy in ways which keep Americans out of harms way and even bring our influence to bear indirectly in places beyond our direct reach.
Alienating our NATO allies and forfeiting our position of influence in the European region weakens us. The siren song of isolationism which was the theme of the American Right in the years leading up to World War II struck the same chords: the alleged self-interest of the United States in shedding obligations even if it means shedding influence and foreclosing options. The result was Hitler and the most catastrophic war the human race has ever seen.
Twice in the previous century, we've been able to use our privileged position on the other side of the Atlantic to delay entry into world wars we could not finally avoid, allowing our allies to bear the brunt of the burden. But this is a different world. In 1917, we were literally almost untouchable; by 1941 a Japanese carrier fleet had to travel most of the breadth of the Pacific Ocean to attack us at Pearl Harbor. Today a far more devastating attack by nuclear weapons is always literally minutes away. Even second and third-rate powers like Iran and North Korea may soon present threats to major American population centers which cannot easily be stopped and which allow no opportunity for delay.
Globalism has become a dirty word at both extremes of American politics. But today's global economy makes events in Europe and Asia anything but irrelevant to the health of the American economy. There is simply no hot spot in the world in which the United States does not have vital interests- interests which, absent NATO and our other alliances, we would simply be unable to defend.
A major part of the President's appeal was his embrace of the violently un-conservative, un-Republican and historically discredited notion of protectionism. American jobs are not finally safeguarded by keeping foreign goods out of the United States, or by putting obstacles in the way of their ability to compete with American goods domestically; such a policy by all historical precedent simply invites retaliation and of equal obstacles being erected to American goods being sold overseas. Nobody wins a trade war; the net result is jobs more likely being lost than gained, and the ability of the American economy to thrive in the era of globalism being crippled. The trade unions and the Left have embraced that foolish notion for decades, and it is no less counterproductive when a nominally Republican president buys into it. The answer to our unfavorable balance of trade with Germany, which President Trump last week used as an excuse to call an important ally "bad." is not to keep German goods out of the United States, but precisely to seek ways to make American goods more competitive in Germany and the rest of Europe.
There was a time not so very long ago that Americans instinctively sensed that, and responded to competition by competing harder ourselves. Now, under Donald Trump, we are choosing to run away from competition instead.
Some conservative administration!
Chancellor Merkel, as Mr. Frum points out, has left no doubt that she (and, by implication, the European Union) had given up on Donald Trump's America. The president whose desire to boast undermined the confidence of our most critical Middle Eastern ally in its ability to share intelligence with us without compromising its assets has effectively walked away from America's role at the head of the Western alliance, and the rest of the alliance is responding accordingly. In terms of both our economic and national security, there is a huge price to be paid, and we have begun to pay it. It's not just that our allies will now have to do things for themselves which we have done for them in the past (but done to a much, much less of than Mr. Trump's rhetoric not only implies but openly claims), but that we are going to have to start doing for ourselves things our allies have in the past done for us- or, in many cases, simply leave them undone.
Fortunately, as a British correspondent of mine on Reddit has pointed out, our European allies are well aware that Trump is an aberration, a temporary glitch in the timeline of post-war relations between the United States and Europe which will be removed when, whether by impeachment, resignation or electoral defeat, Mr. Trump leaves the White House no later than January of 2021. And as Frum points out, Chancellor Merkel's pointed statement does not preclude the possibility of the post-war order being restored once he leaves office. But America will be crippled in the meantime by leadership which, far from blazing a path bravely and courageously into the future, has chosen to run away from responsibilities it is in our interest to meet and flee from the competition upon which our greatness was built.
America, candidate Trump chided a year or so ago, "doesn't win much anymore." But you can't win if you don't play. And as long as Donald Trump is in the White House, we will win even more seldom than before.