Wed, Jul 11, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Worried NATO partners wonder if Atlantic alliance can survive Trump

Europeans hope the president who disparages allies and praises autocrats is an aberration, but fear problems might run deeper

By Julian Borger  /  The Guardian

The signs were already there during the administration of former US president Barack Obama, the worried official said.

Obama too sought to reorient the focus of US foreign policy from Europe toward Asia. He just did not express his disengagement as crudely and rudely as Trump.

“The presidents have understood the fatigue of the Americans towards foreign involvement, in their own very different way,” the official said.

“I think that most Europeans are dreaming that after the term of Trump we will go back to business as usual,” he added, making it clear he thought that was not going to happen. “For the Europeans, it is quite a wake-up call. For the Europeans suddenly, their world is shattered.”

For most of its history, the US has sought to avoid entanglement in Europe, and more or less succeeded from independence in 1776 until 1917, when the country reluctantly entered World War I. Even then, most Americans were keen to leave again as soon as possible.

US Congress turned its back on then-US president Woodrow Wilson’s international ideals and refused to ratify the Versailles peace treaty or allow the US to join the new League of Nations.

Congress was just as resistant to being sucked into World War II, and the US could well have sat on the sidelines had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Germany not declared war on the US four days later.

When World War II was over in 1945, the US again made plans to pull out, demobilizing 90 percent of its troops. However, over the following two years it became increasingly clear that European states were not going to recover economically without US help and that the Soviet Union was looming as a global threat. So the US stayed in Europe, rebuilding Germany and forming NATO.

Now Europe is mostly prosperous and the Soviet Union has gone. A revanchist Russia has taken its place, but it is a far punier power, with only the fifth-biggest economy in Europe.

“Russia is not an existential threat. It’s not felt in London, Paris or Rome as an existential threat. It’s not a unifying threat,” the senior European official said.

With the Cold War conditions that persuaded the US to stay engaged in Europe now in the past, some have argued that it is inevitable that Americans would at some point reconsider their role.

“After 1919 and 1945 we had these huge debates on should we stay in Europe or should we go home,” US historian Walter Russell Mead said.

“After 1990 there was very little debate. The assumption was that we would double down on the world order building agenda that we applied to the West in the Cold War — but we’d now do that globally,” he said. “We never had that debate. So I think we’re having it now.”

He views Trump and his supporters as a throwback to an earlier school of US foreign policy, embodied by former US president Andrew Jackson, who Mead argues was the country’s first populist president.

Jacksonians do not see the republic as a set of ideals, but as the nation state of the (white) American people. Jacksonian foreign policy is focused on defending that nation state against malign influences and the cosmopolitan impulses of the elites.

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