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

Within days of his inauguration in January last year, Trump had a portrait of Jackson, known as the “Indian killer” for his brutal campaigns against Native Americans, hung in the Oval Office of the White House.

The new president’s chief strategist at the time, Steve Bannon, called Mead to tell him that his writings on the Jacksonian tradition in his 2001 book, Special Providence, had inspired the decision to put Jackson in a place of honor in the new White House. He saw Trump as reviving the Jacksonian revolt against cosmopolitan elites.

Bannon is long gone, but the portrait of Jackson is still hanging in the White House.

Mead has not argued that Trump’s electoral victory and his readiness to rewrite the tenets of US foreign policy mean that Jacksonian thinking is now dominant.

It has about 30 percent to 40 percent of popular support — “not a majority, but a significant group,” Mead said.

The idea that Trump’s ascendancy reflects a reversion back to an earlier US norm is controversial. Many political analysts and historians have argued that it projects a coherence onto the president’s foreign policy impulses that is not there in reality.

Dan Drezner, international politics professor at Tufts University, has argued that what unites the US and Europe in the modern world will ultimately prove far stronger than Trump’s divisive influence.

“These are the twin pillars of liberal democracies. These are continents and countries and associations that have a lot more in common than they do not,” Drezner said. “The notion that NATO is going to split asunder I think is absurd.”

Even as Trump rails against NATO, his administration — the Pentagon in particular — has been boosting its commitment to the alliance in resources and troops deployed on its eastern flank. This month’s summit is to see the creation of two new commands, one on the US east coast to oversee the protection of transatlantic sea lanes and another in Germany to run logistics to ensure that the alliance can reinforce quickly when threatened.

The new commitments reflect the atlanticist convictions of the US military and diplomatic corps, who might well be seeking to compensate for Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric.

“It’s never just one or the other,” said Margaret MacMillan, a Canadian historian and Oxford University professor. “The idea that there is a default mode of being involved or a default mode of not being involved is too bipolar. It’s much more complex.”

However, even if Trump does not represent a once-and-for-all shift in US foreign policy, that does not mean his anti-European rhetoric and embrace of dictators is not having a long-term corrosive effect on transatlantic relations, she said.

“I think Trump is doing an awful lot of damage and these things are not easily undone,” MacMillan said.

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