domingo, 13 de março de 2016
Old World’s moment of Trump reckoning
Old World’s moment of Trump reckoning
The Donald’s ascendance calls into question durability of post-war order in Europe.
By NICHOLAS VINOCUR 3/10/16, 5:30 AM CET
PARIS — After a long period of being in denial about the strange events across the pond, many European politicians and diplomats are finally confronting the mind-boggling prospect that they could soon be dealing with an American president even worse, as they see it, than George W. Bush. And the very real fear is that if Donald Trump does get elected, the West as we know it may not survive.
No one summed up this fear better than Germany’s weekly Spiegel magazine, which put a picture of Trump’s face on its cover surrounded by flames, above a one-word headline — “Madness.”
Bush badly damaged the Western alliance with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but even when transatlantic relations seemed to go into deep freeze afterward, Washington maintained all ties to Europe, and never questioned its role as chief defender of the West. Trump, on the other hand, appears to be arguing that he doesn’t much care for the Western alliance that has been in place since World War II. He says that the rest of the West should stand up for itself — tradition be damned. And he makes no secret of his disdain for Europe, calling Brussels a “hellhole”; Germany and Sweden “disasters”; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy “insane.”
A Trump presidency would thus make Bush’s term in office look like “a period of intense cooperation,” said Philippe Lamberts, a Green party member of the European Parliament.
Under the Obama presidency, Europeans got a first taste of what a U.S. retreat from its traditional role might resemble. The president’s decision in 2013 not to strike the Syrian government, despite its crossing of a “red line” by using chemical weapons, rattled European capitals that expected an American “go” to carry out their own strikes.
America’s disengagement and now the Trump ascendance has come at one of the most difficult periods in Europe’s post-war history. Britain is readying to vote in three months on its membership in the EU, which could fracture (and pessimists fear unravel) the Union. The eurozone economy is weak, with another Greek debt crisis lurking over the horizon. Civil wars in Syria and Libya push hundreds of thousands of migrants toward Europe, and heighten fears about domestic terrorism of the kind that hit Paris in November. It is a place low on self-confidence or strong leadership.
‘Opportunistic, amoral, unreliable’
The election in America adds an extra ingredient of uncertainty to this brew — especially in the person of Donald J. Trump, who promises to pursue disengagement even further than Obama and “let Russia fight ISIS” in Syria. He has repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. As for the simmering conflict between Europe and Russia over Ukraine, Trump said it was “Europe’s problem much more than ours” and called upon Germany, a “very rich, very powerful nation” to shoulder more responsibility — or make an explicit appeal for U.S. help.
And where Obama has shown calculated indifference toward Europe, Trump has demonstrated willful ignorance and disdain for the workings of the EU (conflating Sweden and Brussels as “countries”), while heaping praise on Putin. Most worryingly, his calls to renegotiate Washington’s trade deals with all of its commercial partners point to a worldview in which all have the same rank, regardless of history. The carefully nurtured relationships that form the heart of NATO and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development would fade, leaving Putin more freedom than ever.
At the heart of Trumpism is the notion that the United States should defend its interests more aggressively by striking better “deals” with foreign powers — a doctrine often described as “America First.”
“We need to address the flaws in our liberal order, but not undermine, ridicule or distort it,” said Ana Palacio, former Spanish foreign minister under the center-right government of José Maria Aznar. “The opportunism, unreliability and amorality that we have seen during the (Trump) campaign would be damaging for the world in general and hurt Europe in particular.”
Some European diplomats noted optimistically that Trump would be hemmed in by Congress and unable to carry out his most inflammatory proposals. “Can he choose Putin over his traditional allies? Can he close doors to China? Can he say to the Middle East, it’s no longer my role to intervene?” asked Dominque Moïsi, a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations. “Once you are in power, your margin of maneuver is very slim, and even Donald Trump would have to be realistic.… He would not be able to do anything so drastically different, because there are hard facts that will not change.”
But Trump skeptics also acknowledged that a U.S. president has far greater latitude on the foreign policy front than he does at home. And Europeans know that, unlike in other areas where he has wavered, Trump’s foreign policy outlook has shown remarkable continuity. In 2000, he warned that he wanted to “pull back from Europe” to save his country millions of dollars on stationing NATO troops. Sixteen years later, he’s saying very similar things.
Moreover, Trump does not appear to be listening well to advice from respected foreign policy experts in the United States. Asked at the last Republican debate whom he listened to, the first name out of Trump’s mouth was Richard Haass, a realist thinker who heads the Council on Foreign Relations and is considered a moderate Republican. Haass’ spokesman later said he had spoken to Trump only once, back in August.
At the heart of Trumpism is the notion that the United States should defend its interests more aggressively by striking better “deals” with foreign powers — a doctrine often described as “America First.” While political scientists disagree over which former U.S. president this view borrows from the most (some say Teddy Roosevelt, others Andrew Jackson), most assert that Trump wants to wind back the clock to a time before the U.S. took on its burdensome role as global policeman.
Thus, within weeks of his election, critics said, a determined President Trump could take decisions that would start to unravel the terms of a U.S.-insured global order that prevailed in the Cold War. If he carries out such a reversal of U.S. policy, there would be little left for Europe and the U.S. to talk about except perhaps some form of divorce. “It would be difficult for someone like Merkel to even consider this man becoming president of the United States,” said Moïsi. “How would she respond to him? There is nothing in the diplomatic rulebook for dealing with Donald Trump.”
If the United States stopped contributing disproportionately to NATO, as Trump suggested it would, cash-strapped EU governments, including Germany, would have to pay more. They might also be on the hook for indirect benefits of U.S. military spending, like the protection of commercial sea routes.
And for that, they say, Europe is completely unprepared. “There is no evidence of the political spine in Europe that is required to face this reality,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “France and Germany are stalled, there will be no movement, and basically there will be no defender of the values everyone fought for in World War I and II.”
If the U.S. no longer treats Europe as a special case, a huge burden of leadership falls on Paris, Berlin and (possibly) London to push back against Putin — one that few consider the Continent capable of taking on alone. “Neither psychologically nor logistically is Europe ready for this,” said Dungan, also a professor at Sciences Po University.
* * *
These worries are still mostly sub-rosa, of course. Among politicians, at least, the public opposition has been muted. With a few notable exceptions — British Prime Minister David Cameron; Pope Francis; the heads of several far-left parties — European leaders and party chiefs have stopped short of attacking Trump directly.
And most don’t engage at all. When Merkel was questioned about Trump last Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag weekly, she twice sidestepped a chance to answer him.
“Q: Is there something you appreciate about the Republican candidate Donald Trump?
Merkel: I don’t know him personally.
Q: He has attacked you personally.
Donald Trump supporters cheer on the Republican presidential candidate
French President François Hollande has never mentioned Trump’s name in public (the reverse is not true). The European Union’s two most senior figures — Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President, and Donald Tusk, the European Council President — both declined to answer questions about him.
On the part of high-level executives, that sort of discretion is partly understandable. Trump is not a president or even a nominee, so he can be ignored.
But even media-hungry party chiefs and regular pols in Europe treat The Donald with caution.
“Trump would force Europeans to pull themselves together and avoid new errors, instead of continuing to free-ride as the Germans have done” — Pierre Lellouche
Martin Schulz, center-left president of the European Parliament, will have nothing to say about Trump until after the Republican primary, according to a spokesman; while Manfred Weber, head of the center-right European People’s Party, said that although Trump might make a “difficult partner” for Europe, the EPP would show up to the Republican convention as every year.
Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialist group in Parliament, laughed off the idea of a President Trump. And former Belgian leader Guy Verhofstadt, who is famous for his outspokenness, said he would not react “to Mr. Trump’s provocations.” The heads of foreign affairs committees in the French and German parliaments declined to comment on Trump.
Even on the European far right, where cheerleading of a populist and nationalist candidate might be expected, the response is circumspect. With the exception of French firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, endorsed Trump on Twitter, no major figure has come out in support of him, or violently against.
Le Pen’s daugher Marine, head of the National Front party, dodged several questions about Trump last year on TV, while Nigel Farage, head of Britain’s anti-EU UKIP party, has dismissed him as purely the business of American voters.
“Nothing to say,” a Farage spokesman deadpanned when asked about Trump.
Part of the cold-shoulder act has to do with wishful thinking, said Dungan.
Thanks to American friends and pundits who promised that Trump had no chance of winning the Republican nomination, let alone the general election, European elites are only just emerging from denial about his election chances.
After Trump’s breakout in this month’s Super Tuesday primaries, the script changed, and Trump-denial gave way to Trump-terror.
Even assuming that an election victory would dial down Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, he would still embrace the “America First” foreign policy outlook that dictates far less involvement for the U.S. in overseas ventures. The preview came with Obama. French diplomats still refer to Obama’s last-minute decision not to bomb the Syrian government over chemical weapons as a moment of reckoning, as France had been ready to strike on Washington’s green light.
Yet Washington still plays a heavy role in ensuring Europe’s defense, having delivered 5,000 tons of ammunition to Germany last month as part of a NATO security ramp-up.
In Trump’s world, such shipments may never come.
Europe on its own
Some thinkers still argue that given the huge weight of inertia behind the United States’ global role, a President Trump would conduct foreign policy much the way his predecessors did. Others, like former French trade minister and center-right deputy Pierre Lellouche, argue that further disengagement by the U.S. might even be a good thing for Europe.
“Given the catastrophic errors made by the United States since the end of the Cold War, I wonder if (a withdrawal) isn’t a good idea. It would force Europeans to pull themselves together and avoid new errors, instead of continuing to freeride as the Germans have done,” he said. Little in recent European history suggests the Continent is ready or able to look after its own security.
For Camille Grand, head of France’s Foundation for Strategic Research, Europe had better get used to a fast-changing world and adjust itself, no matter who wins the White House. Trump, he said, is moving with the foreign policy zeitgeist in the United States, not against it.
“I think it’s indispensable for the Europeans to prepare for what this hypothesis (of Trump’s election) would mean, and to take it seriously,” he said. “Even if he’s not elected, his campaign is going to pull Republicans in his direction on a range of subjects, and there will be the same effect on Hillary Clinton if she wins.”
Not everyone shares this perspective. In fact, many Europeans consider that Trump’s vow to upend the global order and let allies fend for themselves is more bluster than hard promise. If Trump were elected, their thinking goes, he would be so overwhelmed by day-to-day duties, that he would behave more or less the same way as any president who came before him.
But that could just be more wishful thinking.
Tara Palmeri contributed reporting to this article.