Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET on November 19, 2018
The Halifax Security Forum is designed to be a gathering of the world’s democratic countries, which are allied to protect each other. Hosted by the Canadian defense minister, the Forum’s signature is the brief videos that introduce the annual gathering. This year’s intro showed relay runners, mostly American, at the Olympics from Berlin in 1936 forward, ending in an uncertain baton handoff—a powerful metaphor for the free world’s worries about American leadership in the age of Trump.*
The Halifax Forum, occurring just after President Donald Trump unleashed yet another petulant tirade against Germany and France that culminated in the unseemly taunt that Parisians were speaking German until the U.S. intervened in World Wars I and II, had a funereal feel this year. Allies are grieving the loss of an America they believed in, as it sinks in that they cannot rely on us any longer.
The U.S.’s senior military officer, General Joseph Dunford; the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz; and the INDOPACOM commander, Admiral Philip Davidson, all participated and gave strong, sensible remarks. There was no policy representation from the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense; no senior diplomats or White House officials managed to make time for the country that took in American flights after September 11, or those nations that invoked NATO’s mutual-defense clause after we were attacked, or those countries struggling to become more democratic in our image. Experts on civil-military relations worried about the optics of only uniformed military personnel delivering American policy messages, but sorrowfully acknowledged that it was better to have the military provide forces of institutional stability than to leave allies completely adrift.