This is the kind of thing the Russians and the Chinese do. It is territorial revisionism—the use of national power to acquire territory against the desire of its sovereign government and its people. The use of leverage would also call into question the U.S. commitment to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which is the cornerstone of stability in Europe. In it, all parties, including the United States, commit to “refrain from any demand for, or act of, seizure and usurpation of part or all of the territory” of all states in Europe.
Thomas Wright: Trump’s foreign-policy crisis arrives
The cancellation of Trump’s visit to Denmark is part of a disturbing pattern. Trump regularly beats up on and abuses America’s closest democratic allies while being sycophantic to autocrats. His staff has followed suit. In July, for example, Trump hounded British Ambassador Kim Darroch out of his job. This followed two years in which Trump and his administration sought to undermine Prime Minister Theresa May’s government at every turn. Trump has been scathing in critiques of Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel. The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, never misses an opportunity to criticize his hosts. The U.S. ambassador to Poland publicly called for U.S. troops to be moved from Germany to Poland. Trump has reportedly said the European Union is “worse than China, only smaller.” Several senior U.S. officials have also attacked the European Union, including National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Meanwhile, Trump writes autocrats and wannabe autocrats blank checks. In May, Trump called a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to complain about a bipartisan letter asking the president to raise concerns about democratic backsliding in his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. When the two leaders met, Trump instead praised Orbán in front of the press and expressed no concern. He has also embraced the Brazilian strongman Jair Bolsonaro. The Trump administration has gone out of its way to help Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ride out the storm following the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He can’t say enough nice things about the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. He has done worse than nothing on Hong Kong, secretly promising Chinese President Xi Jinping that he would not condemn a crackdown and calling the peaceful protests by more than 1 million Hong Kongers “riots.”
And yesterday, on the day he canceled his visit to Denmark, he said he favored Russia rejoining the G7 without mentioning any preconditions, which would have the effect of abolishing one of the only forums for major democracies to meet with one another.
The Danes, like the British and the Germans before them, will downplay this latest episode. They value their alliance with the United States, and their governments will take whatever abuse Trump metes out to them in the hope that better days will come. However, this strategy may not survive if Trump wins a second term on his “America First” platform. At that point we can expect U.S. withdrawal from NATO and a partnership with Russia to be on the table.
One uncomfortable truth is already inescapable. Free societies and autocracies are at odds with each other—over human rights, the rule of law, technology, freedom of the press, the free flow of information, and territorial expansion. At this particular moment, it is not sufficient to say that the free world is without a leader. He has actually defected to the other side.