Donald Trump is giving permission to U.S.-skeptic elements in Germany.
I offered the following warning in mid-November of last year:
Yet even in the face of all these strains and difficulties, German friends of the United States have retained one clinching argument and decisive asset on their side of the debate: a wide and deep public intuition that people highly critical of the United States were probably animated by extremist and illiberal ideas. So long as the Germans most hostile to the U.S. alliance espoused various shades of fascism and communism, then the mighty German middle would cling determinedly to the U.S. alliance as a bulwark of stability and liberalism.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. …
Ominously, the U.S.-Germany rift coincides with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union—an exit that will greatly weaken London’s clout versus Berlin. Britain will need to renegotiate access to the EU market; Germany will have power to approve or refuse. The post-1945 vision of a secure and liberal Germany joined in an intimate partnership to the United States and the United Kingdom will fail. In its place: a Germany more distant from its former English-speaking allies, more vulnerable to an aggressive Russia, more polarized and afflicted by extremism in the wake of Merkel’s welcome of almost 2 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants.
Polls show that German confidence in the United States, already lowered under Obama, has collapsed under Trump to a level barely better than Putin’s Russia. Facing elections in the fall—and reassured that she has gained a congenial partner in France’s President Macron—Merkel has served formal notice that she will lead the German wandering away from the American alliance. In a speech before 2,000 people on Sunday, she declared that Europe cannot at this time rely on the U.S. and the U.K. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I've experienced that in the last few days,” she said. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.” Notice that she said “Europeans,” not Germans. Notice too that she did not rule out that Europe might rely on the U.S. and U.K. in the future: The door is not closed. But the old order has passed.
Join those words to Trump’s ostentatious refusal to endorse NATO’s famous Article 5, the guarantee of mutual defense, at the NATO summit, and it’s hard to imagine that the messaging of Trump’s first trip could have been more perfect for Vladimir Putin if he’d written the script himself.
There’s an effort now to spin words to present this trip as something less than an utter catastrophe for U.S. interests in Europe. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has insisted that President Trump did indeed affirm Article 5. Compare Trump’s words to those of his predecessors, and you can see for yourself how untrue that is. The Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, went on record to declare that he could not have been more pleased with the trip. If true, that would reflect poorly on Senator Corker’s judgment. I prefer to think that the statement reflects poorly on his candor.
Here’s what’s really true: Donald Trump is doing damage to the deepest and most broadly agreed foreign-policy interests of the United States. He is doing so while people associated with his campaign are under suspicion of colluding with Vladimir Putin’s spy agencies to bring him to office. The situation is both ugly and dangerous. If it’s to be corrected, all Americans—eminent Republicans like Bob Corker above all—must at least correctly name it for what it is.