BERLIN—Last month, foreign-policy-focused members of Germany’s Bundestag met for their regular committee meeting here. On the agenda were two major issues: the consequences of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, and rumors that a similar move was planned for American forces in Afghanistan.
What, they wondered, did the conflicting signals out of Washington actually mean, and how was Germany, as a major ally of the U.S., supposed to react?
“The worst thing wasn’t just the decision itself, but that it happened in a way that one couldn’t prepare for,” Stefan Liebich, a lawmaker on the committee and the foreign-policy spokesman for the Left Party, told The Atlantic. Calling those issues the latest example of the “American zigzag,” Liebich added, “German politics is still learning to adapt to this new situation.”
It was hardly the first time that Berlin had been blindsided, disappointed, or just plain confused by the messages coming out of Washington since Trump took office two years ago. Across Europe, this administration has forced leaders and governments to rethink the way they deal with their old ally. From the president’s criticism of NATO and his tirades on trade to his decision to pull the U.S. out of international agreements like the Paris climate accord, leaders here have gotten the message loud and clear that the status quo no longer applies—and that at any point Twitter rhetoric could turn into tangible policy.