Assessing the Brussels Wreckage
So, what do they say now in order to qualify his every pronouncement? After Donald Trump’s epic dress-down of the leaders of the democratic world, we see legions of self-avowed pragmatists coming forth to right-phrase the U.S. President. They say that he did not mean what he said, or failed to say—on NATO, on trade, on migration, on Europe, and on Germany. They maintain that haranguing allies over their defense spending is just a negotiating tactic of a successful businessman. They claim that his advisers, anyway, said all the right things—even if the President himself fell silent when it mattered most. They say Donald Trump is learning, like every new U.S. President. And they argue that Europeans should look at what he does, not listen to what he says.
Yes, they allege all of these things. But their words sound increasingly hollow. We should identify them for what they are: the narrative of the party of wishful thinking. All these analysts, former officials, and think tankers—with the weight of their titles and the years of their experience—would simply whitewash the muddy stream of consciousness that this U.S. President calls policy.
The reality is that words matter in international relations, as they do most everywhere else. The credibility of alliances is not solely based on treaties and military hardware, but on trust and the belief of others that an alliance will actually do what it has set out and is sworn to do. We should picture Vladimir Putin doing cartwheels in the Kremlin upon hearing that the U.S. President is now actively avoiding recommitting to NATO’s common defense clause.
It is painful to watch this spectacle, and even more painful to watch it from Germany. This is not simply because of the manifest anti-Germanism that this American leader displays. (All these bad, bad Germans doing harm to poor America!) It is painful to watch Donald Trump shoving aside the leaders of allied nations and, in the process, shoving aside the world order our forbears built. The glib callousness with which he does it is nothing less than frightening.