Trump is a danger to transatlantic relations

Trump is a danger to transatlantic relations
5 min read
02 Jun, 2017
Comment: Withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, walking away from decades-old alliances and commitments, and insulting allies will only damage the US' global standing, writes Imad K. Harb.
Merkel lamented that Germany may not be able to rely on its allies [Getty]

The White House is touting President Donald Trump's overseas trip as a historic and unprecedented success. But the reality of the European leg of his tour - his meetings with NATO and G7 leaders, and European reactions to his pronouncements - points to a difficult path ahead for both the United States and its traditional allies.

More dangerously, the outcome of the president's European tour threatens to do great harm to American national interests, and to weaken long-standing and resilient transatlantic relations.

In the wake of his trip, the 45th President of the United States risks helping Russian President Vladimir Putin find a foothold in western Europe, despite its leaders having expressed great trepidation over Putin's aggressive designs. 

In remarks at NATO headquarters in Brussels on May 25, the president chastised other NATO leaders for supposedly owing "massive amounts of money," which "is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States".

A day later, in G7 meetings in Taormina, Italy, he refused to commit to ongoing trade patterns. In Europe and back home, Trump lashed out at Germany for having a "massive" trade surplus with the United States, and threatened "that will change". 

Indeed, President Trump's NATO and G7 meetings helped prove that he is wedded to his ill-advised xenophobic "America First" principle which he used to garner the support of a portion of the American electorate, by stirring up fear of globalisation and open borders.

President Trump's NATO and G7 meetings helped prove that he is wedded to his ill-advised and xenophobic 'America First' principle

In fact, the president appears to be continuing in campaign mode, as he tries to hold on to whatever constituency he still has, regardless of the damage caused to American relations with allies.

Unbecoming rhetoric and behavior

President Trump's lecturing of NATO allies about their supposed dereliction in military spending harkens back to the early days of his presidential campaign. Back then, he considered the alliance to be "obsolete" and a thing of the past.

That rhetoric continued into the early months of his administration. But during a visit by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Washington last April, Trump seemed to have an epiphany, declaring that NATO is "no longer obsolete".

The president appears to be continuing in campaign mode

Many then speculated that maybe he had been influenced by officials he appointed in his administration such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, among others.

But the recent NATO meetings dispelled that speculation when he showed his true colours. Particularly embarrassing was his behaviour as he was filmed shoving Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic aside so he could be in the front row of a NATO leaders group photo.

European trepidation

Now raising the alarm in European circles is the president's apparent refusal to endorse and affirm Article 5 of the NATO Washington treaty - the bedrock of collective security among its members.

Plainly stated, the article considers an attack on a member an attack on all. Ironically, the article was invoked only once; after the 11 September 2001attacks on the United States.

  Read more: Trump's embrace of petty dictators only empowers them

Refusing to affirm an American commitment to the article paints the principle of collective security as superfluous at a time of Russian expansionist designs and aggressive behavior. For the anointed leader of the free world to snub allies on such an essential principle is dangerous and sends a signal that the alliance may have indeed outlived its usefulness.

On climate change, the president's rejection of this reality, and his dismissal of the veracity of scientific evidence, demonstrate a crass personality and utter disregard for common sense, as does his withdrawal of the US from the landmark Paris climate accord signed in 2015 by his predecessor.

Ironically, Germany has reportedly been quick to look for another partner in the climate agreement in none other than China, a country that has pledged its adherence to international environmental standards and remedies that the Paris accord enshrined.

Germany has reportedly been quick to look for another partner in the climate agreement

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's lamented that Germany and Europe may not be able to rely on their allies, citing the experience she had "over the last several days" ie. her meetings with Trump.

Back home, both Democratic and Republican current and former officials voiced their consternation with the president's pronouncements and short-sightedness. Democratic Minority Leader in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi considered the president's actions shameful and dangerous.

On the other side of the aisle, former speech writer for George W. Bush - David Frum, penned an essay in The Atlantic under the title "The Death Knell for America's Global Leadership".

As his administration reels from the impact of the myriad investigations into his campaign's relations with Russia, President Trump may still adhere to his isolationist rhetoric in order to hang on to whatever domestic constituency he has left.

But walking away from decades-old alliances and commitments, insulting allies, and withdrawing from the Paris climate accord will only chip away at the global leadership role the United States has played for three quarters of a century. 

Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab