Trump and America’s Changing Relationship with Europe

For Trump, the clear threat to international harmony is not the might of Russia, nor the possibility of a Communist invasion that dominate the darkest fears of Europeans still wearing the scars of both, but the perceived insidious contagion of polar religious and cultural attitudes from a growing Islamic diaspora, a battle in which the secular stringency of Russia and China become mighty resources, while the laissez-faire attitude of the inept European handling of mass migration, is an exacerbating risk. Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been comparatively starkly ignored by an America who led the Europeans through the heightened tensions of the Cold War. Trump’s lack of recognition of this innate fear of many Europeans has divided Europe’s capitals on Trump as they are over many other issues.

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By Alexandra Phillips | June 14, 2017

LONDON-Two men changing the face of the Western political establishment joined together on stage. A tight handshake that would come to mark the future President of America’s most analysed body language, but this was not an assertion of dominance, instead, of mutual respect. Famed tycoon Donald Trump lauded the victory of the UK’s campaign to leave the EU as an anti-establishment line in the sand, and declared himself, like his transatlantic BFL Nigel Farage, to be Mr Brexit.

Fast forward but a year and America’s Mr Brexit, now the country’s 45th leader, visits a continent still reeling from the departure of one of the major member states from their ever-deepening political bloc, tearing at the very fabric of already strained cohesion. Such foreign missions serve to strengthen diplomatic ties, yet what resulted was a subtle nod to a recalibration of alliances within a new world order, amidst the phobia of the emergent populism of the West. Instead of words of approbation, a tone of opprobrium, and the feeling that it is not only Britain pitching away from the Europeans, but America too. Instead of a firm, manual grasp of solidarity, a tug of war with Immanuel Macron, the newly elected Présidente de la République, via a heavily analysed handshake heave-ho as the men locked eyes and yanked the others grip in what appeared to be an attempt to territorialise not only the possession of the greeting, but pivotal possession of leadership within a reshuffle of the global framework.

When Angela Merkel uttered at a rally in Bavaria that “the times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out… We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands” the German press took notice. There are few Merkel quotes on record, due to the Chancellor’s action over words modus operandi and unpolished austerity of emotion. The growing sense that the Anglo Saxons across both ponds had started marching to their own beat, perceived to be rejecting the platitudes of liberté, égalité and fraternité embodied by the broken shackles of the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants to America, was captured in those few words uttered in the very heart of Saxony. The post-war governance-by-consensus that created the amalgamation of diverse neighbouring nations in Europe under pan continental consolidation, and which latterly attempted to subsume America, too, through a coordinated and corroborated foreign policy agenda, was beginning to crack as a result of the fabled détente between America and Russia under the new administration.

Nowhere were relationship niggles more apparent than in maintenance payments to NATO, the nexus of the conjoined European Atlanticist effort for global liberal democracy. Trump’s complaint, as was the case with Obama’s gripe before him that Europe’s “free riders aggravate me,” lay in the fact that 23 of the 28 NATO members fail to meet the 2% of GDP standard for defence investment allocated for its upkeep, which would increase the funding of the defence alliance by a third.

America’s once uxorious regard of Europe appears to be hardening, compelled in part by Europe’s own mood swings as the continent struggles with its own post-Brexit identity. Sworn enemies but 75 years earlier, France and Germany are now bound in the eye of the centrifugal political forces that were set in motion the minute the UK voted to leave the EU and the new prime minister, Theresa May, made her first official visit to the new American president. The natural demarcation of geopolitical groupings by oceans and seas have been questioned, as Britain and America declare themselves siblings, wearied by their ever so pleasant but at times burdensome European cousins.

When Trump appeared to barge the prime minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic, out of the way to get to the front of the family photo, Macron pointedly addressed his fellow European leaders before acknowledging the leader of the nation committing over 70% of funds to their mutual security, and Trump chastised Germany as being “bad, very bad” about trade surpluses deleterious to domestic American industry, a sense of emerging bitterness became apparent. On one side, an emboldened and less patient pigeon-chested patriarch, warning his family that his sympathy is wearing rather thin, while on the other, an already sensitive and embattled wife, trying to juggle the needs of an ever increasingly fractious family unit, contemplating what the aftermath of divorce would be.

Yet, it has barely been commented upon, that while Trump U-turned over his view of NATO as obsolete, the EU are set to launch their own formally combined military on the same day that the UK are going to the polls to ostensibly corroborate the first post-Brexit government.

However, it would appear the split is not so much Britain from the EU, but the Anglosphere from polyglot Caucasia, even as far as bilingual Canada is concerned.

Yet, there are ineradicable limits as to how much both the US and Europe can disengage. As the globe’s biggest economy, Europe relies heavily on the US as a core marketplace and the projection that America will militarily protect her from hostility in extremis. Yet with its plexus of former colonies, stretching across Africa, South America and Asia, via the irreversible heritage of the Age of Exploration, long before the birth of the United States, America is bound to European intelligence services and continental leaders as middle men to negotiate the multiple lingua franca that predetermine diplomacy. The symbiotic roles traditionally played by the two continents are clear via Europe’s humanitarian spending and as largest donor to the UN, dwarfing the commitments of USAID. Europe’s pastoral relationship to her former empires via non-military instruments of diplomacy gives the continent a quietly pervasive world influence that America yearned for through its Marshall Plan and is able to exercise through the unparalleled proliferation of its popular culture but that is under threat by the rejection of so-called traditional Western values. The husband may be paying the school fees, but the wife is mending the uniforms and packing the lunch boxes.

Trump’s courtesans reject the notion that his less nuanced and compassionate attitude towards Europe is a symptom of an abrogation of US global leadership and increase in detrimental protectionism, instead arguing that his tough love is an antidote to an era of US subservience to fanciful European notions of unworkable idealism, open borders and economic lenience. His explicitly uttered connection between terrorism and immigration, breaking a taboo many world leaders fear, aligns with his apparent reluctance to endorse Article 5, the mutual defence pledge at the heart of the NATO alliance.

Furthermore, his apparent intolerance of the EU’s malfunctioning architecture directly experienced through his own frustrations in doing business on the continent reflect a new no-nonsense approach to diplomacy absent since the outbreak of the Second World War, where ideological conflict threatened global security and the luxury of attending to sensitivities simply could not be afforded. For Trump, the clear threat to international harmony is not the might of Russia, nor the possibility of a Communist invasion that dominate the darkest fears of Europeans still wearing the scars of both, but the perceived insidious contagion of polar religious and cultural attitudes from a growing Islamic diaspora, a battle in which the secular stringency of Russia and China become mighty resources, while the laissez-faire attitude of the inept European handling of mass migration, is an exacerbating risk. Russia’s annexation of Crimea has been comparatively starkly ignored by an America who led the Europeans through the heightened tensions of the Cold War. Trump’s lack of recognition of this innate fear of many Europeans has divided Europe’s capitals on Trump as they are over many other issues.

Merkel, a long time Atlanticist sympathiser, enjoyed a rock-solid relationship with the US as a cornerstone of German foreign policy. She forged close friendships with Barack Obama and even George W Bush. Growing up in East Germany during the Cold War, Merkel’s personal politics were shaped by her regard for America as the Land of the Free, the symbol of opportunity and hope. It is clear in the words she uttered in Bavaria, that her perception of Trump is felt almost as a personal bereavement.

Most poignantly, for a woman who grew up amidst the hyper-paranoia and espionage on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, the Snowden revelations that the United States had tapped Merkel’s personal phone, wounded deeply. In June 2014, Germany expelled the senior US intelligence officer in Berlin, poignantly announcing the decision over Twitter, later to become Trumps primary channel of communication.

Now that Europe, who under the stewardship of Merkel has witnessed a deluge of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, feels unable to ask for help from an America demanding it pays what it owes to NATO, cutting foreign aid spending and limiting support for refugees.

Europe needed a cuddle. Trump gave it a slap across the wrist.


Alexandra Phillips is former Head of Media for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the political party in Britain that successfully campaigned to leave the EU and was aide to its charismatic leader Nigel Farage. She left UKIP after the referendum victory and joined the Conservative Party in order to ensure other big political ambitions are met in the U.K. She is a political advisor and communications consultant in London. Ms. Phillips is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.

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