I’m confident that we can eventually repair the damage President Trump is doing to the nation. What he’s doing to the world is another story.
As with much of his program, Trump’s foreign policy is contradictory and ultimately self-defeating. He wants to lead — his voracious yet delicate ego demands nothing less — but does not know how. He fails to grasp that not all sacred cows should be butchered.
The result is mindless abdication of American leadership, to the dismay of allies and the delight of adversaries.
This week, Trump is in Brussels for a NATO summit and Helsinki for a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The question is whether he further damages the trans-Atlantic relationship — a keystone of international relations since the end of World War II — by a little or a lot.
Since he took office, Trump has gone out of his way to bash the other members of NATO for not spending what they pledged — 2 percent of gross domestic product — on defense. He was at it again Monday, complaining on Twitter that “The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other Country. This is not fair, nor is it acceptable. While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more. Germany is at 1%, the U.S. is at 4%, and NATO benefits Europe far more than it does the U.S.”
Does it really? In Trump’s zero- sum mindset, perhaps, but not in the real world. Yes, the other NATO countries should ante up as they promised. But only one member has ever drawn upon the NATO treaty’s biggest benefit by invoking Article 5, which states that an attack on one is tantamount to an attack on all: the United States, following 9/11.
Trump’s obsession with military costs would make sense if it were part of an attempt to reduce the U.S. defense budget. But Trump has proposed a big boost in Pentagon spending to an astounding $686 billion for the 2019 fiscal year. His screeds against NATO seem to be motivated not by any potential savings but by an apparent dislike of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a mistaken understanding of what trade surpluses and deficits mean.
European allies may be less worried about how Trump might behave in Brussels than about what he could say or do in his meeting with Putin.
I’ll leave it to special counsel Robert Mueller to say whether there are sinister motives for Trump’s consistent willingness to look past Putin’s many transgressions — to name a few, his attempts to subvert Western democracies including ours; his illegal annexation of Crimea; his human rights violations and muzzling of free speech, including the press; and his alleged assassinations of dissidents abroad, including an attempt to kill a former intelligence agent in Britain with a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Much of the rest of Trump’s foreign policy is equally bizarre. The tariffs he has imposed on goods made by allies such as Canada and the EU may never escalate into a full-scale trade war, but those against China just might. Most economists agree that China’s trade policies are indeed unfair — and that Trump’s tariffs, crude and unwieldy instruments, are far more likely to end up hurting American workers than helping them.
Trump is giving power to Russia and China while taking it away from the United States and the Atlantic alliance. Some greatness.