President Trump likes to describe his foreign policy as “America First”. Unfortunately for Trump, he has the tendency to conflate his own personal and political preferences with national interests. Trump’s recent trip to Europe illustrated this well.
Trumping Through Europe
First, Trump went to the NATO summit in Brussels, where he ripped into the Europeans for their woeful defense budgets. That is nothing new. There is a bipartisan tradition in this country of being frustrated with Europe’s lack of defense spending, but Trump always takes it too far. Trump views threats as a way to gain leverage, which is fine if you are dealing with threats. When dealing with allies, however, threats provide needless tension while benefitting the common foe.
After two world wars in which the United States helped defeat German attempts to establish continental hegemony, NATO was established to prevent Soviet continental dominance. While a US-backed NATO obviously protects the Europeans, it also helps protect the United States by ensuring that we do not have to fight a third massive war in 100 years by keeping any wannabe superpower at bay.
NATO also helps the United States in other ways, a fact that Trump ignored in his interview with Tucker Carlson. He either does not know or does not care that the only time NATO activated its mutual defense clause was in defense of this country after September 11. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen remarked in response to Trump’s claims that Denmark has suffered the same number of casualties per capita as the United States in Afghanistan.
From there Trump went to London. In an interview with The Sun tabloid Trump said that Theresa May had wrecked Brexit and the recently resigned Boris Johnson would make a great prime minister. To say that May is stuck between a rock and a hard place may be the political understatement of the decade. She is leader of a Conservative caucus in the House of Commons that is being propped up by a handful of MPs from Northern Ireland. Further complicating matters, her own Conservative caucus is deeply divided between supporters of a so-called “Hard Brexit” and a “Soft Brexit.” If her government falls, the communist sycophant and terrorist apologist Jeremy Corbyn is breathing down her political neck.
Trump let his own anti-EU and anti-“globalist” beliefs override American national interests. Many American conservatives are not fans of the EU and for good reason. Yet, from an American foreign policy perspective, whether the UK has a hard Brexit, soft Brexit, or no Brexit at all, is not a that big of a deal. In the process of undermining May, Trump helped Corbyn, who has been able to disguise his anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism as anti-Trumpism. Somebody must have gotten to Trump because he took the unusual step of apologizing.
After England, Trump traveled to Helsinki for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There, Trump flattered Putin, undermined his own intelligence agencies, and demeaned his own country. Every foreign policy decision should have a purpose, but the Helsinki summit served no purpose other than providing Russia Today with more propaganda clips.
For a man whose view of so much of the world is one where interests are mutually exclusive, the bromance with Putin is both odd and dangerous. One of the strangest things about the Trump presidency has been that while his rhetoric on Russia has been awful, his actual policies have been quite good.
Trump’s ego has a lot to do with it. It is not that he is secretly a Kremlin agent, but rather a thin-skinned narcissist who values “strength” and “winning” above all else. Putin willingly plays into this by appealing to Trump’s ego, getting Trump to throw his own people under the bus while inflaming social divisions.
Trump is a man who has no use for talk about morality or human rights when it comes to foreign policy, so let us put it in words with which he will resonate. Vladimir Putin longs for the glory days of the Soviet Union. He seeks to expand Russian influence and power in part by aligning himself with enemies of the United States. He seeks to foment unrest.
While Russian fingerprints were all over the DNC hacking in 2016, they can just as easily be all over an RNC attack in 2020 or 2024. His useful idiots and supporters, whether they be Jeremy Corbyn or Marine Le Pen, hate America. He threatens the very allies that the United States is bound by treaty to defend. In short, Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States.
Foreign Policy Disaster
Trump believes that the world is split between those who stand up for nation-states and those who embrace “globalism.” He also judges the value of alliances by nothing more than dollars and cents, and therefore, does not know how to define a national interest. He is also hamstrung by his fragile ego and narcissism. On his trip to Europe, the “Trump first” foreign policy masqueraded as an “America first” foreign policy.