On his recent visit to Europe, he managed to convey once again his contempt for America’s European allies, and to demonstrate that he places more value on his own personal comfort than on the sacrifices that US soldiers have made in the past.
The trip itself cost millions of taxpayer dollars, yet Trump chose to skip a key ceremony honoring US war dead at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery because it was raining.
The White House offered up a cloud of unconvincing excuses for Trump’s absence, but other world leaders were not deterred by the fear of a few raindrops, and neither were past presidents Obama, Clinton, Bush, or Kennedy back in their day.
By choosing to stay warm and dry in his hotel room while other world leaders acknowledged the heroism of those who fought and died for freedom, Trump gave the concept of “American exceptionalism” a whole new meaning.And then, instead of marching with other European leaders at a ceremony marking the end of World War I, Trump showed up lateand on his own and even missed the symbolic tolling of a bell marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice. (In a revealing coincidence, Vladimir Putin arrived on his own as well.)
Overall, Trump seemed intent on proving that while the obligations of being president might force him to go on such trips, he doesn’t have to behave himself while he’s there.
For example, Trump is correct to accuse China of engaging in a variety of predatory trade practices and of failing to live up to its World Trade Organization commitments. He is also right when he complains that Europe has neglected its own defenses and relies too much on American protection (though he still seems to think NATO is a club with membership dues)..
He is hardly the first US official to criticize European defense preparations but being unoriginal doesn’t make it wrong.
Trump is also correct in his belief that Europe, Russia, and the United States would be better off if the divisions that presently divide them could be bridged or at least alleviated.
It would be better for Europe if Russia withdrew from Ukraine, stopped trying to intimidate the Baltic states, and stopped murdering former spies in foreign countries.
It would be good for Russia if Western sanctions were lifted and it no longer had to worry about open-ended NATO expansion. And it would be good for the United States if Russia could be pulled away from its increasingly close partnership with China.
For that matter, Trump wasn’t wrong to see North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile programs as a serious problem that called for creative diplomacy.
The real problem is that Trump has no idea what to do about any of these issues, and he seems incapable of formulating a coherent approach to any of them. To the extent that he does have an actual policy toward Europe, for example, it is the exact opposite of what the United States ought to be doing.
Trump’s broad approach to Europe is one of “divide and rule.” He’s called the European Union a “foe” of the United States, and he has backed a number of the political forces that are now roiling the Continent and threatening the EU’s long-term future.
He endorsed Brexit, expressed his support for Marine Le Pen in France, and thinks well of illiberal leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary and Andrzej Duda of Poland. Why? Because he thinks dividing Europe into contending national states will allow the larger and more powerful United States to bargain with each European state separately rather than face all of them together, and thus secure better deals for itself.
This approach might be termed “Neanderthal realism.” Playing “divide and rule” is a good idea when dealing with real enemies, but it makes no sense to sow division among countries with whom one has generally friendly relations and close economic ties, and when their collective support might be needed in other contexts.
This approach also runs counter to Trump’s stated desire to reduce US security commitments to Europe and to get Europe to take on greater responsibility for its own defense.
If you really want the United States to get out of the business of protecting Europe, you should also want Europe to be tranquil, capable, prosperous, and united after the United States withdraws. Why? So that Washington doesn’t have to worry about developments there and can focus its attention on other regions, such as Asia.
A Europe roiled by xenophobia, resurgent hyper-nationalism, and persistent internal wrangling wouldn’t be to America’s advantage; it would be just another problem area we’d have to keep an eye on.
Nor would a divided Europe be of much use in addressing any of the other problems on America’s foreign-policy agenda.
Why doesn’t Trump see this? Possibly because he is reflexively relying on the same tactics that brought him to the White House.Trump’s political success in the United States rests on his skill at picking fights with others, whether it is rival Republican candidates, Democrats of all kinds, the media, Meryl Streep, Jeff Bezos, or anybody else who disagrees with him. His goal is either to bully opponents into backing down or use the spat to rev up his base.It has worked tolerably well here in the United States, because a lot of Americans are still angry or fearful and Trump is both shameless and adept at fueling those emotions. This same instinct leads him to behave abominably abroad: Insulting British Prime Minister Theresa May and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, deriding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada as “Very dishonest & weak” or derisively tossing Starburst candies to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting of G-7 leaders.
.. The problem, of course, is that the boorish behavior and conflict-stoking policies tend to backfire on the world stage.
.. Trump’s bullying bluster didn’t win big trade concessions from Canada, Mexico, or South Korea; the shiny “new” trade deals Trump negotiated with them were nearly identical to the old arrangements and in some ways inferior to them.
And given how Trump has treated America’s allies, why would May, Merkel, Macron, Abe, or Trudeau do him (or the United States) any favors? The declining US image abroad compounds this problem, as foreign leaders know their own popularity will suffer if they help Trump in any way.
.. Trump’s personal conduct is not even the biggest problem. Arguably, an even bigger issue is the strategic incoherence of his entire transactional approach. His overarching objective is to try to screw the best possible deal out of every interaction, but this approach instead makes it more difficult for the United States to achieve its most important foreign-policy goals.
.. Threatening trade wars with allies in Europe or Canada makes little sense from a purely economic perspective, for example, and it has made it harder for the United States to address the more serious challenge of China’s trade policies.
If Trump were as worried about China’s trade infractions as he claims to be, he would have lined up Europe, Japan, and other major economic actors and confronted China with a united front. Similarly, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and threatening allies with secondary sanctions not only raises doubts about America’s judgment (because the deal was working, and the Europeans know it); it just fuels further resentment at America’s shortsighted bullying.
.. It is increasingly clear that Trump was never the brilliant businessman he claimed to be; he got most of his wealth from his father using various shady tax dodges, and the Trump Organization may have been heavily dependent on illegal activities like money laundering.
.. We should focus less on his personal antics and inadequacies and focus more on his inability to formulate effective policies, even on issues where his instincts are in fact mostly correct.
.. Sadly, the 45th US president possesses a world-class ability to get things wrong, even when he’s right.
Mrs. May’s plan was agreed less than two weeks ago by her cabinet, prompting the resignations of two prominent cabinet ministers and a handful of junior ministers.
Among other provisions, it called for a free-trade area between the U.K. and the EU to ensure the free flow of goods after Britain’s withdrawal—a proposal that enraged hardline Brexit supporters because it would require the U.K. to effectively follow EU rules and standards.
.. Mrs. May lost her parliamentary majority in an ill-judged election last year and has struggled to impose order on a Conservative Party riven by disagreements over Brexit ever since.
Internal party debates have become increasingly ill-tempered and public. Dominic Grieve, a leading pro-EU Conservative, on Monday described the anti-EU wing’s legislative amendments as “malevolent.”
.. For negotiators in Brussels, the political turmoil will intensify questions over whether Mrs. May can deliver whatever Brexit deal she eventually agrees to, as splits in Parliament mean that almost any possible Brexit outcome may not command majority support.
.. The splits increase the chances, many lawmakers say, of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, an outcome that many businesses fear because it would mean there would be no legal basis for many economic transactions with the EU.
But the prime minister should have gone in harder. If she really wanted to teach Russia a lesson, she should have announced measures allowing her government to scrutinize the billions of dollars invested in Britain by Russian oligarchs and their associates, some of whom have criminal or intelligence backgrounds. This kind of transparency would hit President Vladimir Putin and his allies where it hurts most: their bank accounts.
To this day, anybody from Mexican cartels to Saudi arms dealers to Russian oligarchs (and even American real estate magnates) can invest money in Britain through anonymous companies registered in Crown Overseas Territories like the British Virgin Islands. In London’s central borough of Westminster alone, some 10,000 apartments and houses are owned by companies whose proprietors are entirely unknown to the government.
.. In 2016, Mrs. May’s predecessor, David Cameron, was preparing legislationto force anonymous companies to reveal their real owners. Then he lost the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union.
.. Mrs. May probably has her reasons for not going forward with the law. She is the country’s weakest prime minister to assume office since World War II. Brexit has not only polarized public opinion but also created bitter divisions in her cabinet, and several ministers are open about their desire to take her place.
Because of this, she has had to handle the relationship with Russia after the murder attempt with great care. If she gets it wrong, her already enfeebled administration could collapse... Mr. Putin may have realized how weak Mrs. May is, which is why he would decide to act now to take revenge on a man he sees as a traitor and to cause Britain new headaches.Russia’s motivation is understandable. Its economy faces serious structural problems, including a dangerous overreliance on oil and gas. At the same time, business leaders are worried about the country’s long-term demographic decline. Mr. Putin seeks to bolster his domestic popularity by looking powerful as he sows discord with the West... The government is reaping the dubious rewards of having opened the City of London since the late 1990s to foreign capital with no questions asked about its origin.The initial aim of this permissive approach was to persuade investors that London — rather than New York — was best suited to be the world’s financial capital. Among the many to take advantage of the light-touch regulations were oligarchs, spies and gangsters... Russian oligarchs have made an indelible mark on London. Some own newspapers, others our most successful soccer clubs, while many more own huge chunks of high-end property in the most fashionable parts of the capital... And some of those characters are close collaborators and friends of President Putin... If Mrs. May is convinced that Russia is behind this attack, then she needs to devise a way of getting to President Putin’s friends and collaborators. And that means great transparency. She should reintroduce the stalled proposal to force anonymous companies to reveal the sources of their cash.
The British leader said police identified the poison as a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.”
She said Russia either engaged in a direct attack against Britain or lost control of the nerve agent it developed. Britain will not tolerate such a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil,” she warned.
.. Skripal was jailed in Russia in 2006 for selling state secrets to British intelligence for 10 years, but he was released in 2010 as part of a high-profile spy swap. His daughter has been living in Russia but has also spent long periods in England. The two remain in critical condition at a Salisbury hospital... Immediately after May’s remarks, the Russian government denounced her speech as a spectacle designed to mislead. “It is a circus show in the British Parliament,” the Tass news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
“The conclusion is obvious: It’s another political information campaign, based on a provocation.”
.. May said British investigators have concluded that the chemical used in the attack was part of a group of Russian nerve agents known as Novichok.
.. Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.. Novichok was developed in Moscow in 1987 at the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology. That government laboratory was described by one of its top officials in the 1990s as “the leader in the technology of chemical destruction.”.. he doubted that Russia would provide any detail, beyond denials. But the two-day pause was likely designed as “a way for the British government to prepare everyone for a robust response.”
.. Several lawmakers suggested that Britain pass its own version of America’s 2012 Magnitsky Act
.. Dmitry Kiselyov, the broadcast journalist, suggested it was all a plot to ruin the games for Russia and get British allies to boycott the World Cup.
“Why not poison him?” Kiselyov said. “Is he so valuable? And do it with his daughter to turn it into a real tear-jerker for the public.”