The Trump Era or Interregnum? The Changing View of Europe in the United States

Trump’s accession to the White House shows that his policy constitutes a turning point in transatlantic relations but also shows certain indices of continuities in American foreign policy of the last decades.

The Trump Presidency: Sea Change or Accident?

The accession of Donald Trump to the White House in January 2017 marked a radical disruption in American policy toward Europe. For the first time since the end of World War II a U.S. President is open to radically challenging the American approach toward Europe and the transatlantic alliance, and beyond that, to the viability of the western liberal order.  This raises the central question as posed by an American columnist: 'The ultimate question is whether the name Donald Trump will be attached to an era – whether he will so change America that it will never be the same afterward [1].' The answer to that question will be crucial not only to Americans but to Europeans as well. 

American policy toward Europe has been driven by a number of fairly constant factors since World War II.  These include a belief that American power and will was crucial to European security and stability and that it was in the American national interest to keep the U.S. a European power.  The primary interest was to prevent a single power from dominating the continent, first Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union that rationale disappeared and American policy makers had to come up with a new one to justify America as a European power. The Balkan wars of the 1990s offered one strategic interest, namely the ongoing concern that without the U.S. European nationalism and conflict could reappear and draw the U.S. back into European conflicts. In addition, the West represented a community of values as well as an important area for American economic interests. This community of values meant that Europe was the indispensable partner for the U.S. beyond Europe. [2] The decision to enlarge NATO in the 1990s reflected both rationales, namely to extend the security umbrella to the states of Eastern and Central Europe and to support the consolidation of democracy in those new member states. [3] The George W. Bush years witnessed a severe break in the U.S. - European relationship over the Iraq War which took the Obama administration to repair. [4] The split over Iraq was further evidence that the strategic glue provided by the Soviet threat was substantially weakened.  The Obama years placed a greater emphasis upon the shared values in the transatlantic relationship and its role in preserving and expanding the liberal international order. 

The Trump presidency has reopened these basic assumptions. The American President views Europe in transactional zero sum terms with a heavy emphasis on economic nationalism. This is not a new development but rather reflects a consistent view he has held for many years that the U.S. has been taken advantage of by its allies who free ride while gaining exports and leaving defense to the Americans. He paid $100,000 for an ad published on September 2, 1987 in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe in which he attacked free riding allies. 'There's nothing wrong with America's Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can't cure,' the ad's headline declares. What follows is 'an open letter from Donald J. Trump' - addressed "To The American People' - 'on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves.'

‘For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States. The saga continues unabated as we defend the Persian Gulf, an area of only marginal significance to the United States for its oil supplies, but one upon which Japan and others are almost totally dependent.
Why are these nations not paying the United States for the human lives and billions of dollars we are losing to protect their interests? […] The world is laughing at America's politicians as we protect ships we don't own, carrying oil we don't need, destined for allies who won't help.’

He went on to argue that Americans could 'help our farmers, our sick, our homeless by taking from some of the greatest profit machines ever created - machines created and nurtured by us. 'Tax' these wealthy nations, not America. End our huge deficits, reduce our taxes, and let America's economy grow unencumbered by the cost of defending those who can easily afford to pay us for the defense of their freedom.'

'Let's not let our great country be laughed at any more,' Trump's letter concludes. [5] He again referred to America being laughed at when he withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord. [6]

Trump’s view of the main threat to European security is the larger one of Islamic terrorism and the civilizational threat it poses.  Russia is an ally in this conflict, not an adversary. Trump seems to share the views of the nationalist right in America as represented by his former key advisor, Stephen Bannon. [7] This is very much a civilizational view of the world struggle and of the centrality of the need for ethnic and cultural integrity in the face of the challenges of globalization and radical Islam. [8] Trump and Bannon associate the European Union and especially Germany with a form of globalization which benefits Europe at the expense of the United States. Even worse they see both the EU and Angela Merkel as promoting a form of cosmopolitanism which is undermining national identities and the idea of the West. 

European openness to refugees and immigration is regarded as part of a deracination of Europe and a surrender to Islam. Here they share the worries of the European far right and novelists such as Michel Houellebecq and others. As Ivan Krastev points out in After Europe, 'The political struggle between Clinton and Trump was one between sea power and land power, between people who think in terms of space and people who think in terms of place [9].' Or in David Goodhart’s term, people who are from somewhere and people who are from anywhere. [10]

Trump’s speech in Warsaw in July 2017 focused on the theme of the defense of the West which he implied was defined by culture, religion and ethnicity. 

‘We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will.  Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.  Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?  Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?  Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?  [Applause] 

We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.

Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield - it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested.  Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory [11].'

The fact that Trump made this speech in a Poland which is becoming increasingly authoritarian and with no mention of the erosion of liberal values the Polish government is characteristic of his world view, namely his admiration for authoritarian values and strong leaders.

Trump is rejecting the European project in his nationalism. In this he stands in direct contrast to all of his recent predecessors who supported the idea of European unity. Even the George W. Bush administration with its talk of old and new Europe did not abandon support for the European project. In contrast, Trump and Bannon believe that the EU’s multilateralism and embrace of globalization is undermining the national cultures which are at the heart of the concept of western civilization.  His critique of Germany and especially of Chancellor Merkel is instructive.  He has been critical of her openness to refugees, free trade and rationality. He sees Germany as using the EU for its own national interests and is far closer to Kaczynski and Orban than he is to Merkel. On a petty level, Trump’s view of Europe is partially shaped by the fact that he has no hotels in Europe, except in the UK and Ireland.  He apparently soured on the EU when he ran into obstacles to renovating a golf property in Ireland, which he incorrectly blamed on EU regulations. [12]

The new President’s relationship with Russia and Russians prior to his assuming office was one based on financial and business relationships and not on strategic concerns. In this he is close to the views of the German-Russian business lobby and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. [13]  Given Trump’s emphasis on combating ISIS and what he called ‘Islamic extremism’, it is not surprising that he was open to Russian arguments that the two countries shared a common threat which overrode differences in other policy areas. Added to this is the ongoing upheaval concerning allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which has made Trump defensive over this relationship, in large part as it threatens the legitimacy of his election. The contrast between those associated with Stephen Bannon and the more traditional national security team was striking and has led to confusion regarding policy. In addition, the Congress is more skeptical and has tried to place some limits on the President’s ability to relax sanctions on Russia, a clear sign of distrust in his Russia policies.

In trying to assess the impact of the Trump administration on the long term trends in U.S. policy toward Europe, there are a number of arguments both for long term continuity and for a watershed change in the transatlantic relationship.  First, the case for continuity.

Arguments for Interregnum

American Public Opinion

The most important reason to believe that Trump will not destroy transatlantic relations is the deep base in American civil society which will sustain the relationship with Europe through these turbulent times. The American public remains broadly supportive of the transatlantic relationship and does not support Trump’s approach to the world. A July 2017 poll found that only 27 % thought American leadership has gotten stronger under Trump while 48 % believed it has gotten weaker and 23 % saw no change. [14]

The American public continues to support both NATO with eight in ten Americans in a May 2017 poll agreeing that the NATO alliance should be maintained. This is higher than when Gallup last asked this question about NATO in the 1990s.  A Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll taken in June and July 2017 found that Americans continued to believe NATO was essential to American security by a 69 to 27 margin. Democrats are more positive about NATO than Trump's fellow Republicans, although two-thirds of the latter group say that the alliance should be preserved. There was a gap within Republican between those who supported Trump and those who did not. [15] 60 % of Trump Republicans believe the U.S. should withhold its security commitment to NATO if the NATO members don’t increase their spending on defense.

On trade, polls commissioned by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs have found broad support for international trade and although Democrats are more positive, even majorities of Republicans believe trade is generally good for the U.S. [16] There is skepticism about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico (not regarding Canada), but as the Council report concludes:

‘In sum, these results suggest that Republicans tend to doubt the idea that trade agreements are a win-win for all parties involved, and their critical views of NAFTA reflect that suspicion.  Nevertheless, some may be betting on the Trump administration’s ability to negotiate better terms for the United States. This would help to explain their increased optimism about the benefits of international trade over the past year. On the other hand, most Democrats trust that trade agreements benefit all parties involved, signified by their elevated support for the beleaguered NAFTA agreement since 2013 and their record-breaking confidence in the benefits of trade [17].'

On the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) a survey conducted in 2016 found that the American public did not know a lot about TTIP but tended to favor the idea of trading with other industrialized countries. Germany, in particular, was seen in a positive light with 69 % of Americans polled agreeing that increased trade with Germany would be a positive thing (the numbers for France and the UK were both at 72 %). [18] However, support for TTIP itself has fallen substantially between 2014 and 2016 so that only 18 % of Americans still supported the deal compared to 53 % in 2014. [19] While no polling data yet exists regarding Trump’s singling out of Germany as a problem even worse than Mexico and China, there seems to be little anti-German or anti-European feeling among the public or American elites. A number of surveys have found widespread positive views of German society and German economic achievements. A poll commissioned by the German embassy in Washington in March 2016 found a majority of Americans have a positive image of Germany, see German-American relations in a positive light and Germany as the third most important partner for the U.S. after Britain and Canada. [20]

Civil Society and the 'Deep State' 

The larger point is that the European-American relationship is a pyramid with a broad base in civil society. In business, European, and especially German investment, particularly in pro Trump states like South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee has created a deep network of support among the private sector, governors, mayors and in the Congress which is mirrored by the extensive involvement of the American private sector in Europe. [21] These ties are replicated among academia and numerous civil society groups. In addition, there is the 'Deep State' argument with points to the acknowledged 'globalists' Trump has put in the biggest roles. The shorthand for these is 'MMT' — James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense, H. R. McMaster, National Security Adviser, and Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. This so-called 'axis of adults' will keep Trump honest, they say, and prevent him from taking steps to detonate the global order. [22] The appointment of General John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff and the ouster of Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka from the White House can be read as signs that the more traditional views are taking hold of American foreign policy.

These changes reflect deep strategic interests which the U.S continues to have in Europe. An assessment published in 2017 by the pro-Trump Heritage Foundation makes the case for the continuing centrality of Europe to America’s strategic position.

‘Europe is important to the U.S. because of its geographical proximity to some of the world’s most dangerous and contested regions. From the eastern Atlantic Ocean to the Middle East and up to the Caucasus through Russia and into the Arctic, an arc of instability is increasingly unsettled by demographic pressures, rising commodity prices, interstate and intrastate conflict, tribal politics, competition over water and other natural resources, religious tension, revolutionary tendencies, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and “frozen conflicts” (i.e., conflicts in which active combat has ended but no real effort is made to resolve the conflict). The European region also has some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources, and trade choke points.

The basing of U.S. forces in Europe generates benefits outside of Europe. Recent instability in North Africa, most notably ISIS operations in Libya, has shown the utility of basing robust U.S. military capabilities near potential global hot spots. For example, when ordered to intervene in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, U.S. commanders in Europe were able to act effectively and promptly because of the well-established and mature U.S. military footprint in southern Europe [23].'

The Trump administration has not reversed the Obama decision to spend an additional $4 billion on European security and to deploy additional American military personnel as part of the Baltic Joint Readiness Task Force. Germany remains without question the most important European nation for American foreign policy. The U.S. cannot ignore the strategic importance of a country with the largest economy and, with the looming exit of the UK from the European Union, whose political weight will only increase. Germany is the sixth largest export destination for U.S. manufactured goods, and at $255 billion German investment in the United States is more than double U.S. investment in Germany. As the Obama administration recognized, Germany remains key to a coordinated western policy on Russia and has been the driving force on the Russia sanctions policy within the EU and of the Minsk accord on Ukraine.  It was this rather than a strategic disengagement from Europe which prompted the Obama team to defer leadership to Germany. 

All of this augurs for a more resilient transatlantic relationship which should endure the current American administration. The combination of long term interests, especially in the economic and security areas as well as a still important confluence of values is likely to make this relationship unique and enduring. If Europeans take on a greater role in their own defense and begin seriously to assume responsibility for European defense, Europe will be more independent of Trump and of those nationalist forces within the American polity which may undermine confidence in the viability of the American security guarantee. They will also reinforce Atlanticist views in the American polity.  Europe can be a partner with the U.S. against China, given China’s growing dominance and especially China’s misuse of the open trading system and its appropriation of European intellectual property.  Even with the Trump mutation, American society and values remain closer to those of Europe than to China’s.  The Trump problem is not yet a systemic one while, however, it is in China. 

The open system developed by the West over the past seventy years is under great stress but it is also a resilient one which continues to have greater appeal than its alternatives. It is in need of serious internal reforms including its too easy embrace of globalism as a good in itself, but an America without Europe would no longer be America. 

The Argument for Watershed

Long term strategic shifts

While the arguments for continuity are strong there is also a case for the argument that we are witnessing a watershed moment which will fundamentally alter American foreign policy and the transatlantic relationship. While Trump’s antagonism toward European unity is new, his foreign policy does tap into a number of continuities in American foreign policy. As Thomas Wright has pointed out, there are echoes from 19th century mercantilism and of the 20th century isolationism of such figures as Charles Lindbergh and Robert Taft. [24] There are similarities to the decade after the First World War.  Its policies at that time are described by the diplomatic historian George C. Herring as one of involvement in Europe without commitment. 'Whenever possible they [the Republicans] used the private sector to implement solutions developed in Washington. […] The nation vigorously promoted its interests while scrupulously guarding against entanglements. This approach brought remarkable short term successes that concealed major long term failures [25].' President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed that the business of America is business and as Herring notes, 'in the absence of any compelling strategic threat, economic issues assumed primacy in the 1920s [26].' 

Europe has been declining in importance in American foreign and security policy since the end of the Cold War. The end of the Soviet Union and its challenge to the European order fundamentally altered American views of its role in the transatlantic relationship.  European security was no longer directly threatened by an outside power or a local hegemon. The major security challenges facing the U.S. after the terror attacks of 2001 were now seen as coming from the instability in the Middle East and from the rise of China as a peer competitor. In the wake of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and with growing public sentiment to address pressing problems at home, the United States is no longer as willing to take leadership role abroad in the same way than it did during the Cold War. 

Free Riding

Trump became President of a war-weary country badly in need of internal renovation and has made a number of consistent arguments which relate directly to Europe. He is deeply unhappy with America’s military alliances which he believes have led to its over-commitment in the world and a neglect of its own economic base. Several years ago he wrote, “Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.” On the campaign trail, he complained that Germany is not carrying more of the burden of NATO and asked why the United States should lead on European security.

Trump’s complaints about European free riding are not new and were also made more recently by both Robert Gates and Barack Obama and are widely shared by the American public. While Obama saw the world much the way Europeans do, he was not an Atlanticist or even a liberal internationalist but rather a liberal realist. [27] His view of Europe was not one based on close personal associations but rather one of a purely pragmatic worldview. He believed that the central problem of American foreign policy was the over-stretch of American commitments and resources and a proclivity to use military force to deal with threats which did not involve vital American interests. This was compounded by a tendency for allies to free ride on American power. As he stated in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic near the end of his time in office, 

‘Free riders aggravate me,' he told me. Recently, Obama warned that Great Britain would no longer be able to claim a 'special relationship' with the United States if it did not commit to spending at least 2 % of its GDP on defense. 'You have to pay your fair share,' Obama told David Cameron, who subsequently met the 2 %  threshold.

'We don’t have to always be the ones who are up front,' he told me. 'Sometimes we’re going to get what we want precisely because we are sharing in the agenda. The irony is that it was precisely in order to prevent the Europeans and the Arab states from holding our coats while we did all the fighting that we, by design, insisted' that they lead during the mission to remove Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya. 'It was part of the anti–free rider campaign [28].'

This view of Europeans as free riders was also the main point in the speech given by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June 2011 which was a clear warning to Europe that it should take on a larger share of the defense burden or face the prospect of American disengagement.

‘The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense. Nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.

Indeed, if current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost [29].'

Yet Trump’s explicit linkage of European defense contributions to the Article 5 security guarantee is new as is his contention that the money in arrear should go to the United States. He is also the first President since the founding of NATO who has put the Article 5 guarantee into question. As Edward Luce of the Financial Times has observed,

‘America’s friends would be more sanguine about the health of the world order if they saw Trump as an aberration. But he is more of a symptom — albeit an alarming one — than a cause of America’s retreat from its postwar role. With some reason, US leaders have for years beseeched their allies to spend more on defense. To little avail. Since the end of the cold war, it has become ever harder for US leaders to convince voters of the old Kennedy exhortation to “pay any price, bear any burden”. The very notion that an aspiring US president could urge Americans to sacrifice on behalf of other countries seems fanciful. Perhaps they are on to something. If the world order collapsed, Americans would probably be the last to feel it. “We would pay the lowest price,” says [Robert] Kagan [30].'

This trend has been accelerated by Trump. While the American public continues to support NATO, as noted, a clear partisan divide has emerged. For example, by 2017 NATO’s image in the U.S. improved to the point where 60 % had a favorable view of NATO, up ten points since 2016 and the highest levels in at least seven years, but the increase came almost entirely from liberals.  Liberals (the left) were much more favorable than the right with 81 % of liberals compared to just 48 % of conservatives with a favorable view of NATO.  This is a reversal of the normal trend for NATO to be a non-partisan issue and is in contrast to the trend in Europe where NATO is viewed more favorably on the right in Germany, Sweden, France and Spain. [31] While Americans believed the U.S. should defend a NATO ally attacked by Russia by a 62 to 31 % margin, a Chicago Council poll published in August 2017 found that only a slim majority (52 to 45 %) of Americans would support using U.S. troops if Russia invaded one or more of the Baltic states and only 39 % would favor U.S troops to defend Ukraine while 59 % would oppose U.S. troop involvement. There were no clear partisan differences. [32]

Putting the adults in charge

While the instability in American policy and especially in the White House is likely to continue, the hopes in Europe that the President would be moved by his more centrist foreign policy team are likely to be misplaced. As Edward Luce and others have pointed out, Trump ignores their advice on key policies like climate change and NATO and has deeply held views of a world which he sees as continually taking advantage of America. [33] His decision to undercut NATO caught most of his advisers by surprise. 'When Trump says the right thing, it’s like one of those Snapchat images,' says the Washington ambassador of a US ally. 'It seems to vanish straight after you’ve seen it.'  Trump also spurned his advisors counsel not to pull out of the Paris Agreement on global warming and in his support for the Saudi position on Qatar not to mention the contradictions in statements about North Korea policy. 'I don’t buy this theory about the axis of adults,' says Robert Kagan. 'Even Obama was able to overrule his senior generals. We have no evidence to show that the so-called adults can stop Trump from being Trump [34].' In addition, it can be argued that most of his key advisors are focused on China, Iran and the Middle East, not on Europe. As James Mann points out in his analysis of these 'adults' that their world views are not that different from Trump’s.

‘The “adults” have a record of beliefs and actions that, in any other administration, would stand out more. Kelly, now in the White House, was early on—as Secretary of Homeland Security—a strong supporter of Trump’s order to limit immigration from Muslim countries into the United States. Tillerson seems to have an especially rosy view of Putin’s Russia, as well as an obvious aversion to issues of human rights and democracy. McMaster, along with Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, last spring wrote the startling Wall Street Journal Op-Ed that gave a Hobbesian underpinning to Trump’s “America First” worldview [35].'

The China Pivot

The Pacific Pivot of American foreign policy began under the Obama Administration and the term pivot was first used by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  The growing challenge of China to American power and influence remains at the center of American strategic thinking and goes well beyond Trump. China, not Europe, has become the central relationship in the Trump administration and was a key part of the reason that Stephen Bannon was finally dismissed by the White House. Bannon, and to some degree Trump, have focused on the threat of China to the American economy and to American primacy in Asia.  As one columnist noted soon after Bannon’s departure, 'Bannon had been pushing for a new grand strategy that would consolidate U.S. government efforts on China, confront China economically in multiple ways and revitalize the U.S. pivot to Asia that was initiated but not completed by the Obama administration.' Bannon, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trade Council Director Peter Navarro were locked in a policy struggle with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn over the direction of China policy.

‘In Bannon’s view, the liberal international order the United States led since World War II has ceased to work in America’s interests. The theory that bringing China into that structure would transform China has failed and now the Chinese government abuses those systems to siphon huge amounts of wealth, technology and know-how from the United States and its partners, he believes.

He also sees a new China policy as a pillar of his plan to reorient American politics around economic nationalism. He views the rebalancing of the U.S.-China economic relationship as key to returning manufacturing jobs to the United States and vice-versa [36].'

This argument will not go away with Bannon and demonstrates that American policy makers continue to pivot from Europe to Asia.  In the long run the Bannon view may prevail, especially  'If the "globalists", as Bannon calls them, don’t address the real problems with China that Bannon identifies and offer alternative solutions, they will ensure confrontation with China that Bannon predicts will play out on Beijing’s terms [37].' The question is whether Europe will be a partner with this administration in balancing China or if rather they see China as a better partner to maintain a free trading system than Trump’s America. Beyond these calculations are the longer term implications of a post American and post Western world in which China and Russia will play a larger role and American power will be much less than it has been. 

Long standing damage from Trump

Even if the Trump administration is short lived, questions will remain regarding the long-term affect he will have on transatlantic relations.  Already in Germany, analysts are talking about the replacement of transatlantic relations with an Amerikapolitik. ‘In the vocabulary of German diplomacy, the concepts 'America policy' or 'US policy' are almost never used. People speak of 'transatlantic relations' when they refer to dealings with the United States. These relations are so institutionally intertwined and the interactions are so wide-ranging and close-knit that, until now, it has not proved necessary to refer openly to an explicit America policy [38].' While the damage done by the Iraq war and the W. Bush administration was serious, European confidence in the U.S. largely recovered during the Obama years. The Trump shock is much deeper and is likely to be long lasting. [39]

The Amerikabild is likely to have changed in the long term as Trump’s election has revealed a country which will no longer be a model for others to follow.  Pew surveys published in June 2017 found that globally confidence in the U.S. President fell from 64 % at the end of Obama’s term to only 22 % five months into Trump’s. Confidence in the United States fell as well with favorable ratings dropping from 64 % to 49 % with an unfavorable rising from 29 % to 39 %. The impact was especially pronounced in Europe, with only the UK and Italy having a favorable view of the American President above 20 %. [40] These levels are comparable to those that W. Bush had but given that this is the second shock to the American image in a little over a decade, the damage is likely to be long term.  In addition, the long term impact of Trump on American opinion is difficult to predict but the shift in Republican attitudes on Russia, the concern about free trade and the cost of defense in both parties do not bode well for a close alliance relationship. The openly antagonistic attempts by the so-called alt right in the U.S. to support anti-liberal forces in Europe is only likely to further damage these close ties.

In conclusion, America is likely to remain a highly polarized country with rising economic and social inequality and growing questions over identity and citizenship. Trump is just one version of the dynamics playing out in the West. The lessons for Europe include taking its defense much more seriously much quicker than it is currently doing. The American security guarantee is now at an all-time low and Europeans have to prepare at least an era in which the U.S. is more absent and unpredictable than at any time since the beginning of the Cold War. They will have to heed the advice of Chancellor Merkel who concluded in May 2017, ‘The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over. I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands [41].'


[1] Richard Cohen, “Trump’s America is not mine,” The Washington Post, August 15, 2017, A15.

[2] Peter Rudolf, ”The U.S. and Trump: Potential consequences for transatlantic relations,” in:  Bruno Schoch,, Peace Report 2017 (Zurich: LIT Verlag, 2017), 31-41; Richard Holbroke, “America: A European Power”, in: Foreign Affairs, March/April 1995,…

[3] On NATO enlargement and the broader American approach toward Europe in the Clinton Administration see Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11-The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).

4 On the Iraq split see Stephen F. Szabo, Parting Ways: The Crisis in the German-American Relationship (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2004); Philip H. Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro, Allies at War: America, Europe and the Crisis over Iraq (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2004); Frederic Bozo, A History of the Iraq Crisis: France, the United States and Iraq, 1991-2003 (Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2016).

5 Ilan Ben-Meir, ”That Time Trump Spent Nearly $100,000 On An Ad Criticizing U.S. Foreign Policy In 1987, BuzzFeedNews, July 10, 2015,… 

6 Michael D. Shear, « Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement, The New York Times, June 1, 2017,… 

7 For more on the Trump-Bannon relationship see Joshua Green, Devils Bargain, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency (New York: Penquin, 2017) and the review by Sam Tannenhaus, “The Making of the Tabloid Presidency,” in: The New York Review of Books, vol. 64, Number 13, August 17, 2017, 4-8.

8 On the Huntingtonian links to Trump and Bannon see Carlos Lozada, “Samuel Huntington, A Prophet for the Trump Era,” in: The Washington Post, Outlook section, July 18, 2017,…

9 Ivan Krastev, After Europe (State College: Penn University Press, 2017), 35.

10 Andrew Marr, “Anywheres vs. Somewheres: the split that made Brexit inevitable”, New Statesman, March 17, 2017,…

11 The White House, Remarks by President Trump to the People of Poland, July 6, 2017,… 

12 Griff Witte, “Trump tried and failed to build a wall in Ireland. That could mean big trouble for Europe,” The Washington Post, February 6, 2017,… 

13 On the comparison see Jeffrey Gedmin, ”Gerhard Schröder: Donald Trump’s Doppelgaenger?”  The American Interest, September 7, 2017,… 

14 Washington Post – ABC News Poll, “Trump approval declines since spring,” The Washington Post, July 19, 2017,… 

15 Frank Newport and Julie Rayp, “Public Opinion Context: Trump’s Trip to Middle East and Europe,” GALLUP News, may 17, 2017,…

16 Diana Smeltz and Karen Whisler, “Pro-Trade Vies on the Rise, Partisan Divisions on NAFTA Widen,” The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, August 14, 2017,…  

17  Ibid.

18 Christian Bluth, GED Study: Attitudes to global trade and TTIP in Germany and the United States, Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2016,… 

19 Reuters Staff, „Survey shows plunging public support for TTIP in U.S. and Germany, Reuters, April 21, 2016, 

20 Frank D. Magid, Perceptions of Germany Among the U.S. Population: March 2016  (Washington: Frank D. Magid Associates, 2016). See also: Pew Research Center, “Germany and the United States: Reliable Allies”, May 7, 2015,…

21 On this point see Frederic Bozo,, Suspicious Minds: U.S.-German Relations in the Trump Era (Washington: Transatlantic Academy, 2017).… 

22 Edward Luce, “The New World Disorder,” The Financial Times, FT Weekend, June 24/25, 2017, 18.

23 The Heritage Foundation, 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength, 2016,…

24 Thomas Wright, “Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy,” Politico Magazine, January 20, 2016,… 

25 George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 436.

26 Ibid., 445.

27 Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” The Atlantic, April 2016,…. See also Derek Chollet, The Long Game: How Obama Defied Washington and Redefined America’s Role in the World (New York: Public Affairs, 2016).

28 Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” The Atlantic, April 2016,…

29 “Transcript of Defense Secretary Gates Speech on NATO’s Future,” The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2011,…

30 Edward Luce, “How America’s friends and enemies have adjusted to the age of Trump,” Financial Times, June 22, 2017,  

31 Bruce Stokes, “NATO’s Image Improves on Both Sides of Atlantic,” Pew Research Center, May 23, 2017,… 

32 The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, American Opinion on US-Russia Relations: From Bad to Worse, August 2017,… 

33 Edward Luce, “The New World Disorder,” The Financial Times, FT Weekend,  June 24/25,  2017, 18. See also Yascha Mounk, Wake Up Berlin: To Save the Transatlantic Alliance German Foreign Policy Needs to Change Radically , Policy Paper No. 4 (Washington: Transatlantic Academy 2017),…

34 Edward Luce, “How America’s friends and enemies have adjusted to the age of Trump,” Financial Times, June 22, 2017,  

35 James Mann, “The Adults in the Room,” The New York Review of Books,  October 26, 2017, 

36 Josh Rogin, “Bannon’s exit and the U.S.-China relationship,” The Washington Post, August 21, 2017.

37 Ibid. 

38 Peter Rudolf, ”The U.S. under Trump,” in: Bruno Schoch, Andreas Heinemann-Grüder, Corinna Hauswedell, Jochen Hippler, Margret Johannsen (Eds.) Peace Report 2017 A Selection of Texts. Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, Member of Leibniz Association - Bonn International Center for Conversion - Protestant Institute for Interdisciplinary Research (Heidelberg) - Institute for Development and Peace (Duisburg) - Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg LIT-Verlag, Reihe Internationale Politik / International Politics, Vol. 29, Berlin/ Münster/ Zürich et al., 2017, 41.

39 For example see Jörg Lau and Bernd Ulrich, “Something New in the West,” Die Zeit, October 25, 2017,…? and the response by a number of American analysts, “Europe’s Illusions,” Die Zeit, October 31, 2017,… and Jochen Bittner and Martin Klingst, “Supermacht EU? Bitte Nicht!“ Die Zeit, November 8, 2017,… 

40 Richard Wike, Bruce Stokes, Jacob Poushter and Janell Fetterolf, “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership,” Pew Research Center, June 26, 2017,… 

41 Jon Henley, ”Angela Merkel: EU cannot completely rely on US and Britain any more,” The Guardian, may 28, 2017,…