What one shouldn’t underestimate is both the stakes for the United States in Europe – and the role the Trump administration has been playing, either by design or indifference.
What’s too little understood in Washington and Europe alike is the crucial role the U.S. played in the development of a unified, secure and economically strong Europe. Indeed, today’s modern, prosperous, democratic European Union of 28 states – including some eleven former members of the Soviet bloc – is one of the United States’ greatest foreign policy accomplishment.
There’s even less appreciation in Washington of the current dangers facing Europe and their potential impact on U.S. global interests, given their role as America’s crucial, go-to partners throughout the past seven decades as well as it being the America’s largest trading partner.
Some senior European officials have privately said to me that they believe Trump’s approach to Europe goes beyond benign neglect to that of actively sowing divisions – through his support for Brexit and Italian populists, through his trade policies and potential targeting of German automobiles, through his approach to issues like Iran and, most recently, through his withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement of 1987.
Though one can debate the merits of some of these moves, for European officials they add up either to strategic indifference or divisive intention. There is no doubt Trump’s election has been an inspiration and model for European populists. Indeed, former administration official and Trump advisor Steve Bannon has worked to galvanize them, though with limited success.
The future of Europe lies primarily in Europe’s hands, but it would be a historic mistake to underestimate American influence. After midterm elections, Trump would be wise – as part of his increased focus on the seminal challenge of our age from China – to recommit the United States to European integration at a time when this enduring U.S. strategic accomplishment is in peril.