It is hard for Europeans to believe that America is willing to depart from the script of the last 70 years. That script was basically that the United States would maintain international order at its own cost and allow its markets to be open to allies without the expectation that their markets would be equally open to American exports. Europe (and others) flourished under such treatment. Their defense expenditures were at bargain basement prices and the door to the massive U.S. market was open wide. America benefited, too, as such a strategy was needed to contain and ultimately defeat the USSR. But the Cold War ended 30 years ago. What was good for the U.S. then is a millstone around America’s neck now.
By Peter Skurkiss for American Thinker
What with President Trump blowing up the recently concluded G-7 summit in Canada, it is likely that the Europeans now know that Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ rhetoric is not idle talk. This is a shock for Europe, especially with the G-7 meeting coming soon after America’s imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs and its withdrawal from the Obama-Iran nuclear deal. It is hard for Europeans to believe that America is willing to depart from the script of the last 70 years.
That script was basically that the United States would maintain international order at its own cost and allow its markets to be open to allies without the expectation that their markets would be equally open to American exports.
Europe (and others) flourished under such treatment. Their defense expenditures were at bargain basement prices and the door to the massive U.S. market was open wide. America benefited, too, as such a strategy was needed to contain and ultimately defeat the USSR. But the Cold War ended 30 years ago. What was good for the U.S. then is a millstone around America’s neck now.
Under this post-WWII arrangement, Europe enjoyed continuous trade surplus with the U.S. In 2016 it was $92 billion, of which $65 billion was with Germany alone. Such surpluses were not on account of the superiority of European products. After all, America leads the world by a large margin in innovations. No, the trade surpluses were due to tariffs and other barriers Europe has erected to our exports with the tacit approval of the Clinton-Bush-Obama administrations.
Europeans see the status quo in trade as inviolable. It’s what they’ve grown accustomed to. And Europe needs this asymmetric relationship to continue as it helps underpin their massive welfare states. When Trump rants about the trade imbalance, Europe’s strategy is to admit to it behind closed doors and then negotiate. This would involve talking the issue to death, after-which the U.S. would be granted some symbolic but meaningless concessions, and life would go on as usual. This is Europe’s treasured multilateral approach. Trump, however, knows the game that’s afoot, and he’s opted for a unilateral opening to sensitize the Europeans and others of the need for meaningful change.
The Europeans, the globalists, and those wedded to the past can tout Europe as an American ally all they want, but the fact is there are a number of inherent incompatibilities between us and them. This by itself will limit how close the two sides can get in terms of trade and foreign policy issues. Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from Venus. Each has its own interests and worldview. With that in mind, the trade dispute is understandable.
For the foreseeable future, it can be expected that the U.S. and Europe will move further apart, not to become enemies, but the close alliance beween the two were during the Cold War era is over. This readjustment is painful. America is unburdening itself. The cost will fall on others, hence the squeals from Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and others.
It would be a mistake to blame Donald Trump for this. The drift has been happening since the end of the Cold War in 1988. At most, Trump is accelerating the process, a process that will continue after he’s out of office. If you don’t believe this, look at the 2016 election. Both candidates in the Democrat primary were against what is called ‘free trade.’ Bernie Sanders was more outspoken than Hillary Clinton, but even Hillary spoke against Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and was vocally critical of the Barack Obama-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
And looking ahead to 2020, name a likely presidential candidate who will support “free trade.” Those making noise about it now include Jeff Flake, John Kasich, Paul Ryan, and Joe Biden. How likely is it that any of such a group will have traction with voters? The fact is that it’s America itself which has turned from the system it created in the aftermath of WWII. The view is that system has served its purpose, and it is now not worth the cost of maintaining. It’s time to move on. As Trump has said, the U.S. will no longer be the piggy bank for the world. I do not think Europe has fully internalized this reality yet, but in time they will.
America’s relationship with Europe has been unusually rocky lately. Main points of friction have been President Trump and his withdrawal from both the Paris Climate Accord and the Obama-Iran nuclear deal. Neither of these were ever in America’s best interest nor were they ever submitted to Congress let alone approved. Yet Europe had its prestige wrapped up in them.
Israel is always a sore point with the Europeans. Moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the U.S. veto for the motion of condemning Israel for the Gaza flair up have aggravated the situation.
Europe’s meager spending on NATO has been a chronic problem for years, but more so since President Trump has made it high visibility issue. Here, the U.S. is mystified and now weary as to why wealthy Europe hardly lift a finger to defend itself while for their part the Europeans are sick and tired of being hectored about it.
What is the European mindset that drives such divisions? Knowing the answer can go a long way in understanding why Europeans act as they do and what to expect from them in the future as it related to America.,
There are at least two aspects of the European mindset worth discussing. The first and most obvious is the power gap between us and them. The United States is a tower of strength while Europe is relatively weak — so weak that it’s a military pygmy.
Naturally, strong powers view the world quite differently from weak ones. From their vantage point, Europe thinks America is too confrontational, too militaristic, and too dangerous. Time and time again, Europe has shown a high tolerance towards malevolent states whereas the U.S. hasn’t. This history stretches back from the USSR in the Cold War and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the mullahs in Iran today. This appeasement attitude vexes the U.S. It springs from weakness and leads to denial.
The Europeans feels they cannot do much of anything about situations outside of the Continent. Or even within, as the Europeans couldn’t even act on the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and the Balkans without the U.S. taking.
Robert Kagan, in Of Paradise and Power, gives a nifty analogy to describe the situation:
A man armed only with a knife may decide that a bear prowling the forest is a tolerable danger, inasmuch as the alternative — hunting the bear armed only with a knife — is actually riskier than lying low and hoping the bear never attacks. The same man with a rifle, however, will make a different calculation of what constitutes a tolerable risk. Why should he risk being mauled to death if he doesn’t have to? This perfectly normal human psychology has driven a wedge between the United States and Europe.
To wit, those who have the ability to solve problems are more likely to attempt fixes than those who lack the skill and capability to do so. The Europeans know but are loath to admit that when danger or a disaster arises, the U.S. is expected to do something about it. This goes not just for confronting a rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea but also for natural occurrences like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. America is viewed as the ultimate enforcer of world order.
This then raises a logical question. Although Europe is weak, why don’t the Europeans at least support U.S. efforts when trying to address dangers instead of throwing up roadblocks? Part of the answer is pride. Many in Europe remember the glory days when Europe set the pace for the rest of mankind. True, that was centuries ago, but the afterglow remains. Since the European Union cannot participate as an equal partner with the U.S., they often opt to sit on the sidelines and Monday morning quarterback as a way of claiming superiority.
If it sometimes seems as if Europeans are trying to diminish the U.S. and constrain it, that’s because they are. This is a symptom of the current mindset throughout Western Europe. It flows from the bitter experience Europe had in the first half of the 20th Century. Because of the horrors of WWI and WWII, things like nationalism, military power, and unilateralism have become an anathema to the European elite. These, however are among the characteristics that also define the U.S. You see the problem? And if the European grandees honestly studied their history, they’d see that is was military weakness, not strength, that gave Hitler the green light to march and it was brute military strength that stopped him..
Kagan sums up the European mindset:
Europe’s relative weakness has understandably produced a powerful European interest in building a world where military strength and hard power matter less than economic power, an international order where international law and international institutions matter more than the power of nations, where unilateral action by powerful states is forbidden, where all nations regardless of their strength have equal rights and are equally protected by commonly agreed-upon international rules of behavior.
The Europeans want Utopia. They may be our allies but that does not divert from the fact that they fear, envy, and even hate U.S. prowess. This helps explain why Europe is impassioned with institutions like the United Nations the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the World Trade Organization and the like. According to Kagan, the principle objective of European foreign policy is ‘mulitlateralising’ the U.S., that is, to constrain America to the point of near paralysis with the need for consensus before acting. That’s great for Europe but not for America.
Poll after poll has shown that Europeans view the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace. How can that be? Again, it goes back to the European mindset. “From the European perspective, the United States may be a relatively benign hegemon, but insofar as its actions delay the arrival of a world order more conducive to the safety of weaker powers, it is objectively dangerous.
Another reason for the divergence between the U.S. and Europe is “America’s power and willingness to exercise that power — unilaterally if necessary — constitutes a threat to Europe’s sense of mission” to spread its Utopian ideas worldwide. Unilateral action by the U.S. such as dealing with Iran “is an assault on Europe’s new ideals, a denial of their universal validity.” Subconsciously it causes Europe to further doubt itself.
There you have it. To Europe, America is dangerous because she’s powerful (and Europe is not). The supreme irony here is that Europe would not be able to afford its fantasies of how the world could possibly work if it weren’t for American power. A quick review is in order.
The U.S. saved Europe in WWI and WWII and again in the Cold War. Since the end of WWII, America is still defending Europe to this very day. The U.S. is also the linchpin for European prosperity by having our markets open to them and by protecting the vital maritime trade routes from all disruptions. And needless to say, the Europeans’ precious EU could never have formed if it weren’t for the U.S. presence in Europe. That is what the induced the French lamb to lie down with the German wolf. By any objective accounting, American power has been a huge blessing to an often ungrateful Europe.
Globalists and those wedded to the past can tout Europe as an American ally all they want, but the fact remains that there are inherent incompatibilities between us and them that will limit the closeness.