Trump hates the international organizations that are the basis of U.S. wealth, prosperity and military power
Ever since it ended, a steady drip of gossip has circulated about last month’s disastrous Group of Seven summit. By all accounts, President Trump behaved far worse behind the scenes than he did in public. There was the gratuitous rudeness, including the moment he threw two Starburst candies onto a table and said, to the German chancellor, “Here Angela. Don’t say I never gave you anything.” There was aggression, as well as ignorance: “NATO is as bad as NAFTA, it’s much too costly for the U.S.,” he said at one point; to others present, he mentioned NATO, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization and the European Union collectively, throwing them together as organizations he dislikes. Later, he added a twist: “The European Union was set up to take advantage of the United States.” Those comments have just inspired the resignation of the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, a career diplomat, who has called them “factually wrong,” as well as proof that “it’s time to go.”
This is the background that you need to understand the emotions around the next NATO summit on July 11-12, as well as the Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting on July 16. For the first time since 1945, Europe is grappling with an American president who has a fundamentally different view of America’s international role. Trump no longer wants the United States to be the West’s central organizing force. He no longer cares about the benefits that role has brought, if he even understands them.
But although Trump’s dislike of U.S. allies has been clear for decades, only now is that dislike shaping into a clear policy: Europeans are bracing for a United States that no longer considers security and defense organizations to be special and inviolable. Instead, Trump sees the American commitments to all of the institutions he despises as bargaining chips, and he is prepared to use U.S. troops in Europe to force Europeans to make concessions on trade and other things. He may use his meeting with Putin for the same purpose: To intimidate the British, the Germans and others worried by aggressive Russian behavior, and to force them to do what he wants, in whatever sphere he happens to care about. Everything is up for grabs.