All the President’s men have rushed to reassure our allies that although President Trump did not invoke the magic words “Article 5,” he meant it. And looked at in a certain light, there were lines in Trump’s speech that do convey the sentiment. But delivered in a snarling way, couched among demands for repayment, there is no escaping that the leader of the Free World alienated much of the Free World yesterday. Judging by the body language of his counterparts, Donald Trump did not have a friend among the 27 other heads of government that are our country’s closest friends and most able supporters in the world.
The French President veered out of his path to embrace the German Chancellor at the other side of the crowd. The more disciplined of Europe’s leaders scowled as he spoke; the less disciplined whispered to each other. President Trump appears to have shoved aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro—the alliance’s newest member, its leader attending his inaugural NATO meeting—to get into the middle of the picture. When the formalities were over, no one spoke to the head of NATO’s leading state, none jostled to be near him.
President Trump acts as though boorish behavior has no consequences, as though other countries have no choice but to comply with American demands. This misconception may be his biggest foreign policy mistake. The likability of Americans and the mutual benefit our policies offer dramatically reduce the cost of all we do in the world. We mostly don’t have to enforce our standards because most countries in the world voluntarily adopt them. Donald Trump’s mafioso approach is not only almost indistinguishable from the countries NATO was formed to protect Europe from, it will also dramatically increase the price of doing what America tries to do in the world.
Yesterday the leaders of 27 allies stood solemnly to commemorate America’s losses in the 2001 terrorist attack on our country. Donald Trump chose that moment to humiliate those leaders. Will NATO allies feel any obligation to contribute troops to a ramping up of effort in Afghanistan? Will allied parliaments support increased defense spending when it will be seen by their voters as rewarding President Trump? If the 9/11 attacks occurred tomorrow, would Europe grieve with us as they did after 9/11?
It’s not uncommon for Europeans to take for granted all that America does well and to be snotty about America’s shortcomings. It’s not uncommon for Europeans to criticize American foreign policy and make excuses for policies of our common adversaries (like Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin). It’s not uncommon for Europeans to hold large protests when American officials visit. It’s certainly not uncommon for European newspapers to caricature American Presidents. But it is uncommon for American Presidents to caricature themselves, which is what Donald Trump did yesterday at NATO. And it is uncommon for leading European newspapers to call for the impeachment of an American President, which Germany’s Der Spiegel did yesterday. “His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.”
“Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.”
However tiresome Europeans may be for an American President—especially after the fawning coverage he received in Saudi Arabia, where protests are illegal—their support is crucial to America. They are our closest friends, the closest approximation of our vibrant liberties, the countries who contribute most to the wars we fight and help us advance our diplomatic and economic priorities, the people who grieve for our wounds. Or at least they used to be.