Trump’s Plan to End Europe

Roundup
tags: Europe, Trump, The post World War II order



David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic. In 2001–02, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

... So why has the president jettisoned the policy that guided his postwar predecessors? We cannot rule out the possibility that Russian influence affected Team Trump’s stance toward Europe—but neither can we yet prove that it did. There are other plausible explanations. For one, certain Trump advisers seem gripped by the species of nihilism described in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Yet it’s also possible to see in Trump’s approach a positive vision of an alternative to the postwar world order. As the president said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, “We’re going to make trade deals, but we’re going to do one-on-one, one-on-one, and if they misbehave, we terminate the deal. And then they’ll come back and we’ll make a better deal—none of these big quagmire deals that are a disaster.”

In any bilateral deal, even one with China, the United States will for the foreseeable future be the stronger party—especially if, as Trump promises, it also sets itself up as the judge of whether the deal is being complied with. Trump sees the world as a competitive arena in which nations either dominate or are dominated. And he imagines the U.S. as the world’s ultimate dominator, imposing its will on each nation, one by one.

Trump is not the first leader to think this way. In fact, almost every previous ruler of a mighty state has thought this way, from Ozymandias onward. But they have all failed, with disastrous consequences. States that dominate inevitably inspire resistance. The subject states join together to overthrow the bully. And they almost always win, because no one state is ever stronger than all other states combined, or not for long anyway.

The men who built the postwar world anticipated this danger and sought to avert it. They designed trade and treaty systems governed by rules, rules to which the United States would submit, even though it was the strongest party. Indeed, they intended exactly the things that Donald Trump now complains about—that the U.S. would have to make concessions to smaller partners; that it would not act as judge in its own cases; that it would subordinate its parochial and immediate national interests to the larger and more enduring collective interest. America would find security by working for the security of others.

The Americans who led the effort took this approach in part because it’s what they were accustomed to: The U.S. Constitution likewise overweights the interests of minorities and small groups. They also did it because they had learned from their wars against rulers who sought to dominate their neighbors. In the world as at home, systems that serve the interests of all endure better than systems that oppress many to serve a few.

They wanted a future in which non-Americans would be the ones who most wished to uphold U.S. hegemony and most feared to see that hegemony end. They succeeded in this, against every external danger. And now the good and wise and even glorious accord they created is more threatened than ever before—not by an enemy, but by the narrow-minded, shortsighted bullying of an accidental and unfit American president. Will the story really end this way? It all seems not only heartrendingly sad, but also teeth-grindingly stupid.





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