Trump has in­verted U.S. for­eign pol­icy

The White House can­not sort Amer­ica’s friends from its en­e­mies.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By M. Thomas Davis

In June 1976, I was a young Army cap­tain com­mand­ing an ar­tillery bat­tery sta­tioned in Gelnhausen, just east of Frank­furt, in what was then West Ger­many. We were part of the 3rd Ar­mored Di­vi­sion, whose mis­sion it was to de­fend the Fulda Gap, the Sovi­ets’ pre­sumed at­tack av­enue into West Ger­many. Leonard Bern­stein and the New York Phil­har­monic were on tour in Europe and sched­uled to per­form in Frank­furt, so a group of us from our small post bought tick­ets to at­tend.

The Fourth of July was ap­proach­ing, and 1976 was Amer­ica’s bi­cen­ten­nial year. We were feel­ing more pa­tri­otic pride than usual, along with some dis­ap­point­ment that we would not be home to cel­e­brate this mile­stone in the tra­di­tional Amer­i­can way. But that turned out to not be a prob­lem.

At the con­cert, Bern­stein con­ducted sev­eral clas­sics along with some of his con­tem­po­rary com­po­si­tions. When the per­for­mance ended, he de­parted the stage to a warm round of ap­plause fol­lowed by the cus­tom­ary de­mand for an en­core. When Bern­stein reap­peared, he tapped his ba­ton and the orches­tra played “The Stars and Stripes For­ever.”

Along with my Army col­leagues seated in the bal­cony, I rose and ap­plauded — but so did the Ger­mans through­out the au­di­to­rium. I re­call we were all a bit sur­prised by their en­thu­si­asm, which slowly drowned out our own. When Bern­stein fin­ished, he turned and bowed to the au­di­ence, which it­self then turned to face our rel­a­tively small con­tin­gent sit­ting above them. Feet stomped, hands clapped high in the air, cheers echoed — for us. I’ve never in my life felt so hon­ored and touched.

Nine­teen cen­tury Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Lord Palmer­ston fa­mously said this about in­ter­na­tional af­fairs: “We have no eter­nal al­lies, and we have no per­pet­ual en­e­mies. Only our in­ter­ests are eter­nal and per­pet­ual.” Henry Kissinger has res­ur­rected this phrase on many oc­ca­sions, and in fact, Amer­ica’s list of friends and en­e­mies has changed many times since that day in Ger­many more than 40 years ago.

The United States now has for­mal diplo­matic and sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic re­la­tions with China, and Amer­i­can tourists flock to Viet­nam. The Mid­dle East, with its oil wealth and eco­nomic lever­age, re­mains strate­gi­cally im­por­tant de­spite a grow­ing re­gional chaos that runs wider and deeper than any time in mod­ern mem­ory. But what has not changed are Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests in Europe and NATO, the al­liance un­der which my unit would have fought in case of a Soviet in­va­sion through the Fulda Gap.

It is, there­fore, pro­foundly puz­zling that Pres­i­dent Trump seems in­tent on re­duc­ing our strate­gic part­ner­ship with NATO and Europe in fa­vor of an im­proved re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, a na­tion that does not re­flect Amer­i­can val­ues, that launched a sig­nif­i­cant at­tack against our elec­toral sys­tem last year, that in­vaded and an­nexed por­tions of an ad­ja­cent state, that casts a dark shadow across East­ern Europe, and that is led by a pres­i­dent whose pro­fes­sional past would not sug­gest friendly in­ten­tions to­ward the United States.

In an ap­pear­ance in Wash­ing­ton two years back, for­mer Swedish Prime Min­is­ter Carl Bildt de­scribed Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia as an “un­pre­dictable coun­try” on a path that is “re­vi­sion­ist, re­ac­tionary, and per­haps reck­less.” These dis­turb­ing words are grounded in re­cent Rus­sian be­hav­ior re­flect­ing what Putin un­doubt­edly sees as his na­tion’s eter­nal and per­pet­ual in­ter­est — re­duc­ing the in­flu­ence of Western Europe in gen­eral and, specif­i­cally, frac­tur­ing NATO.

At NATO head­quar­ters last week, the pres­i­dent em­pha­sized one theme that was poorly re­ceived by our NATO al­lies, and ig­nored an­other, which was cer­tainly well re­ceived by Putin. Lec­tur­ing NATO’s mem­bers on de­fense spend­ing was cer­tain to be of­fen­sive, and ir­rel­e­vant in the ab­sence of a strate­gic con­text for ad­di­tional in­vest­ments. Most NATO mem­bers are con­cerned about Rus­sian be­hav­ior, which seems not to of­fend Trump, so what would be the pur­pose of meet­ing the spend­ing guide­lines Trump seems so fix­ated on?

But of greater con­cern was the ab­sence of any ref­er­ence to Ar­ti­cle 5 of the NATO Treaty, stip­u­lat­ing that an at­tack on one is an at­tack on all, a treaty pro­vi­sion that has only been evoked once — fol­low­ing the 9/11 at­tacks on the United States. The three NATO mem­bers most vul­ner­a­ble to Rus­sian threats and in­tim­i­da­tion are Latvia, Lithua­nia and Es­to­nia, all for­mer sub­ju­gated Soviet states. For the most ob­vi­ous of rea­sons, these three NATO al­lies were as dis­turbed by the ab­sence of pub­lic sup­port for Ar­ti­cle 5 from the pres­i­dent of the United States as Vladimir Putin is no doubt thrilled.

Richard Haass, the pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, stated re­cently that the U.S. has al­ways been seen by its al­lies as “depend­able and re­li­able; and should those qual­i­ties dis­ap­pear they will cer­tainly re­cal­i­brate their re­la­tions with us.” In that re­gard, German Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s dec­la­ra­tion fol­low­ing the NATO meet­ing that a new chap­ter in U.S.-Euro­pean re­la­tions had opened, and go­ing for­ward Euro­peans must “take our fate into our own hands,” was only star­tling in the ra­pid­ity with which it was made. Ev­i­dently, the re­cal­i­bra­tion has be­gun.

The United States has an en­dur­ing and per­pet­ual in­ter­est in stand­ing with its clos­est friends and al­lies, and stand­ing against do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional reck­less­ness. And even if friends are not eter­nal and per­pet­ual, it is im­por­tant to know who they ac­tu­ally are at any given mo­ment. That should not be a chal­leng­ing anal­y­sis, but it is un­cer­tain that the cur­rent White House is up to con­duct­ing it. Ger­mans once cheered “The Stars and Stripes For­ever.” It would be a sig­nif­i­cant strate­gic tragedy if they, and their fel­low Euro­peans, were no longer moved to do so.

M. Thomas Davis isa re­tired Army of­fi­cer who com­manded an ar­tillery unit dur­ing op­er­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and taught in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and eco­nom­ics at West Point.

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