Friday, March 31, 2017
Trump's blowing up the world order with nothing to replace it but cartoon fantasies
This New York Times op-ed by Roger Cohen got lost in all the hullabaloo this week but I wanted to make sure people saw it. I don't think the country fully appreciates the ramifications of Trump blowing up the existing world order with nothing but an odd affection for Vladimir Putin to replace it. But that's what he's doing:
When Donald Trump met Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany earlier this month, he put on one of his most truculent and ignorant performances. He wanted money — piles of it — for Germany’s defense, raged about the financial killing China was making from last year’s Paris climate accord and kept “frequently and brutally changing the subject when not interested, which was the case with the European Union.”
This was the summation provided to me by a senior European diplomat briefed on the meeting. Trump’s preparedness was roughly that of a fourth grader. He began the conversation by telling Merkel that Germany owes the United States hundreds of billions of dollars for defending it through NATO, and concluded by saying, “You are terrific” but still owe all that dough. Little else concerned him.
Trump knew nothing of the proposed European-American deal known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, little about Russian aggression in Ukraine or the Minsk agreements, and was so scatterbrained that German officials concluded that the president’s daughter Ivanka, who had no formal reason to be there, was the more prepared and helpful. (Invited by Merkel, Ivanka will attend a summit on women’s empowerment in Berlin next month.)
Merkel is not one to fuss. But Trump’s behavior appalled her entourage and reinforced a conclusion already reached about this presidency in several European capitals: It is possible to do business with Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but these officials are flying blind because above them at the White House rages a whirlwind of incompetence and ignorance.
Trump’s United States of America has become an unserious country, the offender of the free world.
The German debt to the United States is vast since the federal republic was crafted from ruin through enlightened American postwar involvement. Germans never forget this. But that debt is not material, something Trump’s lazy, ahistoric little mind cannot grasp. Germany owes the United States no NATO debt. America is not Europe’s defense contractor, paid to deliver services like, say, the caterers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
This is not rocket science. As Adam Schiff, a Democratic representative, tweeted about NATO: “Unlike health care, it’s not that complicated.”
NATO is a successful organization dedicated to the collective security of its 28 members, which have pledged to defend each other if attacked and maintain defense budgets to that end. By bringing stability it has contributed enormously to American prosperity. Trump did not discover, as he boasts, that Europeans have been underspending on defense. That has long been an American concern. Germany increased its military spending by 8 percent last year but has not reached the target, set by NATO in 2014, of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. These are pretty elementary facts.
Yet Trump tweeted: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with Angela Merkel. Nevertheless Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!” And later, in an interview with Time magazine’s Michael Scherer: “What I said about NATO was true, people aren’t paying their bills. And everyone said it was a horrible thing to say. And then they found out.” Trump added, “I got attacked on NATO and now they are all saying I was right.”
Yes, Mr. President, everyone is saying you are right! And they’re saying, wow, you made a BIG discovery about NATO spending! They are also saying there’s an unidentified lying object in the White House.
Trump, as noted above, showed no interest with Merkel in the European Union. The E.U. just marked its 60th anniversary in Rome with vows of indivisible union and renewal. It did so as Theresa May, the British prime minister, prepares to submit Britain’s formal exit demand this week, and just after the French rightist Marine Le Pen, who may soon lead France, met with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Putin is deploying money and propaganda to back Le Pen and fast-forward E.U. unraveling. Trump, as allergic to multilateralism as he is susceptible to autocracy, has welcomed the unstitching of Europe.
Obviously, Trump is not alone in his desire to end the post-war order. Brexit is an example of the impulse in Europe manifesting itself as well. If we had a sane president he or she would use the prestige of the US to try to bring people together to confront the cause of this obvious discontent and start to figure out how to deal with it constructively. Instead, we've elected an incompetent misfit to lead the world and it's dangerous as hell.
It's undoubtedly necessary to reassess the way we've done things for the past 60 years. But keep in mind that the past 60 years have not featured a world war or nuclear conflagration, the two main reasons for the global security umbrella being created in the first place. Trump is too dumb to know that. He thinks if we hold military parades featuring a lot of fancy hardware "nobody will ever mess with us." Bannon is essentially a nihilist with a phony veneer of nationalism who apparently thinks it's time to cull the herd. They are not serious people to say the least.
It's a nice idea that we should just "withdraw" from all these foreign obligations but we used to understand that foreign problems will find us anyway. One just hopes that the rest of world keeps their heads while the United States goes batshit crazy or we've got bigger problems than we realize.
digby 3/31/2017 03:30:00 PM