These last six days the majority of European politicians have lost their way and perhaps their political common sense commenting on the results of the U.S. elections. They do not want to admit that they made a really bad mistake. They never had a plan B. They could never anticipate a Trump victory. This is a breakdown of the European foreign policy establishment, who have misinformed their leaders about the tectonic changes in the United States. To make things worse, they are now committing the ultimate faux pas of foreign policy: instead of trying to figure out how to make the best of an unexpected situation, they are still whining about Trump. Politicians should leave the whining to the social movements, the social media and the intellectuals in their well protected Ivory Towers, and get real.
Six days later European politicians can’t stop lecturing the President Elect, sending messages about the “criteria” the meeting of which will be “the conditions for Europe to work with the U.S.” Europe is now the champion of values vs. the U.S.? Really? Did not see the same vigor and hate when Vladimir Putin started eroding democracy in Russia and began systematically undermining Europe. Did not see the same anger when Viktor Orbán, one by one dismantled the pillars of a real democracy in Hungary. Did not see the same venom when one of their own, Mr. Kaczyński came to power and began pushing back on democratic rights in Poland. Or when Mr. Erdogan started suffocating democracy and free speech?
European leaders should at least be as generous as some of the worst critics of Trump in the United States are: give the man a chance, he is now the President. Nobody has an idea what kind of a President he will turn out to be, but there is an axiom when dealing with the United States, taught at the very first day of undergrad diplomatic schools: “You deal with the President the Americans choose to elect, according to their electoral system, good or bad, not your dream candidate. You don’t deal with a person. You deal with an institution.”
Europeans today are angry, because not only has their diplomacy failed in giving a more precise analysis of the United States, the political undercurrent, the anger of the left-behinds but their politicians can’t get over the fact that their views and what they think is at the moment irrelevant for America. With the disastrous state of affairs: the deep inside divisions, BREXIT, the terrible mistakes in the migration and refugee crisis, the rising wave of populism to which answers by the mainstream political parties is ineffective to say the least, backsliding of democracy in Eastern Europe, the accommodating collaboration with the Russian regime which is corrupting our societies, the impotence in dealing with the Syrian crisis, Europe is not exactly in the position to lecture America.
I know there are strong, but suppressed voices out there in Europe, pragmatists who see Trump as perhaps not their role model, but with whom they want to find the right tone, who like it or not is crucial to the basic security and economic interests of Europe. Those for whom the principle of a lasting and strong transatlantic relationship is more important than their next reelection, the pushing of narrow national interests. Those who understand that the challenges of the 21st century demand strong transatlantic ties. These voices must get stronger and gain influence in the corridors of Brussels and key capitals, even if it is unpopular at the moment to urge for calm and restraint.
Sorry to say, but Europe’s leaders are lying about Europe’s ability and willingness to protect itself without America. Those who, because of Trump’s victory, suddenly urge European defense as an alternative to NATO are talking nonsense. They should read the beginners guide to strategic thinking. Given the tragically low defense spending, how in God’s name do they think they will be able build a credible and reliable force. Not to speak of the political cohesion and leadership needed. Trump is right to demand a higher level of spending from the European allies, and this should guide Europeans. It is counter intuitive: the more Europe is willing to spend, the more likely the Americans will stay engaged. But it might turn out, it seems, that Trump is not the ultimate threat to NATO’s continued existence.
No this is not 1933. No Trump is not a fascist. No American’s have not embraced fascism. And yes this is still a democracy and will remain one even if some future decisions we might not like. Europe should try and help get out his better side, the once truly moderate side, because that is in all of our interest. Painting him into a corner, continued lecturing will only convince him that Europeans are out to get him. Be careful, he is not the kind of guy who likes that kind of an approach, and European leaders should brace for some toughness. And as we know they are not good at dealing with toughness.
Was I disgusted by Trump’s rhetoric during the election campaign? Hell, yes I was. But it never impaired my (very unpopular and at times despised) judgement about the possibility of his election victory. How Americans deal with this is their own business. But being a European citizen, how the European Union reacts, is very much my business. European leaders do not have a mandate to act based on their emotions, but based on the long term common interests of all of Europe.
Convening of an emergency meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers to “discuss the situation after the election of Trump”, was an unnecessary and silly idea. This really smacks of arrogance and does not help build bridges to the new administration. The French, the Brits and the Hungarians were right to stay away. This was a continuation of the misconstrued messages from some European capitals and from the European Commission.
Europe should cool it. Trump is now the leader of the free world.