Back in January of this year, I wrote a piece at The Hill that attempted to provide an explanation for President Donald Trump's Russophile foreign policy. I suggested that Trump's policies can be explained as a rather crude sphere of influence / balance of power strategy that seeks to make Vladimir Putin's Russia into an ally against other rising powers, namely China. It's a simple approach that says "Two beats one, it's better to be one of the two, and the rising power Trump thinks the United States can work with best is Russia". (That article left to the side whether Trump's friendly relationship with Putin has more nefarious underpinnings, and this one will as well.)
This approach exhibits little interest in issues of ethics or human rights questions. It also does not show much support for America's longstanding NATO obligations or for the European Union. The events of the past several months have served to bolster my original position and it is clear that Trump's entente with Putin has caused other nations to respond accordingly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her experience at recent international summits featuring US President Donald Trump showed her Europe can't "completely" rely on the United States and other longstanding allies. "The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over," Merkel said at a campaign event in Munich. "I experienced that in the last a few days, and therefore I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands."
Such a statement is unprecedented from Germany in the post-World War II period, but it is not unexpected. Indeed, it is a natural response by Germany to President Trump's lack of regard for maintaining the postwar institutions that Presidents of both parties have championed. In light of this change of direction, Germany and other Western democracies have no choice but to, as Chancellor Merkel suggests, take their fate into their own hands.
It is a tragedy to see this unraveling come to pass and it may not be irreparable. But as Canadian writer Jeet Heer points out, once a country elects someone like Donald Trump to its highest office, "you lose trust not just now but for many years to come". The damage has been done, and now leaders like Angela Merkel must do the best they can to maneuver in this new circumstance.
The British diplomat Hastings Ismay allegedly said that the purpose of NATO was "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down". If the Americans aren't going to be in (at least at the level America has been since 1945) and Russia is engaging in a more aggressive foreign policy, then it makes sense for the Germans and other Western democracies to stand up for themselves and to maintain the liberal world order that President Trump is undermining.