Germany’s former foreign minister and Vice-Chancellor, Joschka Fischer, has recently said that it has become clear, a little more than a month after US President Donald Trump’s inauguration, “that nothing good will come of his presidency”. Fischer’s comment is only one of so many similar verbal reactions in Europe and beyond to the new president’s political style, be it his erratic executive orders or out of the norm statements made since he moved to the White House last January. Even his first address to the joint houses of the Congress earlier in March was largely considered an indication of his own vision of how to radically change the face of the US.
Therefore, it is not at all an exaggeration if one expects him to proceed full speed in making his views a reality, domestically and across the Atlantic. Would the trio of his chief of staffs, Secretaries of State and Defence and the newly appointed National Security Adviser, be able to bring Trump to his senses and maintain the norms when it comes to foreign policy and dealing with the US establishment? It is difficult to predict but it seems doubtful that they will.
Secretaries Rex Tillerson and James Mattis as well as Vice- President Mike Pence, have recently toured Europe and carried with them assurances to Nato and several Eastern Europe countries. But the feeling among European officials, including those in countries that hosted the American top officials, is that of doubt about the US commitment to the security of Europe during Trump presidency. This doubt was particularly heightened after Trump’s hand-picked former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign following the revelation of his secret meetings with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign and after inauguration.
However, though Trump ran on the Republican party’s ticket in the battle for the presidency last year, it is absolutely clear, based on his narrative, he is in no way reflecting the Republican policy. After all, the American president has never been a member of the party that helped facilitating his success. He simply ran the presidential election as an outsider and the party had no choice but to reluctantly adopt him as the Republican candidate in the race for the presidency at a later stage.
After mercilessly demolishing his Republican nominees’ opponents, Trump had become the Republican de facto candidate without the help of the party’s machine. This achievement had greatly contributed in boosting his self-confidence in facing up to the long-established liberal democracy norms.
Additionally, Trump had fearlessly continued his attacks on the press and the judiciary. He even said repeatedly that the US media outlets are “the enemy of the people”, a statement he previously used in his election campaign. This has tremendously contributed to the increase of his popularity among groups who have been marginalised by the mainstream political parties. Trump has suddenly become the first ever populist leader in the US as he managed to successfully sail through to the final stages of the election.
Immediately after his inauguration, Trump made it abundantly clear in his first speech where he stands. In the presence of the entire representatives of the US constitutional establishment, he declared that he’ll run the administration his own way. In fact, the numerous executive orders he signed shortly after he entered the White House clearly reflect his disdain for Congress. The new administration’s intention has become quite clear: destroy the existing order which amounts to a regime change on Capitol Hill.
Looking at events unfolding in Washington DC from various European capitals, the fear is unprecedentedly colossal. With Trump’s unpredictability, chaos may rapidly prevail during his presidency. Europe’s fears are understandably justifiable as this is the first time since the arrangements of the existing world order after the Second World War, Europeans are seriously worried about the future in the immediate term. Questions are being asked: is the US under Trump going down the route of authoritarianism? Will Trump move toward Russia’s Vladimir Putin close enough to agree on a plan allowing Moscow to regain tangible influence in parts of Easter Europe?
This is probable as Trump deeply believes that Nato has become “obsolete”. He even claimed that the US is spending “billions and billions” on Nato and paying “a lion’s share” in its budget. Trump’s claims “are widely exaggerated”, according to a fact-check report by Nato. The US pays the most, “but not significantly more than the next country”, and the formula for calculating the different shares is reasonable. Nato members’ contribution is calculated in tandem with the number of population of each country. US contribution stands at 22 per cent compared to almost 15 per cent for Germany, 11 per cent for France followed by 10 per cent for Britain, 8 per cent for Italy, 7 per cent for Canada, etc.
As Trump continues pursuing his “America First” strategy of enhancing isolationism and protectionism, Europe is increasingly doubting US commitment to its allies. Europe is already feeling the consequences of the anticipated steps that Trump will take once he begins to shake up the existing world order.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. You can follow him on Twitter at @mustaphatache.