The weakened US-Europe alliance is bad for the US, bad for Europe, and bad for Israel.
It seemed as sure as the night following the day: A post-WW II Europe and the US in lockstep. Democracy embraced and democracy ascendant. One Europe. Tight economic trade. Totalitarianism rejected, be it Nazi, Russian or Chinese. “The alliance.”
The point of the alliance was clear: no more war originating in the rivalries or hostilities of European entities. Because there has been no world war originating in Europe for more than 75 years, the peace is taken for granted, and the alliance that underlies it gives way to other nationalistic interests: economic, diplomatic, social and energy. These divergences are so great that we might say, “What alliance?”
It is a critical question for the US as the US faces unprecedented challenges to its world leadership, economically and diplomatically, mainly from China. It is a critical question for Israel, whose security is best not left to the sympathies of a single country, the US.
On the diplomatic front, the last American president to hit it off with the long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was George W. Bush. Make no mistake, the long history of British-American and French- American ties notwithstanding, it has been US-German ties that emerged as decisive for the US- European alliance. Irony! After WW II, Germany was utterly devastated. With American help, it rebounded, then zoomed with the reunification of East and West Germany with the fall of the USSR in 1989.
The US-German relationship began to unravel with the “Great Recession” of 2008, which Germany blamed in part on poor American economic strategy and vision. Chancellor Merkel thought that America did not consider the implications of our loose financial regulations, which precipitated the recession, for the US-Europe alliance. In Merkel’s eyes, the US came off as unstable and unreliable. The critique was not helped by Merkel’s relationship with President Obama, whom she found “unsteady, verbose, meddling”(according to the Wall Street Journal). Remember, Merkel, an allied head of state, was spied on by the US National Security Agency in 2013!
It went from bad to worse under President Trump. He withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal; Europe did not agree. He insisted that NATO pay its fair share of the alliance’s military costs; Europe resented this. Trump spoke of “America first,” which was taken to mean “Europe last.” Germany chafed under the trade barriers Trump erected.
Nothing has gotten better under President Biden, who came into office pledging to heal the US-Europe relationship. Instead, Biden has infuriated France by displacing its sale of nuclear-power submarines to Australia. Biden has infuriated France and especially Germany by his unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan; there was no coordination with Europe. A point of particular contention with Germany was the American abandonment of a key air base without telling Germany. Remember, Germany’s participation in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan was major, and it came out of allegiance to its ally. All that goodwill is gone now. The security of both the US and Europe is compromised when each partner doesn’t act like one.
But it would be a mistake to reduce the diminished US-Europe relationship to personalities. Regardless of who occupied the American presidency, the common Western values of democracy and capitalism are not enough to cement the relationship. China’s economic rise seems to Europe unstoppable. Hence, Germany’s and the EU’s growing economic partnership with China. Russia’s proximity cannot be ignored. Hence, the German-Russian natural gas pipeline. These major developments diminish American influence in Europe and proceed despite explicit American opposition.
Russia’s adventurism in Crimea and Ukraine, while contrary to democratic ideals, do not deter Europe any more than Chinese totalitarianism. Ironically, the problem has been exacerbated by the multiplication of democracies in Europe following the fall of the USSR. More democracies, yes; but more democracy? It’s an open question, as a host of countries, such as Hungary and Poland, do have free elections, but do not model themselves after the democracy that the US introduced into Europe after WW II. For example, Hungary is ruled by a strongman and Poland engages in its own form of Holocaust denial.
The problem is also exacerbated by what Europe sees as American unreliability, whether in providing enough energy to make a European-Russian pipeline unnecessary or in providing leadership in Afghanistan. It has been hard to convince Germany of security threats from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei when it was the US, not China, who was caught wiretapping the German chancellor’s phone.
None of this is to say that the fault is all on this side of the ocean. For example, it made perfect sense for the US to make a deal to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, the damage to the prospective France notwithstanding. What seems to be missing, starting with Obama and going through Trump and Biden, is careful communication, an effort to understand the European dilemmas, and creative compensations for Europe given American decisions taken in our own interests.
As this once strong alliance unravels, there are no winners among the democracies.
A strong Europe is a barrier to the totalitarian designs of Russia and China; as that barrier weakens, so does US security.
A strong America is a barrier to non-democratic powers who see Europe merely as an economy to be exploited, not a fortress of democracy. As America backs away from Europe, Europe is left exposed.
A strong US-Europe alliance is a barrier to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic influence in an increasingly, ethnically diverse Europe; as the alliance deteriorates, the isolation of Israel grows.
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