Bloomberg Opinion — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says Europe will be better prepared for a future Donald Trump presidency than for the “total shock” of the first. I wish it were true. The reality is that no one, except the former American president and his supporters, will be prepared for the second round, if it comes.
Baerbock belongs to the German Green Party and is liberal by any standards. Instead of staying in her comfort zone, visiting with more or less like-minded Democrats and Biden administration officials, she entered the MAGA lion’s den in Texas, meeting with Governor Greg Abbott, among others.
It’s hard to imagine that conversation. Abbott has supported bans on abortion and same-sex marriage, opposed any gun control, and promoted investment in fossil fuels over renewable energy. He is also against the Biden Administration’s “blank check” policy to fund Ukraine’s defense, which Abbott says comes at the expense of national needs.
So Baerbock deserves a lot of credit for trying to understand what he’s up against. As he rightly pointed out in Sunday’s interview on Bloomberg TV, foreign diplomats do not elect American presidents. Trump right now seems like a good bet to win at least the Republican primaries, and if he reaches the White House again, it is very likely that there will be a revolution in the domestic and foreign policy of the United States.
Although the shock would be greater than in 2016, because the Trump team will be able to deliver a coup and the impact would be greater – in Europe as in the US. So, Trump had no team and hardly any policies prepared for office because no one expected him to win. It took three years of a four-year term to purge the last of the so-called “adults in the room” – think of former executives like Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson, or military commanders like James “Mad Dog” Mattis – who as members of the cabinet thwarted the implementation of some of Trump’s worst ideas. Even his attempt to steal the 2020 election didn’t work.
So while Baerbock is right that seven years ago no European could even imagine sitting at the table of an American president who did not support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the alliance also survived. For every Trump outburst at a NATO summit, there was an American general on hand to offer reassurance. U.S. military spending in Europe actually peaked at $6.5 billion under Trump in 2019, up from $3.4 billion in 2017, the final year of the Obama administration.
This time, MAGA Republican think tanks and former Trump officials would have had four years to prepare detailed personnel lists and policy documents. That includes legislation that allows them to start the legislature with a purge of off-message officials, and this time a Cabinet that is unlikely to include any meddlesome “adults.” Trump, for whom his personal interests and those of the US are indistinguishable, would be hell-bent on retaliating against perceived enemies at home and abroad. Germany stands out. Not Vladimir Putin.
Baerbock, as expected, focused during his trip to the United States on the importance of continuing NATO’s “life insurance” policy for Europe, and on the defense of Ukraine. Germany, he said, had completely revamped its foreign policy after last February to do “the right thing,” defending the “victims” of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. He also spoke of how the crisis had demonstrated how essential the transatlantic alliance remains for both sides, opposing an offensive whose success would destroy the so-called rules-based international order. All of that is true, and traditional American Republicans would agree with much of it. But every word is a trigger for Trump and his supporters.
Ukraine, both in Europe and the United States, is increasingly becoming a divisive point for national politics, with far-right parties arguing that the spending is downplaying national priorities. Alternative for Germany is now in second place in the Baerbock country polls. The grievances fueled by these parties are likely to only increase between now and the presidential election in November 2024, as the impact of rising interest rates and the cost of living takes its toll on growth and employment.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine will reshape European security in the long term. A second Trump administration would also test to destruction the fundamental proposition of shared democratic values that underpins the US-Europe alliance, assumptions that are already being strained and would struggle to survive another four years of MAGA policymaking. in the White House.
An isolationist and deeply conservative American White House is likely to arrive, if not in 2024, and if not with Trump. To truly prepare for that eventuality, Europe will have to do the hard things it has talked about but largely failed to do for years, if not decades: Develop a real capacity to pursue a common strategic foreign policy; bundling defense procurement to avoid waste on multiple versions of the same weapons systems; and rationalize $345 billion a year of collective defense spending so its forces can deploy at scale. Then Europe would not only be able to provide its own life insurance policy, but would become a more attractive ally even to skeptical Americans.
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