Memoirs of the Addams Administration 22.

It will be difficult for future historians to make sense of the commentary on the second, European, leg of President Trump’s first foreign trip.  The “usual subjects” of Mainstream Media (MSM) decried his hectoring of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members to pay more toward the common defense while refusing to make an explicit commitment to Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.[1]  Europeans themselves seemed aghast at his sharp tongue (and in the case of the prime minister of Montenegro, his sharp elbows).[2]  German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed that “we have to fight for ourselves.”  She called for European nations to “shoulder emotionally charged challenges such as a common defense and security policy.”

There is reason to doubt the value of all this talk.  On the one hand, a clear-eyed assessment of American vital interests would show that non-Russian Europe and “off-shore Asia” (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines) are vital trading partners and allies of the United States.  It doesn’t matter what President Trump says or fails to say.  If Push comes to Shove, the United States will have to defend those areas.  In contrast, neither Russia nor radical Islam poses an existential threat to the United States.[3]  On the other hand, the European Union (EU) lacks the means and probably the will[4] to provide for its own defense against foreign foes.

In May 2017, a second version of the Trump/RyanCare squeaked through the House of Representatives.  Since then Republican Senators have been trying to sort out a better version.  The Congressional Budget Office then issued an evaluation saying that under the House plan 23 million more Americans would be without health insurance and that premiums would rise for those who are old and sick.  The first part of this isn’t troubling: at least two-thirds of the “uninsured” would be people who never wanted the insurance (let alone the premiums) in the first place.  The second part reflects what the plan itself said: older and sicker people consume a lot more health care than do the young and healthy, so they should pay for it.  Republican senators are divided over the plan.  Public opinion leans against the House plan.[5]

The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the “Russia scandal” (including how his friend, protégé, and successor at the FBI James Comey came to be fired by President Trump) means that the investigation could run on for quite some time.  People will know nothing definitive until that investigation is completed.  However, it appears than anything illegal (like collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government hackers who revealed all sorts of inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton) would have to have taken place before the election of President Trump in November 2016.  Wikileaks published the stolen e-mails on 22 July 2016.  The names of Kellyanne Conway (joined Trump campaign on 1 July 2016) and Steve Bannon (joined Trump campaign in August 2016) have not so far appeared among the list of FBI targets.  Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn—who had a history of legal contacts with the Russians–tried to open a back-channel contact with the Russian government in December 2016.  Maybe, just maybe, this dog won’t hunt.

[1] “Trump in Europe: A frayed alliance,” The Week, 9 June 2017, p. 6.

[2] “How they see us: Europe loses faith in America,” The Week, 9 June 2017, p. 14.  See also: “Russia: Cheering Trump’s NATO policy,” The Week, 9 June 2017, p. 15.

[3] Russia possesses nuclear weapons, but is deterred from using them by American nuclear weapons.  Vladimir Putin has had to make do with “little green men” and cyber-attacks.   Radical Islam doesn’t seem able to conquer anywhere vital to the United States.  Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey all have the means to resist radical Islamists.

[4] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/06/17/die-for-danzig-marcel-deat-mourir-pour-danzig-loeuvre-4-may-1939/

[5] “Republican health-care plan struggles in the Senate,” The Week, 9 June 2017, p. 5.

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“Die for Danzig?” Marcel Deat, “Mourir pour Danzig?” L’Oeuvre, 4 May 1939.

Fighting Russia isn’t a very popular idea. Fighting Russia over Ukraine doesn’t have much support in spite of the obvious Russian intervention in the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. But fighting Russia if it attacks a fellow member of NATO seems like a no-brainer. That’s what a military alliance is all about, right? Well, not necessarily.[1]

Back in 1956, in the midst of the Eisenhower administration and at the height of the Cold War, 82 percent of Americans believed that a Russian attack on one member was an attack on all and that the US should fight, while 8 percent opposed it, and 10 percent weren’t sure. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 56 percent of Americans supported using force against Russia if it became involved in a “serious military conflict” with another NATO member state, while 37 percent were opposed, and a mere 7 percent weren’t sure. Among some other NATO countries, support then falls off by small steps. Support for fighting slides down through Canada (53), Britain (49), Poland and Spain (48), France (47), Italy (40), and Germany (38).[2] In Germany, 58 percent opposed fighting Russia, while only 4 percent weren’t sure.

With regard to the conflict in Ukraine, Poland (50 percent) and the United States (46 percent) most strongly support sending weapons to the Kiev government. Thereafter, support declines among other NATO members through Canada (44), Britain (42), and France (40), before falling off sharply in Spain (25 percent), Italy (22) and Germany (19). Similarly, 62 percent of Americans favor admitting Ukraine to NATO, but only 36 percent of Germans supported such a move.

One way to think about this is that, in spite of the frequent media references to a revived Cold War, most people in the West aren’t there yet. Still, it may be where we are headed. Favorable opinion about the United States among Russians has fallen from 51 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in June 2015 and favorable opinion about NATO has fallen from 37 percent to 26 percent over the same period. Favorable opinion about Russia in the NATO countries has fallen from 37 percent to 26 percent.

Another way to think about this is that there has been a significant disaggregation within the NATO alliance since the end of the Cold War. The United States and Germany now represent opposite poles on a number of key policy issues. As the creation of the Eurozone and the negotiations over the Greek debt crisis show, Germany has become the dominant power in Europe. Americans demonstrate a resolution (or belligerence) unmatched by the Germans. This is something with which future leaders of both countries will have to wrestle.

Still another way to think about this is that we are witnessing yet another phase in the troubled, tortuous relationship between Germany and Russia. Before the First World War they were two conservative empires in opposed alliances. Between the wars they were ideologically opposed states driven to co-operate by their international pariah status. Since 1945, the partitioned Germanys first clung to their dominant partner, then West Germany’s “Ostpolitik” began opening a road East based on economic complementarity. Vladimir Putin’s assertion of Russian power and interests among the non-NATO former members of the Soviet Union has challenged that relationship. Belarus and Georgia may be next, but people worry that he will not stop at the borders of the Baltic states. Putin’s own moderation—or lack of it–holds the key.

[1] Naftali Bendavid, “Poll Shows West Is Divided On How to Deal With Russia,” WSJ, 10 June 2015.

[2] The Polish stance is worth some thought because Poland is going to provide the most likely battlefield in such a conflict.