Editorial Board

Trump's European Misadventure

On his first official trip to the continent, the president lived down to expectations.

Language barrier.

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

President Donald Trump's first appearances at the NATO and Group of Seven summits were a disservice to the U.S. and the world. He betrayed no interest in maintaining America's standing as the pre-eminent global leader, much less any aptitude for that task. The president is rattling the Western alliance in a way that can only delight its adversaries -- Russia most of all.

Trump, Merkel Trade Barbs in Post-G-7 Dispute

Trump's fundamental error is to treat allies as though they were adversaries. He frames the full spectrum of international relations -- military cooperation, international trade, action on the environment, you name it -- as a zero-sum game. This is both dumb and profoundly toxic. Smart diplomacy recognizes the opportunity for mutual advantage; in the intellectual vacuum of Trump's world order, there is only, "You lose, we win."

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is not a charitable endeavor of the U.S. It has been a vital tool for advancing U.S. interests. Yet Trump appeared to say, or anyway let himself be understood as saying, that the U.S. is no longer wholly committed to the alliance. On trade, he said that Germany was "bad, very bad," because it's unfair, apparently, that Americans like its cars. On the Paris climate-change accord, he said he'd have to get back to his partners once he'd decided whether the U.S. was getting bilked -- as though it has no interest of its own in avoiding a global climate catastrophe.

In all, it was what the U.S. has come to expect four months into this presidency -- an embarrassing display of swaggering incompetence.

This kind of up-close experience must have been a shock to many European leaders, which may help explain their reaction. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for one, said that the days when Germany could "fully rely on others" for security "are to some extent over."

The startled response to her comments is a little overwrought-- especially since she gave a speech in January along similar lines about Europe needing to be more self-reliant in the era of Trump and Brexit. Merkel's remarks also pale in comparison to Trump's failure to publicly affirm the U.S. commitment to NATO.

Yet Merkel and other European leaders need to be careful themselves not to use language that could destabilize the European alliance. When it comes to undermining the global order, Trump needs no help from other, supposedly wiser, leaders.

    --Editors: Clive Crook, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.