President Trump was elected on a pledge to put “America First.” But that doesn’t mean alliances should be secondary. Strong bonds are in the country’s best interests, and straining these ties is counterproductive in an increasingly turbulent world.
But that’s what Trump did with his profoundly bad decision to take America out of the Paris climate accord, a move as diplomatically dire as it is environmentally unsound.
Allies had urged the president to remain in the pact. His rejection of it, and them, will weaken the Western alliance, and thus the U.S.
A preview of this erosion could be seen in the public distancing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most consequential leader. Trump’s rhetoric at last week’s NATO and G7 summits prompted Merkel to pronounce on Sunday that “the times in which we could rely on others are to some extent over, as I have experienced in the last two days,” referring to the G7 summit in which Trump would not commit to the Paris accord. Merkel added: “We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”
Context is key: Merkel’s most pressing challenge in this fall’s election isn’t from the kind of far-right populists who threatened the political order in France and the Netherlands, but from the left. And on the wider scope of U.S.-European relations, the president’s previous dismissive attitude toward NATO and his hectoring of allies falling behind the targeted defense expenditure of 2 percent of GDP had already strained the alliance at a time when transatlantic cooperation is needed more than ever to meet the threat from countries like Russia and transnational challenges like migration, cybercrime and, yes, climate change.
Trump should be seeking to tighten ties by clearly showing global leadership on issues of worldwide impact. In fact, the administration should seek to ink, not shrink from, transnational agreements designed to bring more order to an unruly world.
Instead it’s doing the opposite — not only with the climate agreement, but by jettisoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a blunder that won’t make America great again, but could do wonders for China, which has rushed to fill the void with its own trade partnership that won’t have anywhere near the environmental, labor and intellectual-property protections TPP boasted. While Trump’s campaign rhetoric makes it highly unlikely that he would embrace the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a U.S.-European Union free-trade agreement, an unnecessary fallout over Germany’s trade surplus would be ill advised, especially since so many German manufacturers have U.S. plants. The stakes are high locally, too: Germany is Minnesota’s top European export market, according to state data.
Most won’t argue with the general principle of prioritizing this nation’s needs. But Trump, and the country, won’t succeed by economically, diplomatically and militarily alienating allies while isolating the U.S.