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When “The Pond” Becomes an Ocean

This month’s G7 summit may have been the most glaring example, but the erosion of the US’ relations with our closest allies is a year and a half in the making. As Trump widens the Atlantic with every tweet, tariff, and tirade, how lasting will the damage be?

To discuss, Peter and Muni brought in Edward Luce, Washington columnist at the Financial Times, and Nathalie Tocci, director of the Instituto Affari Internazionali in Rome and special advisor to Federica Mogherini. Nathalie and Edward were, let’s say, less than optimistic.

And not without reason. Trump’s systematic attacks on the transatlantic alliance have grown more frequent and consequential over the course of his presidency. And we still have two and half years left.

Still, Peter notes that rifts in this relationship have opened up before—even if this time feels palpably different.

“It’s certainly not the first time that the US and its allies have been at odds with each other,” he says. “Whether it was the Vietnam War, Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ initiative, or the invasion of Iraq, there have been really serious moments in which people wondered whether we could go forward.”

Still, he admits, it would take a level of delusion to pretend that today’s tensions are just business as usual. Part of it, of course, is tone; Trump’s personal attacks on our closest partners are truly unprecedented. But Nathalie says the problem goes far, far beyond tone.

“Behind tone is substance,” she notes. “Trump actually does have a fairly clear ideology. And that ideology is premised upon nationalism, it’s premised upon unilateralism, it’s premised upon transactionalism—and all of these things are anathema to what Europe is.”

Things feel different today, says Nathalie, because never before have we had a US president whose worldview was so fundamentally at odds with what Europe stands for.

“You know, Europe is basically this microcosm of the most extreme form of a rules based system, multilateralism, internationalism, liberalism,” she says. “And that, in turn, is anathema to what Trump is all about.”

Muni plays devil’s advocate for a bit and wonders whether Trump’s hatcheting away at the alliance could provide an opportunity for some reflection.

“Could this be a warning sign that there is—and has been—a need to revisit the transatlantic alliance?” she asks. “To figure out whether anybody has a point in saying that there are some renovations that need to be made, that we can’t just continue to look nostalgically at this wonderful military and political friendship of the past, and that the world has changed and maybe it’s time to do a little reckoning?”

Edward and Nathalie both say yes. There are, indeed, issues and asymmetries in the relationship that needed to be worked out. But this is the worst imaginable way to go about doing so.

Nathalie concedes that Europe has long been in a sort of half-sleep, from which it is, in some ways, now waking up.

The problem, says Edward, is that “Europe is waking up from this half-sleep into a real living nightmare.”

“Trump might ostensibly have a strong case that his predecessors tried to make, too—that Europe doesn’t spend enough on defense, that it’s overly subsidized by the US,” he says.

But through attacks ranging from tariff imposition, to shredding the Iran deal, to people like Steve Bannon and Richard Grenell working to destabilize our strongest allies, Edward warns, “Trump isn’t making the rectification of those European and German problems likelier; he’s making it much less likely.”

As for the future of the alliance, Nathalie and Edward agree that the damage being done now will outlast Trump, but it’s not—as of yet—irreparable. The two guests caution, however, that should Trump manage to secure a second term, all bets are off. “If he gets re-elected then it’s game over,” Edward leaves our listeners with a final warning.

The episode is available for streaming and download.

(Image via Wikimedia)


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