As Trump haters are having yet another field day on account of his ostensible faux pas at the G-7 meeting in Canada, and leftist pundits fall over each other screaming that Trump has no strategic vision, as others just as self-assuredly accuse him of planning to “break the West,” which, on the face of it, requires plenty of strategic vision. While this silliness continues to rapidly declining effect, there are now signs that the White House is putting together a robust strategy in Europe that was missing until now.
It comes in the shape of A. Wess Mitchell, who was just appointed the point man at the State Department for Europe and Eurasia. The significance of this appointment, which was missed in the cacophony of anti-Trump perorations, was much on display at the very first programmatic speech he gave last week at the Heritage Foundation. Before delving into the speech, a couple of words about his background, which is important part of his appointment. Mitchell is a bona fide expert on Eastern Europe with three books to his credit and, more importantly, the long-term leader of CEPA (Center for European Policy Analysis), the only Washington think tank dedicated to the study of Eastern Europe.
Mitchell started his speech with a ringing endorsement of the Western alliance and the civilization undergirding it, which guaranteed “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” But he also noted that the West collectively is “under-prepared” for its defense. There are a number of reasons for that, including the dismal legacy the Trump administration inherited from President Obama with its failed reset of relations with Russia, conflict in Ukraine, policy failure in Syria, and the largest ever Muslim migration to Europe.
But, more importantly, Mitchell underscored, preserving the West cannot happen without a strong and free Europe, which is a vital interest of the United States. And here he did not diplomatically avoid naming names and identifying problems. It is Russia and China who “want to break the West,” he said and EU allies (read Western Europe) who are showing insufficient willingness to “defend their own continent.” He further singled out specific European policies that the U.S. consider counterproductive -- the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the Iran agreement. The first one is clearly directed against the interests of Eastern Europe and will benefit Russia’s monopolistic gas hegemony and make NATO’s eastern flank more vulnerable. Though Mitchell did not say it, Germany is the clear culprit here, as the above well-documented CEPA study proves. The Iran agreement, which is still supported by the EU even after the U.S. pulled out of it, allowed the expansion of Teheran’s influence to the borders of Israel, the largest such expansion since antiquity, Mitchell noted, and represents a clear danger for the West in Washington’s view.
Mitchell did not dwell on the current background of the alliance’s politics, but there is no doubt that it was a motivating factor for this groundbreaking policy statement. And that background includes the flat-out refusal by Germany to commit to spending 2% of GDP on defense, except in the very distant future, which makes the largest economy in Europe a consumer, rather than a contributor to collective security. Compare this attitude to the enthusiastic support for NATO’s role by nine Eastern European countries (known as the Bucharest 9) which met in Warsaw, as Mitchell was speaking, and endorsed a greater role for the alliance in the East. It is this clear and widening fault line that has prompted numerous pundits to speculate that Trump may be pivoting to the East in Europe, while others have interpreted it as a declaration of war on Russia.
There are other pregnant developments on the old continent that cannot but affect the cohesion of the Atlantic alliance -- from Italy’s new Eurosceptic government closing its harbors to migrant vessels to a fundamental and widening conflict over immigration by the two ruling parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the Christian Social Union (CSU) in Germany. The CSU, which is Bavaria-based, wants to turn back migrants at the border, while Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is to blame for the migrant debacle, is doing everything possible to avoid that and thus admit that she was wrong all along. It may be a long shot, but a turn to the right in Germany, may be the best news for Trump and NATO yet.