In a recent interview published this weekend, President-elect Trump made some astonishing remarks about the German-US relationship that could turn decades of foreign policy on their head. The short version is this: a German-led Europe is a greater threat to the US’s interests than Russia.
Take time with that idea. Let it sink in a bit. It’s not the first time people have criticized Germany for their economic success, and with good reason—Germany has benefitted disproportionately from the EU’s organization and arrangement. Many people in countries that haven’t seen as much of the EU’s promised plenty see Germany as the force behind their poverty and woes.
In fact, when it comes to scapegoats for exploitative economic practices, Germany rates far behind the USA and the UK (to say nothing of China. Say what you will about Russia, at least its leadership only exploits its own population). This is a consequence of Germany never having held a global empire, as did the UK—the English are hated or resented to this day in many corners of the globe for things their ancestors did. It is also a consequence of Germany never having led a global financial hegemony, as has the US. Most people only know the Germans through tourists and automobiles.
Trump Hates Germany's Illegal Immigrants
But competition isn’t at the root of what Trump dislikes about Germany. No—he takes issue with their leadership because it granted access to refugees from the Middle East, “illegals,” as he calls them. That’s right. Germany, which for the first time in its long history, decided to do something positive about refugees by offering them sanctuary instead of, uh, you know, creating or fucking burning them on an industrial scale, is bad because it internalized the spirit of International Humanitarian Law—that shit we wrote up and forced upon everyone after humanity nearly jumped the rails in WWII.
Then, somewhat bizarrely given his hostility, Trump takes exception to Germany’s using Mexican factories to build BMWs Trump would prefer built in the USA.
Logical recap: I don’t like you because you’re a competitor, I don’t like you because you accept war refugees into your country, and I don’t like you because you won’t build your cars in my country. There’s a lot of hypocrisy here—self-serving is one thing, that’s ethically troubling, but this, this is beyond.
Direct Attacks on European Trade, Cunning Negotiations With Vladimir Putin
England (it will be England, if the UK follows through with Brexit and Scotland becomes its own nation) is a friend of the US, for leaving the EU, by Trump's formulation. And when they leave the EU, Trump promises to reward them with immediate trade deals. In this fashion, he hopes to embolden nationalists in France, Germany, and Italy. Paradoxically, if he wants Europe to foot more of the bill for NATO, of course, depriving Europe of trade deals and making them poorer as this strategy seems likely to do if successful would appear to make greater military expenditures less likely, and leave Europe more dependent on the US for military subsidies.
And the long-awaited grand master plan to cleverly thwart Vladimir Putin’s ambitions for global domination are… a deal to reduce nuclear weapons, in exchange for which we will lift sanctions on Russia. This may sound good to those people who overlook Russia's track record with neighbors who give up their nuclear weapons, but it's certainly not better than the deal we already have in place, whereby Russia can lift sanctions any time it wants to halt its invasion and occupation of a European neighbor.
Trump also makes a joke about Scottish people being cheap, a joke I wouldn't get were it not for a grandfather who died over a decade ago.
The only place where Trump’s understanding of the world seems grounded in something other than antiquated stereotype is his appreciation for George W. Bush's monumental error. The second invasion of Iraq will go down in history as the year the USA destabilized the international order. Of course, that doesn’t mean countries like Russia that actively destabilize their neighbors are correct to do so—precisely the contrary.
Trump sees himself as remaking the world, and will energetically attempt to do so according to his confused vision. Nebulous and terrifying as his ideas may be to people who don’t want to see World War III in their lifetimes, they nevertheless have the advantage of being new, albeit in a Cthulu shambling ashore after countless millennia kind of way.
We learned a lesson from last century’s wars, which ended with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. Without binding alliances and guidance from a mostly-disinterested party—the USA—European alliances grow up without us, often centered around Germany and Russia or England, and those alliances then get into a war every 30-40 years. This is the consequence of European being driven by distinct cultures, identities, and interests, a fact that Trump habitually overlooks when arguing for the dismantlement of the EU and NATO.
When it comes to nationalism, especially ethnic nationalism of the type Trump clearly prefers, it's a short walk to war, and it's a walk we've taken enough times to know better. Especially as the next global war will likely begin with nukes dropping—and Trump’s doing his utmost to set the conditions we know are necessary to make that happen.