Gradually these two are developing the image of being two different planets. One views the phenomenon of power mainly from a military perspective, while the other emphatically adds the dimension of ‘soft power’ to this. How different ‘America First’ sounds coming out of President Trump’s mouth from Europe’s international ‘Alliances and Diplomacy First’. That added to the efforts to deny terrorism its breeding ground as far as possible through development cooperation.
Hard power versus soft power. In the Obama era, the two could still coexist, although the conservative political thinker Robert Kagan wrote cynically at the time that Americans are from Mars and our ‘dear European friends’ are from Venus. During the first Afghanistan conference in The Hague in March 2009, Obama, in the voice of his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke approvingly of the ‘Dutch Approach’: building schools and hospitals and implementing the ‘Rule of Law’ were at least as necessary as sabre-rattling in overcoming terrorists.
In Trump’s new Realpolitik, human rights no longer forms an actual part of American foreign relations. This places the American President in direct opposition to European leaders such as Angela Merkel, who vainly tried to explain to Trump that the German budget for development cooperation actually forms an integral part of NATO’s 2 per cent payment objective. She argued for an activities index that would include the entire defence output. Trump disappears completely like a dot behind the European horizon with his openly expressed aversion to international treaties and coalitions which legalistic, multilateral Europe conversely relies upon for its security.
Harvard professor Nicholas Burns recently wrote in USA TODAY: “If Trump sticks to this course, there will be real costs for the United States. Europe remains our leading trade partner and the most important investor in the U.S. economy. The 27 European members of NATO remain the largest group of U.S. allies in the world. On nearly every important U.S. global priority, Europe is a key partner.” In other words, according to Burns, America needs Europe.
But this applies the other way too. It is not the done thing to fundamentally reconsider our relationship with an ally who has guaranteed our security for the seventy years right up to the present, as Merkel among others is proposing. Her anger is comprehensible, but you do not wreck a long-lasting political alliance just because someone you find disagreeable is occupying the White House temporarily. America with its separation of powers is more than just Trump. The states and cities also have far-reaching autonomy. Already, more than a hundred American cities have sidestepped Washington by stating that they do intend to achieve the objectives of the Paris climate agreement. American businesses and its civil society also have responsibilities entirely their own.
We serious Europeans, and certainly the Calvinistic Dutch, must learn that the new Captain America’s blustering performances are often based more on straining for publicity effects than on political reality. Trump’s refusal to publicly affirm NATO’s Article 5 during his European visit does not mean that the United States is demolishing the alliance. Secretaries and senior military in Washington unanimously confirm that nothing at all has changed in America’s solidarity with its NATO allies in case of a military attack on any one of them.
What binds America and Europe together after the Cold War is a new ‘Hot War’ against international terrorism. Cooperation with the Americans in the area of security alone remains indispensable. Then there is something else: terrorists have it in for our way of life as it has been formed by the Enlightenment and later emancipation and democratisation processes. We share the same standards and core values with the Americans. These have cost much strife. Criticism of Trump is justified: simple vilification of America is not.