Realpolitik Memo to Europe: Chill, you still need US ‘hard power’

Hey Berlin, and Brussels: Stop whining about Trump. Russia and China are the threats to worry about.
Throwing shade on Russia and China, my friends. Sources: Picture Alliance, Bloomberg

Europeans need to chill about the United States under President Donald Trump and return to the Realpolitik they invented. Russia and China pose the greatest threats to democratic values, not the United States, and Europe still desperately needs US hard power to meet those threats.

Europe’s biggest country, Germany, doesn’t have a single submarine that works. Much of the rest of its naval fleet is aging, as are its fighter jets. The Army is understaffed and undertrained. Germany is in no position to put up any real fight against an aggressive Russia, let alone check China’s ambitions in the Pacific – and Africa, and South America, where it is buying up natural resources and production in a virtual colonization. Chancellor Angela Merkel, for all her strengths, is not the leader of the free world in any real sense of the word. She cannot even determine who her foreign minister will be, nor get her coalition partners to explicitly commit to NATO levels of military spending.

The United States, with its fleets roaming the seven seas and its globe-spanning network of military bases, is the sole power to preserve what is rightly called a Pax Americana. Far from giving up its leadership role and retreating into isolationism – as is so often claimed in mainstream media in both the US and Europe – the current administration is planning to increase US defense spending by 13 percent precisely so it can maintain its role.

Europeans need to stop whining about Mr. Trump’s egregious flaws and deal with the real calculus of global power. If it helps to imagine that Mike Pence is president instead of Donald Trump, then imagine away – because Mr. Pence will be president if anything happens to Mr. Trump. Even if Mr. Trump’s worst critics are proven right and he is impeached and removed from office, the US will long outlive both Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence and whoever succeeds them. The only remaining superpower is bigger than whoever is in the White House.

Europeans should have more distance and a longer historical perspective to judge what is really going on in the world.

Moreover, Mr. Trump may end up confounding his critics and vindicate the American voters who put him in office. Given the disarray in the Democratic Party, his chances for reelection in 2020 seem higher than getting removed from office through impeachment.

After all, as preposterous as it is to tweet about “rocket man,” North Korea is now ready to sit down at the table with the US and the two Korean states are nearer a thaw than anyone thought possible. The current campaign against the Islamic State has done more to reduce that terrorist threat than all the handwringing and “junior varsity” badmouthing of the previous administration. The drones and missile strikes in Syria have been more effective than empty talk of imaginary red lines. And, who knows, maybe acknowledging the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may be just the disruption that will bring the factions there into real negotiations, all the bombastic rhetoric notwithstanding.

These are the realities, and it doesn’t look that much like abdicating leadership. Mr. Trump may not seem in many respects to be an ideal leader or a perfect role model. But it’s hard to imagine Talleyrand, Metternich or their intellectual descendant, German-born Henry Kissinger, worrying about how many Playmates Mr. Trump dated when he was a playboy.

Anti-Trump feeling in the US itself borders on hysteria in some parts of the country. But Europeans should have more distance and a longer historical perspective to judge what is really going on in the world. The US economy is booming, drawing Europe out of its stagnation with it. There are risks, big geopolitical risks, but Europe’s biggest ally and its protector isn’t one of them.

Darrell Delamaide, a former political columnist for MarketWatch, is a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global in Washington, DC. To contact the author: [email protected]