With NATO and Putin, Trump’s cleaning up after Obama

With NATO and Putin, Trump’s cleaning up after Obama, by Henry Ergas.

There is one thing none of his critics has been able to say: that the US President’s view of the situation America and its friends and allies confront is fundamentally incorrect.

Nor could they. For it is an undeniable reality that by the time Trump came to office, the “liberal international order” was not even a shadow of its former self — it was a ghost whose death was barely disguised by the din of its rattling chains.

No purpose would be served by recounting its downfall. Suffice it to note that the final blow was ­delivered by Trump’s predecessor, who will be remembered as one of the few US presidents whose foreign policy left every region of the world in worse shape than it was when he came to office. …

But no one could dispute Obama’s skills when sanctimonious rhetoric was required. While struggling to communicate with the Democrats’ traditional blue-collar constituency, he had a natural rapport with Europe’s political elite, who have elevated euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness to an art form.

That Trump is cut from a different cloth is obvious. Temperamentally, his attraction is to the strongmen — be it Russia’s Putin, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, or Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu — who, in nurturing a direct relationship with their base, make bluntness a crucial feature of their persona.

Their objectionable features are apparent, as is their hostility to democracy; but if they are such successful politicians it is at least partly because their message has the ring of truth. So too with Trump. Who, for example, could dispute Trump’s claim that the Europeans “free ride” on America’s defence spending? After all, since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1966, every US president has deplored Europe’s refusal to shoulder its share of the military burden. …

When the Clinton administration approved China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation, it claimed China would speedily and permanently liberalise its trade and investment regime. Instead, under President Xi Jinping, China has veered into mercantilism, repeatedly breaching the rules it committed to in 2001. As those breaches occurred, Obama filed the right complaints, as did the EU; but it is only now, in the face of Trump’s punitive tariffs, that China’s ruling caste has shown even the slightest willingness to consider changing course.

hat-tip Stephen Neil