Shortly after Donald Trump won the South Carolina primary in February 2016, I warned in an article co-written with economist Benn Steil that “a Trump presidency threatens the post-World War II liberal international order that American presidents of both parties have so laboriously built up — an order based on free trade and alliances with other democracies. His policies would not make America ‘great.’ Just the opposite. A Trump presidency would represent the death knell of America as a great power.”
Such warnings might have sounded hyperbolic at the time. Who, after all, knew whether Trump would make good on his threats? Even in year one of the Trump era, it would have been possible to dismiss our dire prediction. Trump did not, after all, pull U.S. troops out of allied countries, exit NATO or lift sanctions on Russia. He still hasn’t done any of those things, but, hey, he’s only been in office a little more than 500 days. Give him time. In just the past few weeks, he has taken a giant step toward destroying the global system that the United States created after 1945.
Trump has now exited three major treaties — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear accord — and thrown into doubt the future of another — the North American Free Trade Agreement — while launching a reckless trade war against our closest allies. At the Group of Seven summit, Trump continued to push his irrational idée fixe that the United States — the richest nation in the world — has been victimized by its friends. “We’re like the piggy bank that everybody is robbing,” Trump seethed. “And that ends.”
The president’s outbursts turned the summit into the G-6 vs. G-1. The mood was captured in an already iconic photograph showing Trump sitting, his arms crossed in a defensive posture, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel, surrounded by the other leaders, leans across the table at him. Trump looks like a defendant who has just been found guilty by a jury of his peers.
After the meeting, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not mince words, calling the U.S. tariffs “insulting” and saying: “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” The G-7 ended in unprecedented nastiness with Trump, who had left early, blasting Trudeau as “very dishonest & weak” and instructing his representatives not to sign the joint communique.
On Sunday, Trump’s aides piled on, with Larry Kudlow accusing Trudeau of a “betrayal” and Peter Navarro saying there’s a “special place in hell” for the Canadian prime minister. No U.S. officials have ever spoken this way about any U.S. ally, ever. These are the kind of words that normally precede military action.
Trump seems amazed to discover that the European Union (gross domestic product: $17.1 trillion), Japan ($4.8 trillion), and Canada ($1.6 trillion) — which together produce more than the United States ($19.3 trillion) — will not be pushed around as easily as the contractors he has gotten used to stiffing.
Trump may well have been looking for a friendly face at such frosty gatherings when he suggested that the G-7 should add Russia. This was a bizarre suggestion, given that Russia is not only an international outlaw but also an economic pygmy whose GDP does not even rank in the top 10. If the G-7 were to expand, it should include India and Brazil, both democracies that have larger economies than Russia’s. Russia was rightly kicked out of the G-8 because of its invasion of Ukraine — an act of aggression for which Trump perversely blames President Barack Obama — and it has done nothing since 2014 to deserve readmittance. Instead, its meddling in U.S. elections and war crimes in Syria demand more punishment.
Trump prefaced his call for Russia’s inclusion by saying, “Now, I love our country” — not something that presidents normally feel compelled to declare. But it is hardly surprising if Trump’s mystifying favoritism toward Vladimir Putin raises questions of where exactly his loyalties lie. By creating such a deep rift between the United States and its NATO allies, Trump is doing precisely what Putin hoped would happen when he helped Trump get elected.
The Russian dictator can barely conceal his glee, and he is moving to fill the opening that the president has created. A new poll finds that only 14 percent of Germans consider the United States a reliable partner, compared with 36 percent for Russia and 43 percent for China. That the citizens of one of America’s staunchest and most important allies now look more favorably upon our illiberal foes is a testament to Trump’s unrivaled wrecking abilities.
There have been trans-Atlantic spats before, of course, from the Suez Crisis in 1956 to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the Pershing II missiles in the 1980s and the Iraq War in the 2000s. But none of those disputes called into question the fundamental unity of the West in the way that Trump’s stupid and self-destructive actions do. The Atlantic alliance was born in Canada in 1941 and may well have died there in 2018.
Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. A best-selling historian, he is the author most recently of “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.” Follow Max on Twitter @MaxBoot.