Donald Trump was clearly more engaged and animated as he visited nations that greeted him with excessive pomp and flattered him for his surprising win last fall. After Saudi Arabia and Israel, the trip became more challenging and less fun for Trump as he engaged with hard-hitting diplomats and presidents whose countries largely have concerns over his policies, words, and actions. Trump’s stops in Europe including Rome, Brussels, and a G-7 meeting in Sicily were punctuated by tense exchanges between other heads of state, the optics of Trump apparently pushing Montenegro’s prime minister out of the way, and less opulent (and fawning) receptions.
While Israel and Saudi Arabia are critically important to our intelligence operations and are key geopolitical allies, the work of building relationships in Europe is important to the United States and therefore important to Donald Trump for three reasons:
Trade – The European Union is the second largest global economy and relationships between the U.S. and Europe are important if we want to continue to create markets for our goods and services. Trump created a minor diplomatic and trade issue when he clumsily characterized Germany as “bad” when he was speaking of the current U.S. trade deficit with Angela Merkel’s country.
History – While it’s possible to focus on history more than is healthy, the relationship between Europe and the United States is a reason to continue building and supporting relationships with European heads of state and governments. Since WWII American presidents have invested heavily – personally and professionally – in the countries that comprise the core of the EU. Trump is currently risking much of that forward momentum and gain as he tussles with European leaders.
Intelligence Sharing – Each of the European countries have embassies, contacts, and intelligence services in countries that the United States is deeply concerned about. With Trump’s intelligence gaffe in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and a U.S. intelligence leak recently angering British intelligence officials, Donald Trump needs to help steady the perception that the United States is not a good intelligence partner.
A fundamental tenet of diplomacy is that you want to have as many positive relationships as possible around the world to achieve your economic and political objectives. Part of statesmanship and diplomacy, then, is working with people you don’t really like or who don’t like you in order to achieve a common goal. Angela Merkel’s speech over the weekend in which she indicated that Europe can’t “fully count on others” was more than a veiled reference to the rift between the U.S. and Europe and a clear sign that Europe is prepared to move ahead without a robust partnership with the United States.
If Trump can put aside his personal likes and dislikes he could potentially help himself and the country increase it’s standing in the world. He could also help save American lives through stronger intelligence relationships and create markets for American goods produced in Iowa, Michigan, or Texas.
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