For the United States and for Europe, the moment of reckoning has now arrived: The West as we know it is nearing the end of its life. The United States of America has just elected as president a man who not only brags about groping women and swindles his business partners but also openly dislikes the U.S.’s traditional allies — and Europeans most of all.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what he has been saying for many, many years. As long ago as 2000, in his ghostwritten book “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote that “America has no vital interest in choosing between warring factions whose animosities go back centuries … Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.”
Throughout the election campaign, he has repeated these views over and over again, even as he has flip-flopped and changed his mind about almost everything else. On abortion, he can go either way, depending on his audience. He was for the Iraq War before he was against it. But on NATO — and on Russia — Trump never wavers. In March, he described NATO as “obsolete.” In his first foreign policy speech, he proclaimed “America First,” using a famous isolationist slogan last heard in the 1940s. He has called for Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons.
At the same time, he has consistently praised the world’s dictators, Russia’s Vladimir Putin most of all. In 2014, he praised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, he has spoken with admiration of Putin’s “strength,” of his cruelty, even of his penchant for murdering journalists. Trump does not speak of Russia’s economic decline or its fierce authoritarianism, perhaps because he does not know about them or perhaps because he does not care. His campaign received open assistance from Russia in the form of massive hacking and leaks, and he publicly called on Russia’s security services to steal more.
Trump has also surrounded himself, from the beginning of his political career, with people linked to Putin, to Gazprom, and to Russian oligarchs. Newt Gingrich, the man who may be Trump’s secretary of state and who is certainly a senior adviser, has recently described Estonia as a country “in the suburbs of St. Petersburg” and thus not worth defending. Whatever Trump says tomorrow or the next day, the doctrine of deterrence has been officially abandoned: It cannot be defended by a man who does not believe in it.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at an event attended by commanders of land forces from all across Europe. To a man, they remained grimly committed to their job, which everyone in the room understood to be twofold: protect Europe from terrorism, and protect Europe from Russia. The meeting was led, as is natural in a NATO context, by U.S. generals. Now we can no longer assume that U.S. generals will always be leading such meetings. We also cannot assume that Russian military advances, or hybrid-warfare advances, into Ukraine or the Baltic states will be pushed back by an alliance of like-minded countries.
Under President Trump, we cannot assume that the U.S. is still the leader of the free world – or the leader of anything. Protectionism, not free trade, has just won this election, and that will have consequences, too. We have to expect that transatlantic trade and transpacific trade treaties are not going to be passed. We have to assume that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will be unpacked. Free trade had all kinds of consequences, but one of the advantages is that it kept countries closely linked politically as well as economically. Walls, both metaphorical and physical, will go up all over the world, between Western countries and against others.
None of this will happen quickly. It will take time — years and years — for the consequences of the coming transformation of the international political system to unfold. The initial stock market plunge reversed itself, just as it did after the Brexit vote in Britain. Treaties take years to unravel, and a policy shift of this kind takes a generation. But change is coming, as the populists have been telling us in so many countries. For the next few days and weeks, U.S. citizens will be focused on the consequences of this election at home, particularly given that a Trump-led Republican Party now dominates the House and Senate and will dominate the Supreme Court, too. But it is important to be clear-eyed about the consequences for the rest of the world, too.