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5/30/17

Germany: Trump's anti-German stance is stupid and dangerous-by Fred Kaplan

The fallout from President Trump’s disastrous trip to Europe continues to poison the trans-Atlantic climate. His comments about Germany have been particularly toxic—and, beyond that, stupid, reflecting no understanding of the country’s strategic importance or its dreadful history.

Chancellor Angela Merkel stated the matter plainly in a speech on Sunday in Bavaria. Europeans “must take our fate into our own hands,” she said, because the “times in which we could rely fully on others … are somewhat over.” This, she added, “is what I experienced in the last few days”—a reference to Trump’s behavior in Brussels and Rome, where, among other bits of rudeness, he declined to pay even lip service to the pledge, enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, that the United States would defend any member of NATO that comes under attack.

As if in piqued response, Trump tweeted on Tuesday, “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.” While overseas, Trump had reportedly told Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Union, “The Germans are bad, very bad. Look at the millions of cars that they’re selling in the USA. Horrible. We’re gonna stop that.” Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied the report, which appeared in Der Spiegel, but Trump’s Tuesday tweet undercut the denial and underscored his complaint. It wasn’t some loose remark, he seemed to be saying; he meant it.

But Trump’s ire is misplaced or unwise on several levels. First, yes, Americans buy a lot of German cars, but this isn’t because Germany is dumping BMWs and Volkswagens on the U.S. market; it’s because a lot of Americans like those cars. Second, as my colleague Daniel Gross has pointed out, lots of those German cars are made in the United States; a BMW plant in South Carolina—the company’s biggest plant in the world—churns out 400,000 cars a year.

The thing is, Trump knows this. When Merkel visited Washington in March, she brought along the CEOs of BMW, Siemens, and Schaeffler, an industrial-parts manufacturer, who met with Trump for an hour, briefing him on their $300 billion investment in the American economy and the 750,000 American jobs that their plants had created. By all accounts, Trump was impressed.

Perhaps the most wondrous thing about the world that took form after World War II has been the absence of war between the longstanding rivals in Europe—not just the absence of wars but the disappearance of the notion that European wars were inevitable. This feat didn’t come about by some miracle or accident. It was the result of painstaking effort to build an alliance based on shared values and common interests, requiring trillions of dollars in aid and investment, the maintenance of massive military bases, and—in particularly trying times—a crisis or two that risked another, far more cataclysmic war. It is this alliance—and the international order on which it stands—that Trump’s tantrums and indifference are endangering.

European leaders realized last week (you could see it on their faces as they watched Trump speak)—that the alliance will be in some degree of abeyance as long as this guy is president.

It may be no coincidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief foreign-policy goal is to restore the old Soviet Union. He can do that only if the European Union is weakened and the ties between the United States and Europe are severed. He may have reason to believe that his dream might come true. Whatever the probes reveal about Trump’s ties or obligations (or lack of any connections whatever) to Russia, his signs of indifference to the fate of Europe are no doubt causing Putin to salivate more than he thought he ever would.
 
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