Tomorrow, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet face-to-face with President Trump for the first time, each to take the other’s measure. Mr. Trump has previously criticized Mrs. Merkel for her open-door immigration policy and, by implication in his criticism of NATO, for Germany’s paltry defense spending.
Mrs. Merkel, the European press says, is on the defensive against Mr. Trump’s nationalist-populist positions, including his criticisms of the European Union. A few weeks ago, she floated the idea of more defense spending, but it turns out that her 2018 budget raises defense spending to the lofty level of 1.23 percent of Germany’s Gross Domestic Product, well below the 2 percent that all NATO members committed to a decade ago. Free riders like Germany deserve a repeated dose of “Dutch uncle” counseling by Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has a lot on his plate. General Joe Votel, commander of Special Operations Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the Taliban has fought us to a standstill in Afghanistan. It remains a permanent war, a quagmire, resulting from Mr. Bush’s nation-building approach.
Mr. Trump sent about 200 Marines and their artillery to the fight to take Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS. As good as they are, they are far too small a force — even combined with our air forces and special operations guys in Syria — to determine the outcome of the war. And what comes after? Mr. Trump hasn’t said what our plan is for the future of Syria, assuming that ISIS can be defeated there. If ISIS is defeated in Syria, what does he propose to do about ISIS in Libya and elsewhere? How long and large a war is he in for?
On the other side of the globe, the threat from North Korea grows by the day. The North’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are, by almost universal judgment, going to be capable of attacking the continental U.S. with nuclear weapons in less than five years. Secretary of State Tillerson is visiting Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul this week. What will he be telling those nations, and what will he be asking of them?
Those are only the most visible parts of the international status quo. Mr. Trump would do well to remember that President Reagan said that “status quo” was Latin for “the mess we’re in.”
Mr. Trump has no experience or expertise in defense or foreign affairs, so he is left to make decisions based only on the advice of others. Sitting atop the advisers’ pyramid is the National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who is entirely ill-suited for that position.
As I’ve written earlier, McMaster is a politically correct product of the Bush and Obama eras who insists that there is no connection between Islam and terrorism despite the fact that the connection is thoroughly documented and compelled in Islamic scripture. McMaster, having refused to retire to join the Trump administration, is a careerist, trying to ensure he gets his fourth star after his term in the White House.
If McMaster is President Trump’s most influential adviser on defense and foreign policy — and he appears to be — the president won’t get the advice he most urgently needs.
As bad as all that is, Europe’s — and Germany’s — troubles are as bad and getting worse every day.
It’s always great fun to mock NATO and the European Union and their members (who are almost identical in name). But their problems are so serious, we’ll take a week off from mockery.
British PM Theresa May is reportedly going to invoke the dreaded “Article 50” of the EU treaty this week, giving formal notice of Britain’s exiting the EU one way or another within two years. Germany, France, Holland, and Hungary all have national elections this year. In the first three of them, the nationalist candidates may not win but are expected to get close enough to pry a lot of power away from the EU elitists. Mrs. Merkel will probably urge Mr. Trump not to enter into a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement before the EU extracts a costly exit deal from the Brits.
The problems Europe has are primarily traceable not to Brexit but to Mrs. Merkel’s immigration disaster. In the past month, both Germany and Holland have barred Turkish political rallies. On Sunday, the Dutch actually expelled the Turkish family minister and her delegation after her arrival by car from Germany. She planned to be in Holland for massive rallies among the large Turkish population there, seeking their mailed-in votes in favor of a referendum to further cement radical Islamist President Erdogan’s power in a constitutional referendum that will soon go to the polls.
Erdogan, having imprisoned about 100,000 people he claims were involved in the failed coup against him last July, now seeks even greater autocratic power which a success in the referendum would give him. In response to the rejection of his minister, Erdogan called the Dutch “Nazi remnants.”
Germany has the same problem. It banned Turkish rallies earlier this month. Erdogan also called the Germans “Nazis.” Erdogan is now threatening Europe with opening the floodgates for another million (or more) refugees to enter the EU nations.
France, another foundation stone of the EU, still has a stagnant economy. (The Economist reports this week about a poll taken late last year that the French are the most pessimistic on earth, with 81 percent believing the world is getting worse.) They should be pessimists, because their economy cannot recover as long as their government is the nation’s largest employer. That’s a way of life that will not be disturbed short of another event such as the one they hosted in 1789.
All of these issues should select the topics for the Trump-Merkel meeting, but the discussions will likely avoid the most serious problems each nation has. Instead, Mrs. Merkel will insist on talking about Brexit, how the U.S. and EU will trade in the post-Brexit environment and such.
Her interest is best explained in pure economic terms. About 100,000 German cars were imported into the U.S. in February alone. She’ll want Mr. Trump’s assurance that nothing will change — and no further investment in German defense — will be required.
Mrs. Merkel is exercising “strategic patience” with Mr. Trump, according to a Financial Times report late last month. She and other EU leaders are apparently expecting him to gradually accept the status quo. Bilateral trade agreements are disfavored by Merkel and the EU. They prefer and she will insist on multilateral relationships through NATO (despite her refusal to spend on Germany’s defense) and the EU.
Mr. Trump should — politely and firmly — say that such arrangements are going to be rearranged and bilateral relations re-established with nations that take their responsibilities to us and their citizens seriously. That could and should be the beginnings of what will eventually be called the “Trump Doctrine.”
One of a president’s most powerful tools of governance is the political speech. Mr. Trump’s February 28 address to a joint session of Congress was a superb start, but it was quickly forgotten in the media frenzy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation testimony. Mr. Trump needs regain the momentum he lost. He can do that with a speech at a major venue — maybe the Reagan Presidential Library — to outline his thinking after the Merkel meeting.
This is only Mr. Trump’s eighth week in office. Most presidents don’t develop a clear doctrine that quickly, though President Reagan came into office with his doctrine firmly developed. Mr. Trump has to realize that the time most presidents had isn’t available to him.
He needs to explain what we want as results in Afghanistan and Syria. He can use such a speech to reiterate his determination to reduce our commitments to allies such as most NATO members, who refuse to take responsibility for their nations’ defense. He can and should tell Turkey’s Erdogan that his policy of embracing radical Islam is not acceptable to us. And he can explain what he wants to do about North Korea, which will soon be a real and present danger to America. It already is such a danger to our allies in Asia.
Mr. Trump needn’t do this in one speech. He can make a series of speeches around the country to explain what our goals must be, internationally and domestically. Right now, as he works to support the “Ryancare” bill, which does far too little to reverse the damage done by Obamacare, his attention is diverted from the international mess we’re in. He cannot wait too long to make these speeches and develop his doctrine. The world won’t wait.