MANY EUROPEANS suspect that the Trump administration has little regard for the close alliances with Britain, France and Germany that have shaped U.S. foreign policy since World War II, preferring the autocratic ethnonationalism that has emerged in the nations of Central Europe. A bumbling series of appearances across the continent last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Pence will surely reinforce those conclusions.
Mr. Pompeo began the week by paying court to the Hungarian regime of Viktor Orban, who has become a virtual pariah in European capitals because of his embrace of “illiberal democracy.” As practiced in Budapest, that includes the suppression of independent media and civil society groups, corrupt cronyism, and demagoguery that drips with xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The Obama administration reacted to this toxic mix by holding Mr. Orban at arms length; Mr. Pompeo boasted of a new era of engagement.
The secretary of state extended his goodwill tour to Slovakia — where a leading journalist who exposed government corruption was murdered last year — before meeting up in Poland with Mr. Pence for a U.S.-organized conference on the Middle East. The poorly conceived forum was intended to rally European and Middle Eastern nations against Iran; when most Europeans balked at that, sessions on Syria, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were hastily added.
The U.S. delegation did its best to resuscitate the anti-Iran theme, culminating with a speech by Mr. Pence that ripped Britain, France and Germany for refusing to follow Mr. Trump’s ill-advised decision to abrogate an accord limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons. The creation of a payment mechanism to circumvent new U.S. sanctions on Iran, Mr. Pence said, will “create still more distance between Europe and the United States.”
Mr. Pence is no doubt right about the growing rift, but its source is not the Europeans but Mr. Trump. Last year, he brushed off good faith efforts by Britain, France and Germany to answer U.S. concerns about the Iran deal, which they had helped to negotiate, in order to unilaterally withdraw. Since then the administration has failed to articulate a coherent alternative strategy for Iran other than seeking what amounts to regime change — a goal the United States already pursued for decades without success.
The U.S. stance has the strong support of Israel and the Arab Gulf states, which for years have tried to push the United States toward war with Iran. But the European resistance to U.S. policy, which included not just the French and Germans but most other states, was understandable. So was their skepticism about a much advertised but never disclosed Trump administration plan for Mideast peace.
Mr. Pence reiterated U.S. support for NATO and its Article 5, which commits its members to defend each other in the event of attack. Mr. Pompeo, for his part, offered small succor to defenders of democracy in Hungary by meeting with several persecuted civil society activists and promising more U.S. support for independent media. But the broad message of the week is that the Trump administration is aligning itself with those European forces that flout liberal values while denigrating allies that for 75 years have supported U.S. global leadership. It should surprise no one when the consequences include Washington’s failure to attract support for its major initiatives.