In the last 48 hours, three stories have caught my eye. Let’s start with this aside buried in my colleague Josh Rogin’s story about why President Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to North Korea:
There’s also rising concern inside the Trump administration that the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in is increasingly willing to go it alone, further deepening its détente with Pyongyang regardless of whether Washington approves. Moon is planning a visit to Pyongyang next month. His government is considering opening up a representative office there, along with other new cooperation efforts.
“We have a big problem coming with South Korea,” a senior official involved in the talks told Stanford University’s Daniel Sneider. “It has reached the point where the South Koreans are determined to press ahead. They no longer feel the need to act in parallel with us.”
Indeed, Sneider blogged that some U.S. officials “even fear the alliance itself may be in jeopardy.”
Meanwhile in Europe, no big whoop, just French President Emmanuel Macron telling French diplomats some things that would have made conservative national security folks set their hair on fire if this had happened in the Obama era. According to CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne:
French President Emmanuel Macron told France’s overseas ambassadors gathered in Paris on Monday that Europe can “no longer rely” upon the U.S. for its security.
“It is up to us today to take our responsibilities and guarantee our own security, and thus have European sovereignty,” Macron said. ...
Macron said he wanted to see a complete rethink of how Europe defends itself in the future.
“I want us to launch an exhaustive review of our security with all Europe’s partners, which includes Russia,” he added.
This matches what German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an op-ed last week. According to the Financial Times’s Guy Chazan:
Germany’s foreign minister has called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the U.S. as a means of rescuing the nuclear deal between Iran and the West that Donald Trump withdrew from in May.
Writing in the German daily Handelsblatt, Heiko Maas said Europe should not allow the US to act “over our heads and at our expense”.
“For that reason it’s essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels that are independent of the US, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent Swift system,” he wrote.
In the immortal words of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” Jake Peralta, cool, cool, cool.
It would be dangerous to read too much into this. U.S. allies kvetching about the United States has been a staple of American foreign policy for 70 years now. On Germany, it’s important to remember that foreign ministers do not have much say over payments systems, and it’s noteworthy that German Chancellor Angela Merkel slapped Maas down hard over his comments, saying that Europe’s security cooperation with the United States remained “extremely useful.”
On Korea, it’s worth noting that a U.S. official also told Sneider that “Moon will not risk the domestic political cost of showing a visible gap with the U.S., particularly as his popular support is starting to soften.”
Still, the pattern is getting more visible. The longer Donald Trump stays president, the more U.S. allies seem ready to test the waters of pursuing more independent foreign policies. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was rival great powers like China that were accused of “hedging” against the liberal international order. Now it is U.S. allies who fear what the Trump administration is doing to that order from within.
Even Trump-friendly outlets in the United States are starting to fret over this pattern. The Washington Examiner’s Erin Dunne notes that the real costs of Trump’s “America First” strategy are starting to show:
We have criticized our allies (NATO), undermined the agreements that we brokered (Trans-Pacific Partnership), started punishing trade wars with friendly countries (Mexico, Canada, and the EU), and our president has openly championed an “America first” philosophy. In the short term, those strategies may win temporary political power, but they come at the expense of the nation’s international standing.
For Americans, being seen as an unreliable ally has real consequences.
It means that we are less likely to have favorable trade agreements. That we will lack support in our foreign policy goals. That the alliances meant to keep us safe may not be so willing to come to our defense. That we may have to share or give up authority in international organizations to countries like China. And that it may be us that is cut out of future agreements and deals, leaving us vulnerable to the will of other nations.
These abstract ideas will translate into the real impact of higher consumer prices, less access to opportunities, wars waged alone, less favorable international laws and norms, and even the growing dominance of rival nations.
Even Trump’s alleged victories do not seem to enhance his political power. The president announced the framework of a bilateral trade deal with Mexico on Monday. That sounds like a deliverable, except for a few things: a) the content of the deal seems less than the United States would have gotten had it just stayed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; b) the Trump administration had to rush the negotiations because Mexicans elected a lefty populist, and maybe, just maybe, Trump had something to do with that; and c) as with all Trump trade negotiations to date, nothing has been completed. If this deal follows the pattern of announcements on KORUS or the E.U. negotiations, not much will come of it at the end.
Except for this priceless video: