Europe Worries Trump Will Take Wrecking Ball Overseas

(CN) – The split outcome of the U.S. midterm elections is leaving many European analysts, diplomats and politicians pessimistic: To their disappointment, President Donald Trump didn’t suffer a shellacking – far from it – and a Democratic House may end up pushing the American leader into quarrels overseas.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base  en route to Paris on Friday Nov. 9, 2018, where they will participate in World War I commemorations. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

This pessimism among Europeans comes at a time of deepening uncertainty about how reliable a partner the United States is – at least, as long as Trump is in the White House.

Leonid Bershidsky, a Berlin-based columnist for the news agency Bloomberg, wrote that the midterm elections “drive home an uncomfortable truth: President Donald Trump and Trumpism aren’t going anywhere.”

Francois Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Democratic Movement party in France, observed on French radio that the election results were “a challenge to Europe” because Trump was not soundly defeated.

All this takes places against a backdrop where Europe is worried about renewed conflict and divisions as it commemorates the centenary of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I.

Trump is expected to join dozens of world leaders in Paris over the weekend to observe the centenary, and his presence on the continent is reinforcing a sense of foreboding among European powers that the United States is leaving Europe to its own fate.

For example, Le Monde, the French newspaper, is running a series of articles on the breakup in the transatlantic alliance.

Trump has upset this old alliance in many ways, including a withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. He has also promised to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Russia, a key treaty that Europeans feel protects them.

In the past, U.S. presidents confronted with a divided Congress have turned their attention overseas, where an American leader has largely unfettered powers.

“If the Republicans lose control of Congress, Trump will be more constrained but also angrier – even unhinged,” said Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, in an analysis prior to the election.

Thus, stymied in his domestic agenda by a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, Trump may swing his wrecking ball overseas, where he has lots of targets.

“The formidable executive powers of the president, notably in foreign policy, remain untouched,” Norbert Roettgen, a German politician and chairman of Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, said on Deutschlandfunk radio.

Thus, Trump may renew his demands that European nations spend more on defense as NATO allies. He also could threaten to pull back American military presence in Europe and Afghanistan.

Shapiro said research has shown that a divided U.S. government also “correlates with an increased likelihood that the president will use force abroad.”

“Like many presidents before him, he will likely see foreign military adventures as political opportunities,” Shapiro said. “This generally means not a major war but rather a small, discreet intervention likely to achieve a rapid victory.”

Shapiro said Trump would likely seek to obtain “unequivocal, television-friendly victories” overseas.

On the trade front, he could also look at imposing new tariffs – this time on German automakers. He’s already placed duties on European steel and aluminum.

He will likely also double down on his conflicts with China and Iran. Europe has complained that many European companies do business in Iran and that Trump’s hard-line with Tehran has hurt them.

From the European perspective, then, there is little room for optimism that relations will improve with the United States.

“With a divided government, Trump would feel the need to throw his toys about in the foreign policy playground,” Shapiro said. “And Europe is one of his shiniest toys.”

Martin Kettle, a columnist for the British Guardian newspaper, said it was time Europeans face up “to a historic readjustment.”

“The world and the Europe that were initiated by the armistice of November 1918 is coming to an end,” he wrote.

He said the deep relationship of trust, shared values and mutual aid between the U.S. and Europe appears to be ending.

“Today, Trump’s policy of America First means that those shared values and institutions have run their course,” Kettle wrote.  “America First is making Europe First inevitable.”

He added: “In the U.S. this week, nothing much changed. In Europe, as a result, everything has.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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