For the United States and Europe, the moment of reckoning has arrived: The West as we know it is nearing the end of its life. The United States just elected a president who not only swindles business partners but also openly dislikes America’s traditional allies - Europeans most of all.
Listen to what he has said for years. In 2000, in his ghostwritten book “The America We Deserve,” Trump wrote, “America has no vital interest in choosing between warring factions whose animosities go back centuries. . . . Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.”
Throughout the campaign, he has repeated these views a lot, even as he flip-flopped on almost everything else. In March, he called NATO “obsolete.” He has called for Japan and South Korea to get nuclear weapons.
But he has consistently praised dictators, Russia’s Vladimir Putin most of all. In 2014, he praised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, he has spoken admiringly of Putin’s “strength,” of his cruelty, even of his murdering of journalists. Trump does not speak of Russia’s economic decline or authoritarianism, perhaps because he does not know about them or perhaps because he does not care. Russia openly helped Trump by its massive hacking and leaks, and Trump publicly asked Russia to steal more.
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Trump has also surrounded himself, from his political career’s start, with people linked to Putin, Gazprom, and Russian oligarchs. Newt Gingrich, a senior advisor who may be secretary of state, recently called Estonia a country “in the suburbs of St. Petersburg” and thus not worth defending. The doctrine of deterrence has been abandoned.
A few weeks ago, I spoke at an event attended by commanders of European land forces. They remained grimly committed to their job, which everyone in the room understood to be: protect Europe from terrorism and Russia. The meeting was led, as is natural in NATO, by American generals. Now we can no longer assume American generals will be leading such meetings. We also cannot assume Russian military advances, or hybrid-warfare advances, into Ukraine or Baltic states will be pushed back by an alliance of like-minded countries.
Under President Trump, we cannot assume America is still the leader of the free world - or of anything. Protectionism, not free trade, won this election, and that will have consequences, too. We have to expect transatlantic trade and transpacific trade treaties are not going to be passed. We have to assume the North American Free Trade Agreement will be unpacked. Free trade had many consequences, but one advantage is it kept countries linked politically and economically. Walls, metaphorical and physical, will go up worldwide.
None of this will happen quickly. It will take years for the consequences of the international political system’s transformation to unfold. The initial stock market plunge reversed itself, just like after Britain’s Brexit vote. Treaties take years to unravel, and a policy shift like this takes a generation. But change is coming, as populists have been telling us in so many countries. For the next few weeks, Americans will be focused on the consequences of this election at home, particularly given a Trump-led GOP now dominates the House and Senate and will dominate the Supreme Court. But it is important to be clear-eyed about the consequences for the rest of the world, too.
Anne Applebaum writes a biweekly foreign affairs column for the Washington Post.