After US midterms, growing concern in Europe over Trump foreign policy

Tuesday's midterm elections delivered the House to Democrats, ending complete Republican control of the federal government. The inertia of a divided Congress is creating fears among European leaders that Trump will ratchet up his "America First" foreign policy. 

Francois Lenoir/Reuters/File
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 9, 2017. Ms. Merkel's government, long seen as a champion of European multilateralism, along with the EU fear a further disruption of US-Europe relations under President Trump after midterm elections.

Stymied at home by Democrats determined to subvert his domestic agenda, President Trump could double down on his disruptive foreign policy in the years ahead, with conflicts over trade a particular concern, politicians, diplomats and analysts in Europe said.

Democrats wrested control of the US House of Representatives from Republicans in midterm elections seen as a referendum on Mr. Trump's two-year-old presidency and closely watched around the world.

The outcome gives the opposition party new powers to block Trump's domestic agenda and step up inquiries into the former real estate mogul's business dealings and suspected links between his presidential campaign and Russia.

But on foreign policy Trump's ability to set the agenda remains largely intact. And while House Democrats could push for a tougher approach towards Saudi Arabia and Russia, they are unlikely to move the dial on his biggest agenda items: the trade conflict with China and hardline course with Iran.

"The formidable executive powers of the president, notably in foreign policy, remain untouched," Norbert Roettgen, head of the foreign affairs committee in the German Bundestag, told Deutschlandfunk radio.

"We need to prepare for the possibility that Trump's defeat [in the House] fires him up, that he intensifies the polarization, the aggression we saw during the campaign."

Peter Trubowitz, director of the United States Centre at the London School of Economics, said: "I would look for him to double down on China, on Iran, on the Mexican border."

"I think that the incentive structure now has changed for him and he will invest even more time on the foreign policy front as we move forward to 2020," he added.

A blue wave but no tsunami 

Trump's first two years in office deeply unsettled traditional US allies in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

He pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, lambasted allies like Germany for running trade surpluses and not spending more on defense, and cozied up to authoritarian leaders in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

Although few European politicians said so openly, the hope in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels was that US voters would deliver a clear rebuke to Trump's Republicans in the midterms, forcing a change of tack and bolstering hopes of regime change in 2020.

Some European politicians hailed Democratic gains in the House as proof of a shift. Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, said Americans had chosen "hope over fear, civility over rudeness, inclusion over racism."

But the outcome fell short of the "blue wave" some had hoped for. Republicans were able to strengthen their majority in the Senate, the chamber that has traditionally played the biggest role on foreign policy.

And in several high-profile House, Senate, and governor races – in states such as Iowa, Florida, Georgia, and Texas – Republicans closely allied with Trump emerged victorious.

Mr. Roettgen said he saw the outcome as a "normalization" of Trump and confirmation that his "hostile takeover" of the Republican Party has been successful.

One area where Democrats could rein in Trump is on Saudi Arabia, whose killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month has fueled a backlash in Congress and threatens to block arms sales.

A more intense focus on Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election will limit Trump's ability to work with President Vladimir Putin. Democrats in the House could also push for more sanctions against Moscow, including measures that would punish European firms involved in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

"We can say with a large amount of confidence that of course no bright prospects for normalizing Russian-American relations can be seen on the horizon," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Further trade skirmishes with China, Germany loom

Trade is one area where presidents can act without congressional approval. And several European diplomats and analysts said they expected Trump to keep the conflict with China alive, or even intensify it, as his domestic agenda stalls.

Troubles at home also increases the likelihood that Trump follows through on his threats to confront Europe on trade, including punishing Germany with tariffs on car imports.

A visit to the White House in June by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker brought a ceasefire. But last month, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross accused the EU of holding up progress on trade and said Trump's patience was "not unlimited."

"Trump deeply believes that the EU and especially the Germans are taking US to the cleaners," said Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official who is research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"I fully expect that if he is encountering political problems at home he will look for new confrontations."

This story was reported by Reuters. Additional reporting by John Irish and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris, Robin Emmott, Anne Kauranen and Phil Blenkinsop in Helsinki, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Alastair Macdonald in Brussels.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to After US midterms, growing concern in Europe over Trump foreign policy
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2018/1107/After-US-midterms-growing-concern-in-Europe-over-Trump-foreign-policy
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe