Courting Putin, Trump jolts West

Associated Press


As Donald Trump presses ahead with plans for a summer summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president is jolting relationships with some of America’s longest and strongest allies. Amid concerns over Trump’s apparent desire to be cozy with the Russian leader, he is pursuing increasingly nationalistic foreign and trade policies and delivering scathing personal attacks on traditionally friendly leaders who don’t share his views.

The White House announced Thursday that national security adviser John Bolton would travel to Moscow next week, after stops in London and Rome, to discuss the potential Trump-Putin meeting, expected to be held in the Austrian capital of Vienna in the days following NATO’s July 11-12 leaders’ summit in Brussels. Administration officials say a White House advance team has traveled to Vienna to scout locations and make other logistical preparations for a summit should it come off.

Bolton’s stops in Britain and Italy may be designed to assuage nervous Europeans about Trump’s intentions for the Putin meeting, which would come just weeks after Trump stunned European allies by suggesting that Russia should be re-admitted to the Group of Seven club of industrialized economies without forsaking its annexation of Crimea for which it was expelled in 2014.

Yet the hawkish Bolton’s discussions in the European capitals are unlikely to smooth over what are becoming widening fractures in the trans-Atlantic relationship that the president has seemed to welcome.

To Trump, the tough approach to allies constitutes a long-needed reassertion of U.S. sovereignty following a worrying period of decline in which Washington was too deferential, too politically correct on the world stage and too trusting of global institutions to look out for America’s best interests. Those who complain that the status quo is being upended, Trump argues, are correct – and missing the point.

And the list of spurned parties is quickly growing. Trump’s pursuit of his “America First” agenda has put the U.S. at odds with the rest of the G-7 democracies, sowed major divisions with Europe and Canada and risks altering the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

Nowhere, though, have the tensions crystallized more than in Europe, where concerns about Moscow are visceral and closer to home. In recent weeks, Trump has attacked Germany’s chancellor, ignored her and the leaders of Britain and France, embraced Italy’s new populist prime minister and congratulated Hungary’s authoritarian premier.

The result has alarmed many who view the trans-Atlantic partnership to be a bedrock of post-World War II international stability and security. But it has also left America isolated as administration promises that “America First does not mean America Alone” appear to fall by the wayside.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a speech in Los Angeles this week about democracy, warned the mounting damage to the trans-Atlantic partnership “could be irreparable.”

“I believe that the United States needs partners, and it needs these partners,” Steinmeier said. “However, America can only recognize such a partnership if it regards the ‘West’ as more than a geographical term, and the world as more than a boxing ring in which everyone fights against everyone else.”

Supporters of Trump’s approach say that’s easy for Europe and other allies to say. They argue that the allies have taken advantage of the U.S. for decades, with America shouldering much of the burden for the West’s security and defense. They have also benefited from trade and economic policies that Trump’s administration believes are robbing the American economy.

“The era of American complacency in the international marketplace is over,” Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro wrote this month in an op-ed in The New York Times.

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