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Sunday, 13 November 2016

The “Pax Americana” might fall into a coma with future president Donald Trump. Europe should therefore use the election of Trump as an opportunity to get its own act together

If you only look in the wrong direction
You might miss the train that hits you
Ernst Labruyère – 2016

The victory of president-elect Donald Trump and the unexpectedly large defeat of Hillary Clinton – at least with respect to the number of gained states – last Tuesday left the Dutch and European media even more in shock & awe than I already expected.

Afterward, the Dutch media licked their wounds and wondered “what the hell” went wrong and how they could have missed this successful grasp for power by someone, who they thought to be little more than a narcissistic windbag and a rude, discriminatory and extremely offensive populist with a big mouth and a very bad taste for everything.

As a matter of fact, most European media – as well as a lot of American media from Democratic strongholds, like New York, Washington and Los Angeles – missed the ‘cue’ and looked at the unfolding events in sheer amazement and cluelessness, like a rabbit looks in the headlights of a car: frozen and unable to respond.

One of the very few people, who predicted the outcome of these elections right, was Michael Moore, the stubborn, humouristic and ever-teasing filmmaker with the obstinate opinions and the flawless feel for the “zeitgeist” in his country. He did so in a “must-read” article that dealt with the seeds of Trump’s success in the American society. Most others missed the boat! It seemed that the Dutch, European AND American press had forgotten the dear lesson that the following slogan brings: “if you only look in the wrong direction, you might miss the train that hits you!”. 

An intelligent explanation for this professional blindness of – at least – the Dutch media for the unstoppable rise of Donald Trump, was printed in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant in an Op-Ed by Thom Schelstraete, Student at Journalism:

Why the Dutch news consumer received a totally distorted image of the election contest, seems quite simple to me: journalists, correspondents and opinion makers don’t get in touch with those 59,692,978 republican voters often enough. Check only the map that the website “De Buitenlandredactie” (i.e. the foreign editors) published, upon the whereabouts of the Dutch America- correspondents.

The locations of all the Dutch
America-correspondents in the United States.
Picture courtesy of
Click to enlarge
Of the twenty-odd Dutch correspondents in the United States, the far majority lives in New York; four others live in Washington D.C. and a couple live in California. These are all states and cities that have voted Democratic for decades. Normally there is no correspondent in a traditionally republican state or a swing state whatsoever to assess the situation and the moods of the people living there.

That sums it up quite accurately.

It is the same as trying to understand the Dutch culture, by only visiting Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague and forgetting to ask for the general opinion in rural towns like Staphorst, Hengelo, Roermond and Vlissingen. 

The aforementioned Dutch towns and cities and their American counterparts are the places where people think radically different than in the mondaine and modern cities where most correspondents reside, irrespective of the fact whether they are in The Netherlands or the United States.

And now...?! Now is Trump president and Europe has to deal with it!

I am clueless about how Donald Trump will develop in the coming four years:
  • Will Trump turn into the Ronald Reagan of the 21st Century? A president who seemed initially very dangerous for peace and stability in the world, as well as for the environment, but who eventually helped to end the Cold War by developing good relations with Michail Gorbachev; 
  • Or will Trump, after speaking those soothing words immediately after his election, still turn into the narcissistic and egocentric monster that so many people see in him. A president, who plays every dirty trick in the book, in order to gain absolute power and who will abuse this unlimited power for his own wealth, status and influence alone? Perhaps a president, who will bring the world in a devastating war with... whoever?!
Suffice it to say that I almost can’t believe that Trump will sing a radically different tune after his very dirty, aggressive and nihilistic campaign! And the first signals of his behaviour and political opinions – a few days after the election night and the subsequent day – are indeed not encouraging.

Irrespective of what happens with Donald Trump in the coming years, it seems quite clear indeed that the United States – as founder and watchman of the “Pax Americana” – have supported this ‘American peace’ for the longest time.

Europe and the NATO cannot automatically count on it that the United States will always foot the bill and take the main responsibility for their security and prosperity, while European countries take this American role for granted and are even too frugal themselves to meet the “2% of GDP” threshold, regarding defence expenditure.

To the objective eye, the situation with respect to the Pax Americana was – although initially unavoidable – in fact quite absurd and very unhealthy for both the United States and Europe. 

It obviously failed to let both continents evolve as equal partners with respect to the defence of their own territory. The European naivety that the subsequent American governments would remain sponsoring this Pax Americana “for eternity and beyond” was almost pathetic, but the European countries enjoyed the party to the fullest, while it lasted.

While Western Europe thrived under the American army protection and developed into the economic powerhouse that it became eventually, the Americans themselves invested berzerk amounts of dollars in their defence system, as well in the development of more modern and decisive weapons for any combat situation and any military strategy. The American weapons arsenal therefore became gargantuous and totally out of proportion, with annual defence spendings that outranked all other countries in the world combined(!) in sheer numbers.

Europe slept like a baby under the American nuclear umbrella, when the world was still divided in two camps. Nobody blamed Europe for not being able to offer the same nuclear firepower as the USA, and for the US itself the role as ‘defender of last resort’ on behalf of the Western World was an obvious role, that they would not have had any other way.

However, when the Berlin wall fell and the “sole enemy for all NATO-countries” Russia (i.e. initially the Soviet Union and its vassal states) was replaced by a diffuse group of unbound, supranational enemies (i.e. Al Qaida and later IS) from Islamic countries, the situation became quite awkward for both the United States and a strategic partnership like the NATO. The NATO was simply not formed and trained to execute asymetric warfare and guerilla wars against non-formal, "stateless" enemies that didn't care about borders and civil casualties, like terrorist groups and unofficial religious armies in the Arab world.

On top of that, the allied (NATO) forces became involved in a number of territorial wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, that were lightyears removed from the NATO’s raison d’etre (i.e the arms race against the Soviet Union and the defence of the Western Countries in peace- and wartime). 
Especially the war in Iraq seemed rather to enforce the personal, hidden agenda of George “Dubya” Bush, than to diminish the influence of terrorism in the Middle-East.

And in the end the NATO itself seemed more and more desperately looking for new member states, as well as an enemy to fight with; an enemy that would prolong the reason for its sheer existance and new member states that would act as new disciples of the post-Cold War NATO doctrines. 

Hence: the NATO’s flirtations in former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia and the organization’s happy smile and Cold War rhetorics when Vladimir Putin fired up Russia’s return to the top of the military food chain: “Hurrah, our old archenemy is back on track, so now we have a reason to further expand again and to do more military investments”.

All in all, the unbalanced defence investments in Europe and the United States, as well as the unclear future strategy and raison d'etre for the NATO in combination with its aggressive expansion strategy in Eastern Europe, were an accident waiting to happen. 

And now, in November 2016, all European countries are genuinely panicking when pondering about the implications of Donald Trump’s election to American president; totally not knowing what to do: 

“What the heck! He would not withdraw the American support to the NATO, wouldn’t he?! Ooh, that would be terrible! That would be really terrible, now Vladimir Putin is after our European scalps! 

And Trump even likes that guy, can you believe it? Oh my God, oh my God , OH MY GOD!!! We are in big, big trouble. Mother, help us!”

The odds that the cherished Pax Americana might sink into a long and deep coma, are substantial, with Trump as executive commander in chief of the American military forces. And the question will be, whether it might ever get out of it again. 

Perhaps the stupidoust thing is that Europe could have seen it coming from a long, long distance. President Barrack Obama already told Europe on a few occasions – in shrouded sentences – that the American support for the old continent would not last forever, when the European defence investments would not dramatically increase. However, the European countries chose to ignore that “message to the deaf”, still hoping that the Democrat governments of Barrack Obama and (later) Hillary Clinton would stand shoulder to shoulder with these frugal Europeans.

But now the worst thing happened: Donald Trump became president-elect. And Donald Trump is crystal clear about the American involvement in the NATO: they will form a good source for massive cutbacks and austerity. 

President Donald Trump defends the American territory and the American interests alone. And Europe... should look after itself.

But look at it from the bright side: perhaps Donald Trump should and could act as the “Cold Turkey” shock therapy that the inert European continent desperately needed, in order to get its own act together. Maybe it’s a weird idea, but the election of president Donald Trump could be a blessing in disguise after all for Europe.

The side-effects of this election paint in unambiguous pictures how vulnerable and uneasy the European stance has been since the end of the Cold War. And now – with Trump at the helm – Europe can’t simply rest on its laurels anymore and must act to not step into the pitfall of economic, political and military helplessness.

The worst that could happen now is that the European Union falls apart as a consequence of societal acrimony in the member states and inter-European quarrels between the same member states. 

The thought that 27 single member states are stronger and politically healthier than the European Union as a whole, is preposterous and should be abolished as soon as possible. And when this very Union does not function good, there should be more (hurried) initiatives to improve it and make it better and more democratic in the long run. A better functioning and more democratic union would sweep the wind away from the sails of the populist parties all over the European continent and the United Kingdom

The only thing that Europe can do, is act as a team to combinedly undertake the challenges of a more and more polarized world, in which not only Russia and China will be the obvious competitors (or enemies), but even our long-time ally, the United States.

Wake up... and smell the coffee, Europe. Or you will miss the boat... And don’t listen to the Pied Pipers that drag you in the wrong direction, where desperation and conflicts lurk for many of us.

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