Europeans react with relief and unease at Trump’s healthcare defeat
The relief is not because Europeans prefer some other kind of contents for the healthcare bill. They do not know or care much about it.
But there is cause now for cautious hope that Congress will not allow Trump to reduce it to his plaything. He is finding out that he has less power in American politics than he imagined.
Most European capitals were concerned that victory in Congress on a healthcare bill cobbled together so hastily would have inflated Trump’s sense of invincibility, which is already so prominent in his thoughts.
Victory might have made him feel more empowered to implement the European aspects of his foreign policy ideas. Much of what he has said so far about Britain, France, Germany and the European Union is anathema to European governments (other than Britain).
The most irritating thing for European leaders is Trump’s mockery of their attempts to pool national sovereignty to fortify the bargaining power they need to stare down China, Russia and the US.
The pooling is also necessary to keep the peace in Europe and build democracies strong enough to resist challenges from authoritarian ideas flowing out of Russia and China.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the influential president of the European Commission which is the EU’s unelected secretariat, was blunt in an interview with the Financial Times, a prestigious British newspaper.
He voiced annoyance and surprise at Trump’s call to other EU members to follow Britain’s example of quitting the 28-nation group (it will have 27 members after Britain leaves).
“Do not invite others to leave, because if the European Union collapses, you will have a new war in the western Balkans,” Juncker said. “For the first time in postwar history we have an American president giving the impression he is not interested in European affairs… By the way, he does not understand anything about Europe.”
Trump’s views about NATO, the separate military alliance that includes most EU members, also disturb Europeans because they have always relied on US military protection to underwrite stability in Europe.
Trump has said he wants to overhaul NATO because it is outdated and Europeans must shoulder more financial and military burdens for the collective security that it provides.
The healthcare bill’s withdrawal from a Congressional vote today raises hope that Trump’s protectionist agenda on trade with the EU and the huge military buildup he wants will also get bogged down in Congress.
That might moderate his flamboyance and force him to return to existing folds of the world order that EU governments, especially Germany and France, support. His foreign policies might be less disruptive if Congressional opposition ties his hands.
But there is also unease that the healthcare bill was withdrawn not because of Trump’s blinkered ideas but vicious fragmentation plaguing Congress.
It succumbed to intractable squabbles among factions within Republicans in Congress. Despite his dramatic victory in the November 2016 elections, Trump does not have enough political capital to unite the right wing, moderate and other Republicans behind him.
That gives cause for concern about political stability in the US and America’s leadership in foreign affairs.
These internecine wars among Republicans do not bode well for coherence among US-led allies at a time when the EU’s internal cohesion is wobbling as never before.
The ferocity of partisan wars in Congress scares Europeans because the US was the undisputed and indispensable leader of the Western bloc, including the EU.
This leadership looks untrustworthy now because of Trump’s maverick ideas aggravated by the increasing viciousness of Congressional politics.