Trump upset Angela Merkel, and that's a good thing
© Getty Images

The New York Times had this headline: “After Summits With Trump, Merkel Says Europe Must Take Fate Into Own Hands.” 

The Washington Post had this: “Following Trump’s trip, Merkel says Europe can’t rely on ‘others.’ She means the U.S.” 

And CNN posted this story on their website: “While campaigning, Merkel says Europeans can't 'completely' rely on US, others.”

Looks like President Trump’s meetings with European leaders were disasters, doesn’t it?

Perhaps we ought to take a closer look. 

How does one judge whether a U.S. president has had a successful meeting with foreign leaders? 

Is a meeting a success if all the leaders discuss in a friendly and respectful way their different positions on issues and, even if they are unable to come to substantive agreements, they all agree to continue such discussions in the future? 

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Or, at least from the U.S. perspective, does success mean that, even if there are discordant and harsh interchanges among the leaders, the position advocated by the U.S. president is ultimately accepted by all?

 

If the latter is closer to the truth, then Trump has just concluded a remarkably successful meeting with our traditional European allies. 

The Europeans now apparently agree with a key position Trump has been pushing since entering politics: Europe must play a greater role — and pay for a greater role — in its own defense and rely less than it used to on the U.S. military.

Thus, what the mainstream media has been portraying as an abject failure could more accurately be described as a shining victory.

There are 28 member states in NATO. As members, they have all agree to the goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. In 2015, only five NATO states — the U.S., Great Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland — met or exceeded that 2 percent goal. 

The U.S. expended the most — more than 3.5 percent of its GDP — of any member state. Germany, which enjoys one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world, expended only a little more than 1 percent of its GDP on defense.

Now, one might agree with Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Poll: Trump, Biden in dead heat in 2020 matchup Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on MORE (I-VT), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging Democratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men MORE (D-Mass.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCoronavirus in Congress: Lawmakers who have tested positive Pennsylvania congressman tests positive for coronavirus South Carolina congressman tests positive for coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) and others that the U.S. spends entirely too much on defense, and that money spent on defense could be better spent in other ways. Under present circumstances, that is not a position I would agree with, but it is a perfectly respectable and defensible one.

But, again, when a state joins NATO it voluntarily agrees to a goal of expending two percent of its GDP on defense. If the U.S. spends too much on defense, is that a reason Germany should spend too little? 

All U.S. citizens should be able to agree that it would be easier for the U.S. to prudently decrease its defense expenditures if our allies would increase their own expenditures to the goals they agreed to on joining NATO.

So, Chancellor Angela Merkel is unhappy with Trump. This is, from the American perspective, a good sign, not a bad sign. One prime reason for her unhappiness is certainly the dawning recognition that Trump was not just flapping his lips when he campaigned on pressuring our allies to shoulder a fairer portion of the weight and expense of the common defense. 

Trump clearly meant what he said, and that means Merkel and other European leaders will have to budget for greater defense expenditures — taking money from popular social-welfare programs and spending it on the military. No political leader prefers to build submarines rather than superhighways; the latter garner lots more votes. But why should the U.S. continue to pay more than its fair share, when most other NATO members aren’t paying their fair share?

Is Europe about to abandon NATO and become a satellite of Putin’s Russia because Trump insists that NATO goals be met? 

Is Merkel, who grew up in East Germany under a communist regime, about to jettison capitalism and institute state ownership of the means of production? 

Perhaps, but I very much doubt it.

Editorialists wail that Trump is somehow causing the U.S. to forfeit its role as the leader of the West. This view, to put it bluntly, is nuts. Trump says that NATO states ought to pay more towards their own defense, and European leaders (unhappily) announce that henceforth they will have to rely more on their own resources to defend themselves.

Trump says: pay more, and the Europeans say: okay, we’ll pay more, but we’re not happy about it. And this is supposed to be a failure of leadership?

I would have thought that a leader is successful if he or she announces a proposed course, and others agree to follow that course. That is the definition of success in leadership, and particularly so if others were not at all eager to follow the proposed course. 

But, then again, maybe I need new glasses.

David E. Weisberg is an attorney and a member of the New York State bar. His writing has appeared in the Social Science Research Network and The Times of Israel.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.