West European leaders had hissy fits during the last several days over their displeasure with major elements of President Trump’s foreign policy. The growing split burst out into the open during the recent annual security conference in Munich, Germany, where Vice President Mike Pence laid out the Trump administration’s expectations for America’s West European allies. To sum up the message, Vice President Pence essentially told them to grow up, shoulder more financial responsibility for mutual defense, and stop putting their narrow economic interests over the security interests of the free world when it comes to such adversaries as Iran and Russia.
West European leaders have become used to being coddled by past U.S. presidents. Perhaps for that reason, they treated former Vice President Joe Biden like a long-lost indulgent uncle when he addressed the Munich security conference as a private citizen who is considering a run for the presidency in 2020. He played his audience of foreign dignitaries like a violin, soothing them with the words of solidarity they prefer to hear and with sharp criticism of the Trump administration that was music to their ears.
“The America I see does not wish to turn our back on the world or allies, our closest allies,” Mr. Biden said. “Indeed, the American people understand that it’s only by working in cooperation with our friends that we are going to be able to harness the forces of a rapidly changing world, to mitigate their downsides and turn them to our collective advantage.” Calling America’s policies under our current duly elected president of the United States “an embarrassment,” he declared, “I promise you, as my mother would say, this too shall pass. We will be back. We will be back. Don’t have any doubt about that.”
In stark contrast, Vice President Pence spoke at the security conference, as he did earlier in the week, like a disciplined adult who told his smug audience what they had to hear to meet the challenges of the world today, not the nostalgic bromides they wanted to hear.
“When you hear President Trump ask our NATO allies to live up to the commitments they’ve made to our common defense, that’s what we call being leader of the free world,” Vice President Pence told the Munich security conference as his audience sat mostly in silence.
Asking our NATO allies to contribute more to our common defense is not an abandonment of our allies. Quite the opposite. It is a recognition that we are no longer living in the decades immediately following World War II when European countries were still struggling to get on their feet, the Soviet Union posed an imminent threat, and only the United States could be counted on to bear the full burden of protecting the free world. If Western Europe today expects to be taken seriously as a full partner, it must stop its free-riding on the backs of American taxpayers.
West European countries also need to demonstrate by their actions that they are willing to sacrifice short-term economic advantages to secure the peace. Unfortunately, European countries insist on continuing to do business as usual with the leading state sponsor of terrorism, Iran. Vice President Pence appropriately scolded European leaders for not joining the United States in withdrawing from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing sanctions. “The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region,” Vice President Pence said. “The time has come from our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join us as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany shamelessly tried to portray the Iran nuclear deal as, the New York Times characterized in its report of her remarks, “the best way of influencing Iranian behavior on a range of non-nuclear issues, from missile development to terrorism.” She complained that the split over Iran “depresses me very much.” What is depressing is Chancellor Merkel’s willful blindness to the realities on the ground, where Iran’s missile program and its reach through terrorist proxies are rapidly expanding. All she and her European colleagues really care about is keeping the Iranian market open for European products and services in exchange for Iranian oil.
Germany is also placing its own selfish, parochial interests over the maintenance of European and international peace and security by collaborating with Russia to build the Nordstream 2 pipeline that would send Russian gas directly to Germany without requiring passage through Ukraine. “We can’t ensure the defense of the West if our allies are dependent on the East,” Vice President said in rebuking Chancellor Merkel’s lame attempt to defend her country’s collaboration with Russia.
Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a former adviser to the German president and director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, said, “If an alliance becomes unilateral and transactional, then it’s no longer an alliance.” He and his cohorts in the West European intelligentsia miss the point. President Trump is trying to realign America’s alliance with Europe within a multilateral framework of mutual responsibility rather than codependency. The president intends to continue America’s position as the leader of the free world. However, at the same time he expects our alliance partners to take off their rose colored glasses, worn also by Barack Obama and John Kerry when they were in office, in dealing with adversaries like Iran.
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