In the Bible’s Book of Exodus, the Egyptian Pharaoh sends his massive army in pursuit of fleeing Israelis until the sea closes over them with disastrous result: “And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:23). At the moment, it feels as though U.S. foreign policy is a bit like the Egyptian army, charging into a highly dangerous situation, with waves about to come crashing down and little thoughtful leadership on display.
At the prestigious Munich Security Conference, for example, European anxiety over U.S. erratic foreign policy choices thus far was on constant display. Europeans over the weekend cited Trump’s highly ambivalent commentary on Russian aggression, the potential jettisoning of the two-state solution in Israel, and the dramatic volte-face on challenging China’s “one-China” policy. The Europeans were particularly rattled by a sense that support to NATO was purely transactional — essentially conditional based on how much they chipped into the alliance coffers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave by far the best speech at the conference, providing a firm argument against the idea that Europe is the only beneficiary of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Her point, well phrased from a platform that included unpersuasive canned statements from new U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (both of whom declined to answer questions from the floor), was logical and well-received: the U.S. benefits greatly from the trans-Atlantic relationship. She is correct.
While personally moderating a key panel at the Munich Security Conference on the future of the alliance that included Defense Ministers from five NATO nations (the U.K., France, Netherlands, Canada and Turkey), I could feel the nervousness in their voices.