In that interview, Trump spoke candidly about the European Union and its current troubles.
The president-elect is much less sanguine about the future of the EU itself. A combination of economic woes and the migrant crisis will, he believes, lead to other countries leaving. “People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But, I do believe this, if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it . . . entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. . . I believe others will leave. I do think keeping it together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think. And I think this, if refugees keep pouring into different parts of Europe . . . I think it’s gonna be very hard to keep it together because people are angry about it.”Trump is clearly a Euroskeptic; in other words, he sees the project of the European Union--created for the purpose of forging a superstate not unlike the United States out of the many disparate nations of Western, Central, and Eastern Europe--as problematic.
The way the EU has developed, when a country joins the Union, that nation gives up a significant amount of its national sovereignty, including the right to establish and police its own borders. Instead, the various bureaucracies of the EU makes those decisions. That is the essential problem, as Trump views these things. The 'natives' of the various European states are getting restless, as they see the power to make their own decisions about their own countries depleted and turned over Brussels bureaucrats. This is especially true when it comes to mass immigration.
While he expresses admiration for Angela Merkel, Mr Trump believes that she made 'one catastrophic mistake' by welcoming an unlimited number of Syrian refugees. More than one million migrants from north Africa and the Middle East arrived between 2015 and 2016. He adds that he believes the West should have built safe zones in Syria — paid for by the Gulf — to limit the surge. 'I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from.'
There is no rancour or glee in his prediction of the break-up of the EU, quite the opposite. His demeanour is warm and genial, the flame-throwing rhetoric of his rallies and press conferences replaced with showers of compliments. He describes Jean-Claude Juncker as a very fine gentleman, and says that he has great respect for Mrs Merkel.
His pessimism about the EU is rooted in his view of it as anti-jobs and anti-growth. And it springs, as so much of his world view does, from his experience as a businessman rather than any ideological preconception.
Mr Trump’s view is that Europe is dominated by Germany, and Britain was wise to extract itself: 'You look at the European Union and it’s Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That’s why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out.'President Obama was opposed to the Brexit vote, Trump was in favor of it. The UK, to everyone's surprise, voted in favor of getting out of the EU. Trump's position was vindicated by the British public, and so it should be no big surprise to anyone that he is now talking about working closely with the current UK leadership to forge a new and closer alliance.
The rest of the EU is creaking and groaning toward the future. The Euroskeptical nationalist (so-called 'far-right') parties of the various EU countries are gaining in popularity and political power, again mostly because of their loss of power to determine such crucial issues as immigration and counter-terrorism. Right or wrong, it seems clear that Trump is not opposed to a fragmenting of the European Union.
Trump is also opposed to mass, uncontrolled immigration, whether it's from Mexico and Central America into the US, or from the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe. Such immigration threatens the historical and national identity of the Western countries and given the importance of nationalism to his worldview, it's no wonder that he opposes it. And when you add in the threat of Islamic jihadist terrorism, well, what more needs to be said?
But it's not just the EU, it's also the NATO alliance. Trump has been openly critical of NATO, which has led to much gnashing of teeth both in Europe and in the American political Establishment.
Mr Trump’s hostility to the EU has been matched by his scepticism towards another pillar of the postwar order, Nato. But the president-elect was at pains to emphasise that he is committed to the defence of Europe and the West. His concerns are, principally, that Nato had not reformed to meet the main threat that we face — Islamist terrorism — and its members had relied too heavily on America. “I said a long time ago that Nato had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said Nato was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.Add to all this Trump's view on Russia and you have the makings of a sea change in American foreign policy (and I haven't even brought up China!). One of Trump's long-standing views is that we need to try and normalize our relations with post-Communist Russia, given the fact that they have left their Marxist-Leninist ideology behind and restored their old Russian identity, which is (potentially) much less hostile to the US, Europe, and the world.
“And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries. But a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, Nato is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
One of the least discussed realities of the last 20 years is how the US (and its European allies) pushed the NATO military alliance toward the new borders of Russia, in the process antagonizing the Russian leaders and causing them to become both defensive and increasingly hostile toward the West. Trump has tried to reverse this process, though in the process infuriating the Western foreign policy Establishment.
Bottom-line, Trump's views are almost diametrically opposed to the foreign policy Establishment of both Republican and Democratic parties. He has honestly earned their enmity.
It strikes me that if Trump could turn back the clock to around 1991--when we were still friends with Russia, before NAFTA, before the Iraq Invasion, etc.--and start over again, he would. And perhaps that's exactly what he's trying to do. He probably won't succeed, but hang on, because,one, he's starting to shake things up, and two, it doesn't pay to be too skeptical of the Donald.