The new U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, is quickly becoming Europe’s favorite bête noire. He seems to share his boss’ uncanny ability to offend people with a potent combination of professional incompetence and personal arrogance. Within hours of taking up his post in early May, he had tweeted out a demand that Europeans disinvest from Iran, essentially commanding his hosts to heed President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Iranian nuclear deal. Then last week, he gave an interview with Breitbart, a right-wing website that operates in both Europe and the United States, announcing his intention to “empower” conservative parties within Europe. The message to the German government was clear: the new U.S. ambassador intended to back its domestic political opponents.
In combination with a disastrously divisive G-7 meeting last week, these remarks have rekindled fears in Europe that the Trump administration will seek to stoke the populist wave that is shaking European politics. European establishment politicians fear that the United States’ support for their illiberal opponents will give these groups ever more strength in their struggles against Brussels. But the problem for Europe is not an American campaign to empower European populists; it is that the United States no longer sees the value in having a strategic vision for Europe at all.
AMERICA THE SELF-INTERESTED
European fears about Trumpian interference in European domestic politics have a legitimate basis. Early in the administration, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and former executive chairman of Breitbart, seemed intent on empowering populists as he reached out to anti-establishment politicians in Europe and as Breitbart established outlets in Europe. But then Bannon was unceremoniously ejected from the White House, and the Trump administration seemed to drift toward a more conventional Republican foreign policy. In the first year of the Trump administration, populist European leaders, such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, saw Trump as a potential weapon in their struggle with the EU establishment and were disappointed by his
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