“VIENNA — In 1991, I arrived in Detroit for my first-ever visit to the United States. My hosts, from the now-defunct United States Information Agency, were determined to show me and the other Bulgarians in my group not only the American dream but also America’s underbelly. Before we could tour the city, we received instructions on how to comport ourselves in supposedly dangerous places. Our American hosts were clear that if we didn’t want to become victims, we shouldn’t behave like one. Walking in the middle of the street and looking around nervously in the hope of spotting a police officer would only increase the likelihood of getting mugged. Keep your bearings, they stressed.
Ever since President Trump’s election in 2016, we Europeans have been following that same advice when it comes to international politics. We are preoccupied with not allowing ourselves to look like a victim, in the hope that this will prevent us from being mugged in a world abandoned by its once-trusted sheriff.
As Mr. Trump has insulted international institutions and abandoned allies from Syria to the Korean Peninsula, policymakers on this side of the Atlantic have found themselves trying to walk a fine line: On the one hand, they want to hedge against Washington turning its back on Europe; on the other, they want to ensure that their hedging doesn’t push the Trump administration even farther away.
Consequently, European policies toward the United States have been oscillating between grandstanding about our ability to do everything on our own and panicked pretending that everything is as it used to be. See, for example, when President Emmanuel Macron of France recently proclaimed that NATO was experiencing “brain death” and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany quickly responded by insisting that “NATO remains vital to our security.”