While serving in the U.S. military, and then later with the United Nations, I spent well over two decades in foreign lands, including Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In those many years of living abroad— in all of my travels—and despite some truly awful foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government during this period, citizens of other nations often expressed an open and enduring admiration for our home country. Tragically, and over the last more than three years, that seems no longer true.
Because I currently live in Europe, I read the internationally oriented newspapers every day. There may only be a few democratically minded European Union leaders who do not privately despair over the antics of the current Oval Office occupant. Most seem to consider the man clownish—but clowns are supposed to be funny. From their perspective, this president clearly lacks capability, capacity and focus, while possessing no diplomatic skills. The British writer Nate White puts the matter this way: “He has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassions, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honor and no grace…”
Moreover, he appears to have only a passing acquaintance with the truth, ignores science and condemns media representatives that have the temerity to ask questions concerning a plethora of wide ranging nonfactual executive pronouncements. European leaders tend to tolerate him because of his inheritance of the twin cudgels of a large and effective military force, while representing a major trading partner.
Russia is a special case. Vladimir Putin no doubt appreciates the current White House resident. After all, his intelligence services may have had something to do with putting the multiple-bankrupted real estate mogul behind the storied Resolute Desk. From the Kremlin’s perspective he is a “useful idiot.” The confusion, incompetency and corruption that follows Air Force One wherever it flies provides some inkling of Moscow’s success in bringing America low.
Unfortunately, his only regular supporters in the international community are right-wing tyrants. While support to such as these may have been our practice in the past, it was a policy that was tolerated to contain Communism. What is our excuse now?
There was a time when America stood for something positive around the globe beyond self-interest. Europe appreciated this fact most of all. Despite America’s many missteps, the cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy used to be spreading democracy and free enterprise, while focusing on matters of international justice and human rights, even if the latter issues were sometimes given mere lip service.
Those heady days appear to be all but gone. I always thought that what made America great could be found in its foundational instruments: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Because of the aspirations found within these keystone documents, Europeans formerly embraced our nation as the “leader of the free world.” From their perspective, this president has perverted that long-standing, hard-won and honorable appellation with an “America First” doctrine. The result is that we are no longer first nor leader.
There was a time when we aspired to be better than the sum of our parts. Sadly, we may have already been shoved off that pedestal by what many Europeans perceive is a self-absorbed bully and braggart. The leadership of the European Union looks on in muted horror as he veers from one preventable disaster to the next, while blaming everyone but himself for repeated negative outcomes. His mishandling of protests and riots across the country provide yet another example of his failure as national leader.
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The bottom line: Few on this side of the Atlantic trust him. Where there is no trust, there is nothing but naked self-interest and personal gain. Is this what America stands for now? A recent article in the Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole states, “The world has loved, hated and envied the U.S. Now for the first time, we pity it.” The reason he states is, “Donald Trump.” This is a pity indeed.
Robert Bruce Adolph is a former Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel and United Nations chief security adviser, who holds graduate degrees in both international affairs and national security studies and strategy. His previously published works have appeared in nearly every U.S. military publication of note. Most recently, he penned the commentary series “Dispatch from Rome” for the Military Times. Adolph also published the book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge.” He lives in Rome.