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The Transatlantic Leadership Void

Since the end of World War II, the United States, as the dominant European (and world) power, has piloted transatlantic security. But under President Donald Trump, the US isn’t doing much leading, and it is not always even clear who in Trump’s administration is really in charge.

WASHINGTON, DC – Transatlantic security today looks a lot like a ghost plane. With the “crew” incapacitated – that is, bereft of ideas or leadership – it is flying on autopilot until it inevitably hits something or runs out of fuel and comes crashing down. To avoid disaster, those in the cockpit need to wake up – and soon.

Since the end of World War II, the United States, as the dominant European (and world) power, has piloted transatlantic security. But under President Donald Trump, the US isn’t doing much leading. Indeed, it is not even clear who in Trump’s administration is really in charge any more. Today, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s apocryphal question – “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” – can just as easily be tossed back across the Atlantic.

When Trump came to power, America’s European allies (and much of the rest of the world) thought they knew the answer to that question. They hoped that, whatever bluster issued from the White House, the US would ultimately support the status quo. US policy, they told themselves, would be dictated not by Trump’s tweet storms, but by the more reliable “adults” in his government – Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first secretary of state; H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser; and James Mattis, Trump’s secretary of defense.

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