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Is Europe America’s Friend or Foe?

Since Donald Trump took office as US president, a new cottage industry in rational theories of his seemingly irrational behavior has developed. On one issue, however, no amount of theorizing has made sense of Trump: his treatment of America's oldest and most reliable ally.

PARIS – Since Donald Trump became US president in January 2017, his conduct has been astonishingly erratic, but his policies have been more consistent than foreseen by most observers. Trump’s volatility has been disconcerting, but on the whole he has acted in accordance with promises made on the campaign trail and with views held long before anyone considered his election possible. Accordingly, a new cottage industry in rational theories of Trump’s seemingly irrational behavior has developed.

The latest challenge is to make sense of his stance towards Europe. At a rally on June 28, he said: “We love the countries of the European Union. But the European Union, of course, was set up to take advantage of the United States. And you know what, we can’t let that happen.” During his recent trip to the continent, he called the EU “a foe” and said it was “possibly as bad as China.” Regarding Brexit, he declared that British Prime Minister Theresa May should have “sued” the EU. Then came the truce, on July 25: Trump and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, agreed to work jointly on an agenda of free trade and World Trade Organization reform.

So it seems we are friends again – or perhaps just resting before the dispute resumes. But the deeper question remains: Why has Trump repeatedly attacked America’s oldest and most reliable ally? Why does he seem to despise the EU so deeply? Why should the US try to undermine Europe, rather than seeking closer cooperation to protect its economic and geopolitical interests?

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