I disagree with President Trump's trade war ambitions, his public insults of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and his call for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7. But it is ludicrous to claim that Trump is shredding the Western liberal order.
Of course, that's exactly the impression you'll get if you listen to most Western foreign policy analysts. They're claiming that Trump is fraying the functional fabric of the Western alliance by insulting allies and rejecting the communique from last weekend's G-7 summit.
Such assessments are very silly.
Because the measure of this alliance is not defined by the rhetoric of those who lead it, but rather by the action, capabilities, and resolve that its participating nations bring to bear. While much of this action involves vast economic ties between the U.S. and Europe and Japan, the truest measure of the alliance is that of hard power. And that measure finds rendering in the U.S. military's unceasing work to preserve the international order.
Moreover, where they exist, the alliance's functional weaknesses are not President Trump's fault but the function of choices by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trudeau and the European Union. Specifically, those leaders' utter disregard for hard power that deters adversaries such as Russia. Without America's noble choice to carry the outsize burden of this alliance, it would have no choice but to yield to Vladimir Putin's blackmail and aggression.
To get around this fact, Trump's over-energetic detractors focus on style over substance. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, for example, is regurgitating creative accounting to claim that Trump is wrong in his claims that the U.S. pays for an outsize share of NATO. Kessler does so by pretending that Trump is talking about NATO's bureaucratic operating budget rather than its military capabilities (which is clearly what Trump is referencing). The distinction is crucial because while the U.S. contribution to the former metric is balanced, its contribution to the latter is vastly greater than that of any other nation.
And the distinction also matters because if it ever comes to the crunch, the liberal international order won't rest on tweets by Trump or his detractors, nor on liberal communiques from the G-7. That order will rest on the power of combined arms formations to destroy an adversary's combined arms formations.
Even then, many foreign policy elites claim that the U.S. unfairly criticizes its allies' defense contributions because it fails to recognize that those nations spend a higher share of national income on development aid and broader considerations of "soft power." But to those assertions I always come back with one simple riposte: How many Russian tanks can an aid grant stop from seizing Tallinn, Warsaw, or Berlin?
Trump's detractors are being very silly. But ultimately it's a truth best encapsulated by the photo (upper right) European Council president and avowed Trump critic Donald Tusk tweeted of himself at last weekend's G-7 summit.
Day 2 of #G7Charlevoix Summit has started. I will continue working with all G7 partners to defend our shared values and interests. pic.twitter.com/0CEJCKNUGa— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) June 9, 2018
That staring ignoramus says everything about this situation. Rather than respecting Trump for his democratic office and the power he commands in support of common security, Trump is presented as the puppet enemy of enlightened order. To adapt some Shakespeare, it's a jest of shallow wit and no substance.