Trump's nationalism looms over Europe's WWI commemoration

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(Library of Congress)

President Trump will join a group of more than 60 world leaders in France this weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. In the Western imagination as a hideous (and arguably needless) conflict that killed millions, turned into the fields of Europe into the moonscapes, collapsed empires and prefigured an even bloodier war. Its memory and legacy still offers profound lessons for the present.

In hosting the ceremonies, French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to score a political point. World War I was a clash of violent nationalist passions, fueled by a coterie of power-hungry elites. Now there's a leader in Western Europe and the statesmen in countries such as Hungary challenging the liberal ideals of the European Union and the cooperation and multilateralism that once guaranteed its prosperity.

Macron wants that story of unilateralism and conflict to be a cautionary tale for his contemporaries. "A survival-of-the-fittest approach does not protect any group of people against any kind of threat," he said recently.

"We have been extremely lucky. We have lived through an extremely long period of peace, "said Oxford historian Margaret MacMillan to my colleagues. "The trouble is that we take peace for granted and think it's a normal state of affairs. We should reflect that sometimes.

That message is unlikely to get through to Trump. His treaty busting and allied bullying have strained trans-Atlantic ties and encouraged Europe's anti-establishment forces. United States after World War II: His overt nationalism and embrace of protectionism, critics say, have undermined

Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and co-author of "The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership," said that while Trump and his counterparts are celebrating the end of what's known as the Great War. That is a decision to eschew the internationalism of then-President Woodrow for the isolationism of his interwar successors.

Trump's "America First", also a skepticism about foreign entanglements and fear of immigrants. This circling of the wagons had significant geopolitical consequences.

"In the 1920s, conservative Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover both were binding on the geopolitical order," noted the Atlantic's Peter Beinart in an essay earlier this year. "They saw the difference between Britain and France, which he was more authoritarian," he continued, "and insisted that America remain independent from them all. They opposed Woodrow Wilson's dream of requiring America to aid.

In 1919 and 1920, the U.S. Senate rejected signing the Treaty of Versailles and joining the League of Nations. The American absence could do the project at its birth.

"Why would you like to invest in the agreement if one of its leading proponents, also one of the emerging world powers, refused to participate? Many observers appreciated the domestic politics behind the U.S. rejection of the treaty, but that only deepened long-standing perceptions that the United States was an unreliable partner, "wrote Jeremy Suri, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. "Why should the United States be a free rider? In the decade after the First World War, U.S. actions encouraged unilateralism by other powerful actors, especially Japan, Germany, and the newly formed Soviet Union. "

Donald the steel helmets of the past, Trump has been championed his right to act unilaterally and sneered at the United Nations, the European Union and NATO. "For nationalists like John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, the League has become a byword for the futility of global governance," wrote Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times. "In the 1930s, Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany. The realist-nationalist view was that it was only hard power deployed by nation states – rather than global governance deployed by international institutions – that stood a chance to check the ambitions of dictators. "

But this view gets it right backward, Daalder argued. It was the effects of American disengagement after World War I that convinced the next generation of U.S. Strategists to build the international institutions and security pacts that have been defined as the half of the 20th century and brought lasting peace to Europe. Now, as Daalder and his co-author James Lindsay write, Trump's reckless foreign policy is a new era of "ever-growing disarray" or even to "return to the world of the late 19th century" – the tinderbox that exploded into the world War I.

To be eroded to the United States and to erode norms and standards of behavior, and to erode the principle of cooperation that has been fundamental to U.S. security and prosperity, "Daalder told Today's WorldView. "We know what great power rivalry looks like. We know where it ends up. "

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