Here we are, at this predictable moment, so imagined and so feared that we had come to think of it as something that had happened a long time ago. We had learned to live with it to the point where it did not seem to have the effects it was supposed to have …
I am talking about this Dr. Strangelove Moment of the daily geopolitical chronicle. Dr. Strangelove, for those who have forgotten, is the title character of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film. Convinced that the Soviet Union is conspiring to pollute Americans’ “precious bodily fluids,” the American president decides to launch a nuclear attack on the USSR.
Abandoned by “the last adult in the room” – Secretary of Defense James Mattis – Donald Trump has now become that president who is farther than ever from the forces of reason and more sure of the validity of his instincts.
A president who spends more and more of his workday in his private quarters watching Fox News, the remote in one hand and in the other, the smartphone with which he communicates his decisions to his administration and to the perplexed world. These are all decisions whose one inspiration is Trump’s instinct, which tells him to cut himself off from the entire world – beginning with his allies – all of which is conspiring to take advantage of his country. One cannot deny the coherence of these decisions, which only seemed sudden when there were enough officials in Trump’s entourage to discourage and modify them.
At a meeting where Mattis had, with the help of slides and graphics, shown Trump just how much the United States owed its superpower status to its network of allies, Trump interrupted the presentation with a clear “That is precisely what I do not want.”*
Having turned into a Dr. Strangelove who is much more dangerous than he is threatened – by the new Democratic majority, by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe – Trump is a danger for the security of his own country and of his fellow citizens. This obviously concerns the American political class and citizens first and foremost. But the danger resulting from this mix of isolationism and hysterical egotism also concerns Europe. “Who will persuade Trump not to withdraw from NATO?” a former Israeli ambassador asked on Twitter.
That is a good question. Europe is not used to anticipating crises and, as the philosopher and historian Luuk van Middelaar explains, it only makes important decisions under pressure and when those decisions are urgent. However, even though our European leaders are often entangled in internal crises themselves, they would do well to begin preparing for scenarios that once seemed improbable, scenarios where Europe would all of a sudden find itself entirely on its own, deprived of the American shield in the face of the geostrategic dangers that surround it.
*Editor’s note: This quote, accurately translated, cannot be verified.