Don’t Shut the Blinds: Now is the time for more, not less transatlantic exchange!

Henriette Rytz

German Bundestag

Dr. Henriette Rytz is a foreign policy advisor to Cem Özdemir, member of the Bundestag and head of the Green Party Germany (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen). Before joining his team, she worked as a researcher at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik / German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a Berlin-based foreign policy think tank. Henriette has published widely on questions of foreign policy, U.S. domestic politics, and immigration and integration, including a book that came out in 2013 (“Ethnic Interest Groups in US Foreign-Policy Making: A Cuban-American Story of Success and Failure,” New York: Palgrave Macmillan). Her passion for U.S. politics and transatlantic relations has repeatedly taken her to the U.S. for longer work stints, including at the House of Representatives, the American Institute of Contemporary German Studies in Washington, D.C., and Yale University. Ms. Rytz holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Relations from the Free University Berlin. Ms. Rytz is vice chairperson of the board of Humanity in Action Germany, a transatlantic human rights network.

She is a 2016-2017 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).

Waking up on November 9 to the news of Donald Trump’s victory was a shock—not just for the progressive side of American politics, but also for the vast majority of German politicos (with the exception of the right-wing Alternative for Germany, AfD). Due to the pundits’ widespread confidence in the election of the first female U.S. president, the shock was arguably even greater on this side of the Atlantic. And it hit hard, after the equally unexpected pro-Brexit vote in June and the rise of right-wing populism in German politics, with the AfD entering parliament in several Bundesländer in recent months. Nearing the close of a politically very challenging year, the sudden prospect of Donald Trump as White House resident was a lot to digest.

Besides great concern, reactions in Germany have been dominated by question marks: What will the next U.S. president do? What will his foreign policy be like? How will he shape transatlantic relations? However, Trump’s foreign policy agenda is not as blank as it seems. In fact, its direction is very clear. Trump wants to “make America great again” by reducing unnecessary burdens on the American taxpayers. These “burdens” include American engagement abroad. In short, an isolationist foreign policy is supposed to help America heal.

Translate this into Trump’s approach to transatlantic relations, and you will have less American interest in Europe, in NATO, in tackling global challenges together. The most direct impact will be felt in the realms of trade and security. If the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was almost dead before the election, it certainly is now. And if an Obama administration has constantly been demanding more European defense spending, a Trump administration will insist even more. Unlike before, however, security cooperation might no longer be granted no matter what to the European partners but could come with a price tag. This would mark the end of America’s post-WWII unconditional security support for Europe.

The election of Donald Trump has been rightly viewed as a threat to the liberal world order and the foundation of values, first and foremost the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which it stands. Playing defense alone will not help, however. The reflex by some in Germany has been—understandably—the desire to just shut the blinds and wait four years (or at least two, until Democrats possibly regain majorities in the U.S. Congress). This would be fatally wrong. Running away will not dissolve but rather exacerbate the challenges ahead.

What we need now is the opposite: more transatlantic exchange than ever before. Only if we continue to talk to our counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic, on all levels, from the tops of the government to civil society, will we able to foster understanding, to learn about what is “really” on Trump’s plate, to influence decision-making where we can.

Trump is entering the White House with a clear direction in foregn policy but with little substance behind. His statements reveal that his understanding of foreign affairs is superficial and lacks the depth that the current complexity of international relations requires for a sound analysis. This is cause for great concern, yes, but also a chance. If our governments start engaging in intense exchange early on, Europe’s voice may be heard in Washington louder than we think.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.