By all accounts, Donald Trump is not pursuing anything resembling a strategic initiative by antagonizing Denmark. “Greenland was just an idea, just a thought,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday, addressing his reported interest in purchasing the artic territory from Denmark. Copenhagen’s reluctance to part with its territory was the ostensible reason why the president rejected an invitation from Danish Queen Margrethe II to visit America’s NATO ally as part of a visit to Europe. Thus, what Trump concedes as being nothing more than an errant thought has inaugurated a minor international incident.
It is unfortunate that this undiplomatic debacle has overshadowed another of far more relevance. In that same conversation with reporters, Trump endorsed Russia’s bid to reenter the group of highly industrialized nations—the G7, which would once again become the G8 upon Russia’s ascension. “It would be a good thing if Russia was there,” Trump said, adding the unseemly non sequitur that Russian President Vladimir Putin “made a living outsmarting President Obama.”
Unlike Trump’s semi-serious effort to acquire Danish territory, this seems to be more than a half-baked mental tick. It’s not the first time Trump has said it would be “appropriate” for Russia to rejoin this international club of nations, and White House officials have confessed that Trump is lobbying member states on Putin’s behalf. For their part, America’s NATO allies are rejecting Trump’s overture, insisting that Russia’s readmittance into the club of industrialized nations is non-negotiable until Moscow abandons its claims to the Crimean Peninsula.
That resistance is a source of some comfort, but not much. European will to enforce the reprisals meted out against Russia following its invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory in 2014 is waning. Five years after its expulsion from the organization, the Council of Europe, an institution dedicated to the preservation of the rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights on the continent, voted to restore Russia’s voting rights. Ukraine’s representatives to the Council walked out in protest, but there were few overt signs of discomfort with Russia’s reintegration into Europe.
Russia’s slow but steady reintroduction to the community of nations sends a terrible signal to the world’s revisionist powers. It’s an indication that there is no stomach for a prolonged effort to punish a country that uses force to destabilize neighboring countries and conduct wars of conquest. Europe has a grand tradition of folding in the face of threats posed by aggressive, authoritarian states, but the United States could once be counted on to reinforce gelatinous European spines. Under Donald Trump, America is abdicating its role as a bulwark against anti-Western tyrannies.
If Russia can absorb neighboring territories, provide material support for genocidal despots, conduct insurgencies inside sovereign states, conduct covert influence campaigns abroad, and crush domestic dissent with relative impunity, the U.S.-led post-War order is not long for this world. Preserving the relative peace and unprecedented prosperity that has typified the post-Cold War era is a vital American interest, but the American president doesn’t seem to see it that way. And future generations will suffer as a result of this short-sightedness.