MUNICH — Germany’s president offered a gloomy picture on the state of Europe’s relations with President Donald Trump’s United States. Trump’s top diplomat said Saturday that everything was just fine.
So it went at the annual Munich Security Conference, a Davos of the world’s foreign policy elite. The transatlantic differences have grown so wide that they can no longer agree about whether they disagree.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo glossed over differences between Washington and its European allies on issues such as Iran, China and trade. He emphasized that the Western rules-based international order remains the best system for ensuring individuals rights and economic prosperity.
“I’m happy to report that the death of the transatlantic alliance is grossly overexaggerated. The West is winning, and we’re winning together,” Pompeo told an audience in Munich in a speech that mentioned Trump by name only once, in the opening greetings to his Trump administration colleagues.
His remarks followed those of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who criticized Trump’s “America First” foreign policy a day earlier, saying that it came at the expense of European allies.
“Our closest ally, the United States of America, under the current administration, rejects the very concept of the international community,” he said.
” ‘Great again’ but at the expense of neighbors and partners,” Steinmeier added. “Thinking and acting this way hurts us all.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas echoed the sentiment, warning Friday that China and Russia were ascendant in a new world order where the United States is taking a more confrontational role.
“Decisions about the future of the Middle East are made in Astana or Sochi instead of in Geneva or New York,” he said, referring to the capita of Kazakhstan, now known as Nur-Sultan, and the Black Sea resort of Sochi that is a favorite locale for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The theme of this year’s Munich convocation was “Westlessness.” That reflected the concerns — at least by the German foreign policy elite who put the conference together — of a world order with a diminished role for the international institutions that underpinned European and American security in the seven decades following World War II.
Pompeo referenced Steinmeier’s speech and suggested that European pessimism about the Trump administration’s foreign policy was not grounded in truth.
“I am here this morning to tell you the facts,” he said.
Pompeo then noted U.S. efforts to urge NATO allies to spend more on defense. “We did this because our nations are safer when we work together,” he said.
He also emphasized U.S. efforts to dissuade Europeans from using the Chinese tech giant Huawei to build 5G infrastructure or becoming overly reliant on Russian gas from the new pipeline project known as Nord Stream 2.
Pompeo said those efforts are indicative of strong American leadership rather than an administration shrinking away from its global responsibilities.
Critics have said the Trump administration’s struggle to persuade Europeans to support those causes is a result of a deep mistrust born out of Trump’s coercive approach to foreign policy. Trump has issued tariff threats and imposed sanctions on allies instead of pushing for consensus.
“The reality is that we’d be better positioned with the Europeans if they felt they were in common cause with us and we weren’t just lecturing them,” said Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who attended the conference. “There still might be challenges on some of these issues like Huawei and other things. But I think that the tone and tenor as well as substance matter.”
Pompeo’s speech was met with silence from his mostly European audience. Some Europeans emerged from Pompeo’s speech with just as many doubts as ever.
The speech “reinforced the concerns that Steinmeier raised,” said a senior European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about relations with the United States. “I think I heard the words ‘we’re defending sovereignty’ 13 times, and you wonder what that means.”
Sovereignty, to many European ears, is the Trump administration’s code word for opposition to the multilateral institutions that bind Europe together, such as the European Union.
“They go after the EU and the European project on ideological grounds,” the official said.
One European leader noted Trump’s reflexive skepticism of the European Union, saying that the U.S. president had asked in a Washington meeting how well EU membership was working out. The leader was speaking in an event held under ground rules of anonymity.
Pompeo was followed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who over more than an hour of discussion never uttered Trump’s name.
He voiced his disappointment in the United States less sharply than his German counterparts. But the decision to downplay Washington altogether, and to focus on developing Europe’s ability to act in the world to defend its own interests, was telling at a conference that focuses on transatlantic relations.
An effort for Europe to invest in its own defense and autonomy “is a logical consequence of what has happened in recent years. We have an American partner saying you need to invest more in your own security and that is true,” Macron said. “The Americans say, ‘We are not the sheriff to provide security in your neighborhood.’ “
Europeans have criticized the Trump administration for pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal without a strategy for containing the country’s nuclear program. They have also bristled at Trump’s recurring threats to impose a 25 percent tariff on European cars.
Despite those differences, Pompeo suggested that all was well in the transatlantic relationship and that the United States and its allies were in sync.
“We are winning — and we’re doing it together,” Pompeo said.
One former American official said that many Europeans appeared to have moved into the live-with-it phase of their angsty relations with Trump.
“The first year I was here, the Europeans all said, ‘It’s fine, because all the adults are in the room,’ ” said Celeste Wallander, who was on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “The second year, it was, ‘Tell us this is as bad as it’s going to get.’ The third year, it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is awful. What do we do,’ and this year they’ve all normalized it.”