LONDON -- Last week was disastrous for the Atlantic Alliance. President Donald Trump was the bull that brings its own china shop with it. At the NATO summit, the president attacked the alliance for failing to allocate enough money for defense and then proposed a mandatory 4 percent of GDP as the target. Not even the United States spends that much. And NATO defense budgets are 15 times greater than Russia's.
The president dismissed British Prime Minister Theresa May -- more about that shortly -- and accused Germany of being a "captive of Russia" for 60 to 70 percent of its energy needs. In fact, that number is less than 10 percent. If German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a sense of humor, she might have chided the president on the importance of facts and told him that if American natural gas were the same price as Russia's, Germany would sign a deal right then and there.
Unfortunately, NATO members and Secretary General Jens Stolltenberg were cowed by the president. If Lord Carrington, who died last week at 99, Lord George Robertson or Manfred Werner were secretary general, or Margaret Thatcher represented the U.K. and Charles deGaulle France, passivity would not have flourished. Moscow took note.
NATO collectively was relieved that the near crash-landing caused by Trump's bellicose bluster and demands was averted when the president finally declared the meeting a success. The alliance agreed to a 23-page declaration with 79 action items, including commitments to spend more on defense and at some stage admit Georgia and Ukraine. But make no mistake: The summit threatened alliance cohesion and solidarity.
The president's visit to England was no better. In an interview with Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper, the president criticized May's handling of Brexit. Those offhand comments could not have come at a worse time. The prime minister was fighting for her political life with the resignations of Brexiters Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Minister David Davis. While Trump pretended he never made those comments, the damage was done. The PM could face no confidence letters being filed by a sufficient number of MP's to force her out of office.
Then came Helsinki and what may prove to be the worst presidential performance abroad in memory. The joint press conference with Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored any serious discussion on Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and nuclear arms control. Worse, the president blamed American incompetence for derailing U.S.-Russian relations. And the 45 minutes centered on Trump's decision to take Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the American elections over the unanimous conclusions of America's 16 intelligence agencies of Moscow's meddling. No president has ever impugned his government so dramatically and publicly.
Presidential supporters weakly countered that because the CIA mistakenly concluded that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in 2003, any of its subsequent findings must be suspect. That reports of "Guccifer 2.0," Russian military hackers of whom 12 were just indicted by the Justice Department, initially came from British and Dutch sources, reinforce proof of Moscow's interference in American elections. Still, some have gone so far to accuse the president of "treason."
These and other cases of destructive and more than occasional repugnant presidential behavior have desensitized public opinion. Any one of these examples, from extra-marital affairs to disrespect of America's closest friends and embrace of autocrats to include Kim Jong Un, Xi Jingping and Putin, would have proven instantly fatal to Democrats and probably any Republicans. Clearly, the president possesses for the time being a political Teflon shield.
Tragically, the alliance does not. Allies were shocked by this whirlwind deconstruction of 70 years worth of work to forge a strong and at one time unbreakable Atlantic alliance. Yet, given the president's refusal to blame Russia for any wrongdoing, it is becoming increasingly hard to believe that Putin does not have some hold over Trump. The upshot is that regardless of what the Mueller investigation concludes, any findings about guilt or innocence will be angrily contested and rejected by a substantial number of Americans. A dangerously polarized and pernicious political environment will only be intensified. And that is not good for anyone in the West.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is Senior Adviser at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.