BRUSSELS — Treated with contempt by President Trump, who considers them rivals and deadbeats instead of allies, many European leaders look forward to the possibility of a Biden presidency. But they are painfully aware that four years of Mr. Trump have changed the world — and the United States — in ways that will not be easily reversed.
Even if civility can be restored, a fundamental trust has been broken, and many European diplomats and experts believe that U.S. foreign policy is no longer bipartisan, so is no longer reliable. “The shining city on the hill is not as shining as it used to be,” Reinhard Bütikofer, a prominent German member of the European Parliament, put it bluntly.
For the first time, said Ivan Krastev, director of the Center for Liberal Strategies, “Europeans are afraid that there is no longer a foreign-policy consensus in the United States. Every new administration can mean a totally new policy, and for them this is a nightmare.”
The ideological divide will be on display on Thursday, when Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. are scheduled to hold their final presidential debate.
There will be what most consider low-hanging fruit for a Biden administration that will please Europeans. The crop includes an extension to the New Start nuclear arms control treaty with Russia and returns to the Paris climate accord, the World Health Organization and even the Iran nuclear accord. There will be feel-good meetings and statements about multilateralism, less confrontation about trade, renewed efforts to reform the World Trade Organization and a less combative atmosphere at summit meetings of the Group of 7 and NATO.
But Mr. Trump’s complaints are shared by many Americans, and given the polarization in America, President Emmanuel Macron of France has pushed Europe to step up in an altered world, where China is rising and the Trump administration is only a symptom of an American retreat from global leadership, not the cause.
The idea of European “strategic autonomy” — of a Europe less dependent on Washington and with its own strong voice in the world — has been gaining ground, even if it is more aspiration than reality.
Some, like Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International Affairs, and François Heisbourg, a French security analyst, fear that a Biden presidency could short-circuit European autonomy and let Europeans continue, as Ms. Tocci said, “sticking our heads in the sand.”
A Trump re-election, of course, might accelerate the trend toward autonomy, even if few believe that Mr. Trump would be able to pull out of NATO, as one of his former national security advisers, John Bolton, suggested he might.
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American foreign policy was traditionally bipartisan — the old phrase that “politics stops at the water’s edge” had merit, especially during the Cold War. But the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that foreign policy, too, was subject to deepening political polarization in the United States.
“There is an incredible decay in Europe of the sense of the United States as a leader,” accelerated and symbolized by mishandling of the…
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