It might seem as if the United States’ allies, from Mexico to Britain to Japan, are holding their breath while not-so-silently praying that Donald Trump does not become president. They’ve been watching Trump’s campaign “with disbelief, a good portion of dismay and distinctly growing apprehension,” as Sweden’s former foreign minister and Post columnist Carl Bildt put it.
That’s true — but not entirely so. There are, in fact, a number of important U.S. allies, in and outside NATO, who either openly or quietly are rooting for Trump to win. They offer a road map of some of the trouble a Clinton administration would face as it tried to rebuild U.S. leadership in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Let’s start with the two NATO heads who have publicly endorsed Trump: President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary. Zeman, an admirer of Vladimir Putin, holds a mostly ceremonial position, and the Czech government disagrees with him. But Orban is the leader of a powerful political current in Central Europe: nationalistic, xenophobic and autocratically minded. He gave a speech praising Trump for, among other things, favoring a halt in Muslim immigration and opposing “the policy of exporting democracy.”
Orban is a role model for Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, known for declaring that “Islam has no place in Slovakia,” and Poland’s de facto leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose party has been accused by the European Union of dismantling democratic checks and balances.
Earlier this year, Kaczynski and Orban plunged into a public feud with Bill Clinton after the former president undiplomatically but accurately remarked that Poland and Hungary “have now decided this democracy is too much trouble.” Orban responded by saying that Clinton, like “the leaders of the Democratic Party,” was the pawn of a “shadow empire” controlled by George Soros, the Jewish U.S. financier who was born in Hungary. For his part, Kaczynski suggested Clinton needed a mental-health examination.
Imagine Hillary Clinton’s first NATO summit: She could find herself seated between a statesman whose boss called her husband mentally ill and one who believes that the Democratic Party is controlled by a Jewish cabal. Kaczynski meanwhile will be expecting Clinton to deliver on plans to station U.S. troops and missile defenses in Poland, regardless of his insults to the former president, or to Polish democracy.
He might have asked Benjamin Netanyahu what happens when a foreign leader takes sides in a U.S. presidential election. After making obvious his support for Mitt Romney in 2012, the Israeli prime minister found himself a perennial target for leaks and insults from the Obama White House, especially during his own reelection race.
This year Netanyahu has been conspicuously silent. But sources say he’s inclined to agree with the right-wing media close to his Likud party that have tilted in Trump’s favor. True, Trump has made anti-Semitic statements and attracted a neo-Nazi following. But he’s far less likely to pressure Netanyahu about Palestinian statehood than Clinton, who once called the Israeli leader to deliver a blunt chewing-out over the expansion of a Jewish neighborhood near Jerusalem.
Even more partial to Trump is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. The dictator met both candidates in New York last month: While Clinton brought up his human rights record and called for the release of an imprisoned U.S. citizen, Trump offered unqualified support. So never mind Trump’s hostility to Islam or plans to restrict Muslim immigration; the Sissi regime is pulling for him. So is Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another NATO ally, who, as the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reported, likes Trump’s tolerance for his mass repression of opponents following a coup attempt.
There are some common themes here. The less committed a U.S. ally is to liberal democracy, and the more hostile to immigrants, the more likely its government is to favor Trump. Allies uncomfortable with subtlety in U.S. diplomacy — whether it is support for human rights in pro-U.S. dictatorships, or a Palestinian state, or outreach to Iran — tend to see Trump as refreshingly one-sided. The ranks of the horrified are mostly restricted to Western Europe and northeast Asia — though Latin Americans, who have endured the destructive populism pioneered by Hugo Chávez, tend to see Trump as a U.S. version of that pestilence.
In short, there is a constituency in the world for Trump’s brand of U.S. chauvinist nationalism, even if its slogan is “America First.” Not a few traditional American friends would welcome a U.S. administration that ignores human rights, favors curtailing global movements of people and capital, and divides friends and enemies into unambiguous camps. If Trump loses, Orban, Sissi and their like may lose some momentum, but they will still be out there. Clinton will need a strategy for managing them.