“America is not America anymore” say Dutch diplomats on U.S. relations: Report

Mark Rutte and Donald Trump
Mark Rutte and Donald TrumpPhoto: The White House/Flickr

The relationship between the Netherlands and the United States has "cooled down" and "soured" according to Dutch diplomats and diplomatic experts. "There is declining confidence, I hear at the top of Dutch diplomacy", diplomatic expert Robert van de Roer said to RTL Nieuws. "Behind the scenes you hear: America is not America anymore."

The harsh sentiment about the state of affairs between the nations following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump was echoed by Henne Schuwer, the recently retired Ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States. Schuwer told newspaper NRC that it has been an "absolute mess" in Washington D.C. since January 2017.

The fact that the relationship is no longer smooth sailing, can be seen in rejected requests for aid. Until recently the Netherlands tended to agree to whatever the US asked, according to the broadcaster. But now the Netherlands basically refused two US requests - for military support on the ground in Syria, and on the Strait of Hormuz. 

The situation is even more serious than it appears from the outside. "Prime Minister Rutte insists that world problems cannot be solved without the US. Behind the scenes, everyone wonders if America can still be counted upon", one diplomatic source said to RTL.

On the American side of the relationship, problems stem from the US being frustrated at the Netherlands for "not delivering enough", according to Van de Roer. The Netherlands does not fulfill NATO's obligation of spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product on Defense, something Prime Minster Mark Rutte also acknowledged in a speech early this month. 

On the Dutch side of the relationship, the problems are more multifaceted. One issue is Donald Trump's behavior on Twitter. Constant tweets from the president resemble decisions and policy changes. But when the Netherlands does what it always does - ask for clarification from the US Department of State or the Department of Defense - the American government workers are just as surprised by the tweets as their Dutch counterparts.

"You turn on your phone at half past six in the morning and look at Trump's Twitter timeline. All colleagues do that," former ambassador Schuwer said. "Now everything is managed from the White House."

The United States withdrawing from treaties also plays a role. America withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, and withdrew support for the so-called Iran nuclear deal. The latter causing tensions in the region, including in the Strait of Hormuz where the Americans now want the Netherlands to help maintain order. The US military withdrawal from northern Syria last week, which was immediately followed by Turkey attacking the Kurdish forces in the area, also "raises doubts about the reliability of the US", Van de Roer said. 

Dutch dissatisfaction is a "combination of style and content", according to Van de Roerr. He points to the ignored requests for help in Syria, demands that American ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra made in the Volkskrant. In the past, such requests would be made following months of diplomatic talks, and only if the Netherlands actually agreed to it.

Hoekstra's requests were not outright denied - the involved Ministries are "studying" the requests. And instead of sending troops to Syria, the Netherlands wants to make an extra contribution to the mission in Iraq, for example with a small expansion or with medical support. Because despite the increased tensions, the relationship with America is very important, insiders, experts and parliamentarians said to RTL. "We must have a close relationship with the US, which is essential for our security, regardless of which president is in office and whether he is likable or you always agree with him", VVD MP Sven Koopmans said. 

One result of the situation is that the Netherlands has turned more towards state and local governments in the U.S. "If we can't talk about the environment with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, and we can't, we'll work with California or Oregon. So the influence and importance of Washington and a president who is so extreme on some points is diminishing," Schuwer told NRC. "You can see that the states are becoming increasingly independent."