Trump’s one week tour to Europe, starting 11 July in Brussels, marks a watershed in Trump’s attack on the liberal world order. It is now clear that Trump is at war with Europe. The tour could have been a victory lap for the US President and that is how other US Presidents in the past (including Obama) played it. Not Trump.
The trip started with a 2-day NATO meeting followed by a “working visit” in the UK – not an official trip as usual, London was not included. The weekend was spent in Scotland, presumably to relax in the golf properties he owns. And the trip is to culminate with a one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic leader that Trump has often supported. Before joining the G7 meeting in Canada last month – a meeting that turned into a disaster -, he called for Russia’s return to the G7.
To assess Trump’s trip to Europe, one needs to remember that Putin is a man determined to bring down NATO and destroy the European Union. He sees them both as the enemy and the Kremlin constantly pushed that propaganda line at home and abroad.
NATO Meeting: Chaos
The moment he arrived in Brussels , he lost no time in dressing down NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg over breakfast:
Extraordinary outburst. “Germany is totally controlled by Russia”, this is “not appropriate”, he thunders. Note Stoltenberg’s reply, trying to argue that with NATO “we stand together” – an argument that gets nowhere with Trump who has no appreciation for either collaboration or allies. Trump sees nothing beyond what he calls the “energy” issue that has turned it a “captive of Russia”: Seventy percent of Germany’s energy comes from Russia now that it has given up its traditional sources (coal and nuclear). And, he points out, the German-Russian gas pipeline consortium is headed by a former German Chancellor.
That last part is true, of course. He is referring to former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who is a top executive at the Russian-government controlled company (Gazprom) that is currently building Nord Stream 2 Pipeline under the Baltic sea to bring Russian gas to Germany.
But it’s not going just to Germany, as he implies. The gas is intended for the whole EU. In fact, Europe has a real, long-standing energy problem, and a very difficult one to solve.The pipeline is obviously controversial in Europe since it involves collaboration with Russia and requires closing one’s eyes on what Russia did to Ukraine, invading Crimea and its eastern borders in 2014.
Russia’s imperial ambitions and outreach in Ukraine worry Eastern Europeans, especially in Poland and the Baltic nations who fear that in any dispute with Russia, they will find that their energy sources are cut off.
Trump believes he has a solution, one that would directly help America: He has promoted selling US natural gas to Europe. The problem is that it is not commercially realistic because of the cost of shipping gas across the Atlantic.
In the Video: Europe Split on Nord Stream 2 Pipeline as US Warns Against Dependence on Russian Gas, published 8 Mar 2018 Voice of America News
But it’s not just Germany that is at fault. He has it with France too, and all other NATO members. “Many countries are not paying what they should,” he grumbles. “And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them. So if you go back 10 or 20 years, you’ll just add it all up. It’s massive amounts of money is owed.”
The way Trump sees it, Europe got a free ride on the back of the United States. Americans paid for Europe’s protection while Europe grew rich through unfair trade practices that harmed America. It was all the European Union’s fault. He made this very clear in a tweet intended for his fan base that he posted before departing for Europe:
The European Union makes it impossible for our farmers and workers and companies to do business in Europe (U.S. has a $151 Billion trade deficit), and then they want us to happily defend them through NATO, and nicely pay for it. Just doesn’t work!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2018
Worth noting: This tweet is deeply deceiving – it may make Trump’s fans happy but it’s not factual. The US trade deficit with the EU is around $100 billion, not $151. And Trump is only talking about half the reality of trade deficits. He only mentions trade in goods, forgetting that trade also includes services. There the US has always run a surplus averaging over $200 billion a year. Finally, trade is never a zero sum game, it always includes financial flows that even it out. For more about this, see last week’s article on Trump’s trade wars.
At the close of the NATO meeting, after a “fresh row over defense spending”, Trump claimed victory :
Great success today at NATO! Billions of additional dollars paid by members since my election. Great spirit!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2018
Nobody agreed with Trump. In the words of the UK Guardian:
“In the final hours [of the meeting], he again reduced the 29-member organisation, the most powerful military coalition in the world, to chaos.”
Trump claimed he got NATO members to cave in to his demands for more spending. The French and Germans denied it.
In any case, this is a false “victory”: Everyone had already agreed to the notion that NATO members needed to contribute more funding. And they had agreed to it several years ago, since 2014 to be exact, when Russia invaded Crimea. They’ve poured an additional $87 billion in NATO since then and 14 NATO members (that’s half the members and the more important ones) have pledged that they would reach the 2 percent threshold by 2024.
Two percent is not enough for Trump. As he made very clear in an exclusive interview, to the SUN that was released as soon as he had arrived in the UK.
The UK Visit: A String of Insults
In that interview, he chides Prime Minister Theresa May at great length, claiming her “soft Brexit” plan would kill any future US-UK deal. He made it very clear:
“If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the U.K., so it will probably kill the deal.”
Here’s the Sun video of the interview:
On defense, Trump outdoes himself: Not only should countries spend over 2% of their GDP on defense, they should spend double that: 4%. The US, he says, is spending over 4%, the “exact figure” he claims is 4.2% (wrong, in fact it’s 3.6%). That, he notes, is a percentage of a much greater GDP than any European country. No disputing that. But he gets carried away into fantasy land:
“In fact the GDP since I have taken over”, he says, “has doubled and tripled, so it’s a very unfair number.”
No, Mr. Trump, America’s GDP has not doubled, much less tripled over the 18 months since you took over. Here’s the official US GDP data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis:
The maximum growth the US GDP clocked in was 3.2% in the third quarter of 2017; and it is slowing in 2018, down to 2% in the first quarter though many people expect it to pick up in the second quarter in response to the $1.5 trillion tax cut.
In fact, there is no such thing as annual GDP growth of 200% or 300% anywhere in the world, not even in China. Mr Trump’s economics belong to another world, maybe to some distant exoplanet.
Or maybe he didn’t express himself clearly, he meant to speak of GDP growth rates. If that’s the case, it is evident that his July 2017 maximum is not two or three times the level clocked in with Obama at the helm in July 2016 (3.2% vs. 2.8%). In fact, the growth rate varies widely from quarter to quarter and one needs to look at it in a much longer time frame (several years) to make sense of it.
The Sun summarized everything he said in a neat bullet-point list, including:
- Accused EU leaders of destroying its culture and identity by allowing in millions of migrants
- Tore into London Mayor Sadiq Khan for not standing up to terrorists
- Blamed Khan for spiralling crime in the capital
- Insisted former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would make “a great Prime Minister”
- Denied once branding Theresa May a “bossy schoolteacher”
- Maintained he would keep ties with Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin despite the Salisbury Novichok poisonings
- Demanded Britain and other Nato countries spend more on defence
- Spoke of his sadness at feeling unwelcome in the capital by anti-Trump protesters
Probably no American President, or, for that matter, no leader on an official visit has ever vented so much rancor towards his hosts. Politeness is not Trumpian. Stunning.
Theresa May rushed with a statement after Trump’s interview, stung by his (totally unfounded) argument that her “soft Brexit deal” is “not what the people voted for” in the Brexit referendum. She clarified:
“We have come to an agreement at the proposal we’re putting to the European Union which absolutely delivers on the Brexit people voted for. They voted for us to take back control of our money, our law and our borders and that’s exactly what we will do.”
She is right: Her soft Brexit is still Brexit. It only leaves untouched the free market of goods. It takes back “control of our money” – which translates into an extremely damaging measure for the London’s City whose banks will be denied automatic access to the EU – and “control of our borders”, putting a stop to visa-free circulation of EU citizens in the UK.
So, as usual, Trump does not know what he is talking about, and his support of Boris Johnson comes at a very unfortunate time when a majority of Britons feel Johnson brought disaster on the UK.
Trump must have realized he had overdone it this time and he was quick to claim at the first upcoming press conference that the Sun interview was “fake news”:
The Sun’s write-up of his interview is ‘fake news’ because, he says, it did not include his positive comments about the prime minister – “even though the newspaper’s report did mention them” as the UK Guardian pointed out.
The problem is: what “positive comments” could ever balance out or undo what he said about May and Brexit?
Trump is clearly out to destroy Europe. Any country that leaves the EU fold is immediately exposed and at risk from American trade war threats. Europeans should take note. They are alone now, their American ally has decided to look elsewhere for friends. Russia perhaps?
In War with Europe,Trump’s Weapon of Choice: Trump-l’oeil
What will happen in Helsinki when Trump meets Putin on Monday 16 July? My guess is that we’ll get a repeat of the Singapore performance with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
We need to remember that Trump walked out of that meeting having unilaterally given up a trading card – announcing to everyone’s surprise that he’d call for a halt to the planned military exercises in the region, yielding to one of Kim Jong-un’s demands and doing this without consulting allies, notably the South Korean President Moon or Japan.
Yet he claimed “victory”: America need no longer worry, here we had peace at last. Totally ignoring that all the hard work still needed to be done, with Secretary of State Pompeo tasked to negotiate to the last drop and Kim Jong-un quickly complaining of “gangster” tactics.
A perfect example of his Trump-l’oeil tactics: all for the eyes and no substance.
He is undoubtedly the greatest manipulator of fake news. Expect an outburst of fake news and alternative facts from his upcoming Monday meeting with Putin. No doubt, he’ll put on for us his best Reality TV show, complete with Trump-l’oeil tweets, videos and press conferences.
He already prepared the ground, telling ITV journalist Piers Morgan about his meeting with Putin (interview aired Sunday):
“I think we could probably get along very well. Somebody said are you friends or enemies? I said well it’s too early to say but right now I say we’re competitors but for the United States, and frankly the UK and other places, to get along with Russia and China and all of these other places…. Piers that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing.”
By Monday morning, what Trump had said in a CBS News interview was all over the media: Asked who was the US biggest foe, he had no hesitations. Not Russia, not China. The EU is the biggest “foe”. Donald Tusk, The President of the EU Council tried to downplay this, labeling it “fake news”. Unfortunately, it’s not.
All this definitely sets the stage for a “productive” meeting with Putin.
Editors Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com
Featured Image: President Trump and First Lady departing for Europe on Air Force One. Source: Reuters article “Americans in UK warned to keep a ‘low profile’ during Trump’s visit” by the US Embassy in London.