By Marwan Asmar
U.S. President’s Donald Trump is an enigmatic man. You can’t tell what goes into his head or indeed if he does lead an American administration with men and women of ideas. The United States president appears to be a one-man show, a person who throws ideas, opinion, attitudes and thinks about the consequences later and just maybe re-routes them.
Trump is an abrasive man. There has never been a president in the history of the United States who has been interested in making has views known loud and clear as Donald Trump, or saying it from the heart.
Leaving the “politically-correct’ aside, which many politicians feel the need to stick to, Trump has become known for his plain-speaking for friend and foe alike with having a flair for tongue-lashing. He is certainly not afraid of making views known because he is, as he keeps saying, putting the interests of the United States first, come what may. Despite his age, he sees himself as a populist politician.
Take his last visit to Europe, first to attend a crucial NATO meet then to visit Britain. The trip ended with a historic ‘pandering’ meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki - a rollercoaster of venues with Trump accompanied by a large entourage.
In all of the trips he played the high-stakes of politics seeking to be forthright, somewhat indifferent, friendly when he wants, aggressive when he likes and lame at the same time. On the European trips he first irked every friend and ally daring to call the European Union ‘foes’. That was contrasted by his diplomatic niceties to no less than the arch nemesis of the western alliance, Russia and Putin with furore raising in just about every European capital and in his home base Washington where a tirade of adjectives were thrown at the American president.
Trump’s breakfast Meeting With NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, July 11, 2018 (AFP)
Trump has to be seen as a complex character, a calculating one, probably a man who believes in the old saying keep your friends close but your enemies closer, a remark that is so true with Putin who has suddenly becoming a ‘friend’, washing away decades-old Cold War rhetoric and changing the western value system overnight.
He is no ordinary politician because of his bootstrap-up business background and dealing-and-wheeling deals that made him into a billionaire with the element of surprise thrown in, something he used when he harangued the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg about German loyalty and the issue in regard to the gas-line project between Moscow and Berlin. He said to the embarrassment of many, including his own team, that Germany is “captive” to Russia and it is “being totally controlled” by it.
It was unprecedented diatribe never heard before, especially between allies, of the high controversial variety. What is more mind-boggling is none of the same came up when he met Putin in Helsinki. Was it even discussed one wonders? Putin no longer became an adversary but a friend. Was the ‘wrath’ left behind in Brussels?
Merkel under the Trump spotlight (AFP)
Later, when in Britain, he had a go at the British Prime Minister Theresa May and the way she is handling the Brexit negotiations and making it clear Boris Johnson, who had just resigned as Foreign Secretary, would make a better prime minister.
The comments where highly out of place. It showed Trump was making them for their own sake. May stood her ground on Brexit and sought to turn things around by talking about the importance of the western alliance and the special Anglo-American relationship. Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visibly upset and irritated but she also gave as good as she got. But it showed here was a “new” US president determined to “rattle” his buddies come what may.
Trump with May at Chequers, July 13, 2018 (AFP)
This was clearly new style politics that was being seen, played at the highest game of chess with Trump not interested in keeping up appearances nor in displaying decorum. Trump was a man who preferred to call a spade a spade and not beat about the bush. But behind that was money or lack of it.
Trump had all along wanted European countries including Germany, France and Britain to contribute 2% of their GDPs to the NATO Defence budget and share the burden rather than leaving it to the United States which reputedly contributes up to 70% of defence spending.
Trump’s tirade was caught on camera in front of the whole world, delivering a strong message of “Europe freeloading off the US” and “wanting commitment” on the part of NATO members. Once this point of contention was settled and western leaders promised to readjust defence spending to the required level - which is still a point of debate but not in the mind of the US president - Trump made a 360-degree turn underlined by his mingling with western leaders, handshakes and the patting on the back, going from anger to mild admiration for the western alliance and NATO as a strong security pact with a final communique signed, unlike the Canada G7 Meeting in June.
In Canada, Trump refused to sign because of trade tariffs and the fact he had called for the re-entry of Russia into the G7 as it has been expelled because of its role in the Ukraine and Crimea annexation. What was odd here, as well, is non of these appeared to have been discussed in the Helsinki venue.
So on the face of it, different things flowed on the surface during the “Trumpian” meetings. At the end of the day the “western house” appeared to have been saved although it can surely be said European leaders continue to feel unhappy, especially with the nod-and-wink approach with Putin, rapport witnessed between the two leaders and the new diplomatic chit-chat between Moscow and Washington.
Is this a new era in East-West relations or is Trump a “winds-of-change” whose mantra is unpredicatability, playing alone and according to his own interests.
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