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Fear and Loathing At NATO

Trump is Trump inside a worm-holed gathering in London.

HERTFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump (R) attend the NATO summit at the Grove Hotel on December 4, 2019 in Watford, England.(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump abruptly departed the annual NATO summit, held in England, on Wednesday. “Great progress has been made by NATO over the last three years. Countries other than the U.S. have agreed to pay 130 Billion Dollars… We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days,” the president wrote on Twitter. Would that it were so simple.

The president is doubtless correct that substantial progress has been made during his term is office to dislodge the treaty organization—and its more laggard members —from cushy complacence. As the institution enters its eighth decade—and fourth since the fall of the Berlin Wall — perhaps no figure on the world stage has alerted the public to NATO’s existential senescence. Why, again, is the confederation, as candidate Trump said on the campaign trail in 2016, not “obsolete”?

But such muscular critiques of the status quo were not on display this week in England. Which is a shame, as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, appeared in recent weeks to be serving up a soft ball for the American president to smash out of the park. “What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron, Trump’s on-again-off-again buddy, told The Economist in November. Some observers saw a pol positioning his nation out of the way of the axe shamefully weld by the Americans. But others read deeper: these were the words of a canny statesman admitting that, on some level, Trump was right. Not only did the electee of Elysee back Trump’s diagnosis of an anemia of the Atlanticists, but he sent out a flare that he’d potentially partner with Trump in a second term: helping the West to put away childish things on the Russian matter. “And secondly, we need to reopen a strategic dialogue, without being naive and which will take time, with Russia,” Macron said this week.

But the president rejected Emmanuel’s outstretched hand. Trump called Macron’s critique a “very, very nasty statement” as the session got underway. The president showed his greatest strength in foreign policy —personal diplomacy —to be, at the same time, his greatest weakness. Trump at one point signaled personal offense on behalf of Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO sec-gen, who he said was doing a good job. Nevermind that Macron was subtly echoing a line of argument first injected into the mainstream by Trump himself four years ago.

And the spiked-ball of a summit was brought to a close by the release of a leaked, viral clip. Overheard was a gossip gaggle that included Macron, British prime minister Boris Johnson, and ring-led by the brau-sipping Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top,” Trudeau said of Trump to the gathered, politely grinning. “I watched his team’s jaws drop on the floor.”

The president on Wednesday called Trudeau “two-faced,” bringing to a close another false start of the Trump era.

about the author

Curt Mills is Senior Reporter at TAC covering national security, the 2020 campaign and the Trump presidency. Previously, he reported for The National Interest, Washington Examiner, U.S. News & World Report and the Spectator. Mills was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and is a native and resident of Washington, D.C.

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