A new day, a new tweet, a new comment and a new controversy. So, finally the week-long European tour of US President Donald Trump has come to an end. As expected, kicked up by the mercurial Donald Trump himself deliberately, the tour was laced with innumerable controversies. We have never seen such a stormy and controversial tour by any US President of the European continent. He left behind nothing, but new controversies. He started the tour by demanding the fellow members to increase their financial contribution to the NATO, then severely criticised Angela Merkel over the Nord Steam 2 pipeline project, then told Theresa May that she was mishandling Brexit and suggested her to sue the European Union, then labelled the EU as “trade-foe”, and then finally ended up the tour on negative note at Helsinki summit that earned him nothing but severe criticism at home. Trump’s disdain for routine diplomatic norms and discipline is an open secret and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying his non-traditional way of deal making.
Time and again, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he does not see any difference between managing a personal business empire and running a government as a head of state. The impulsive and bullying tendencies of his core personality dominate every sphere of his management style. The same personal traits were very visible in his demeanour during his entire tour of Europe. Thanks to his blunt ruggedness and cragginess, he has been able to push away all traditional US allies. Not surprisingly, American foreign policy, under Donald Trump, is fast re-defining its priorities and direction. In simple words, President Trump is embracing old enemies as new friends, while alienating old friends as new detractors – creating a different kind of isolation. In Brussels, he literally jolted his colleagues at the NATO summit by unleashing his fury at them over the money matters and financial aspects of the 29-member alliance.
Throughout the proceedings of the two-day NATO summit, Trump maintained a very hostile and belligerent approach. He specifically targeted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will transfer gas from the Russian territory to Germany. Trump openly lambasted Germany on the Nord Steam 2 pipeline project and went on to call it a “captive of Russia,” because of “very sad” and “inappropriate” energy deals with Moscow facilitated by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. “It certainly doesn’t seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia, and now we have to defend them against Russia,” is how Trump expressed his displeasure. It reminded the despicable exchange of taunts and scoffs between him and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 Summit last month.
Interestingly, Trump left the G7 summit, after engaging Justin Trudeau in a serious and personal fight over the trade tariffs, to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in Singapore to claim a “historic” diplomatic success. He has repeated the same module by targeting Angela Merkel at the NATO summit before departing to meet Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. But this time, on the way to Helsinki, he added British Prime Minister Theresa May in the list of victims of his verbal tirade by giving a highly explosive interview to The Sun newspaper, in which he harshly criticised May’s Brexit strategy, while praising her political rival Boris Johnson as “potentially great prime minister”. Thus, he unnecessarily poured fuel over the “Stop Trump” protests in the UK. In his attempt to project his favourite buddy Boris Johnson positively, he has fanned the anti-Trump sentiments but also given a chance to Theresa May to temporarily ward off the mounting pressure over the Brexit crisis.
The problem with Trump is that he is unable to control his extremely impulsive nature that always catapults him into such difficult situations. The irony of the course is that, within three days after unequivocally criticising Angela Merkel for her enthusiastic advocacy for gas pipeline project in collaboration with Russia’s Gazprom, he met with Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin in an apparent effort to establish “close and extraordinary relationship”. This is a blatant duality in his stance. His affinity and professional admiration for Vladimir Putin is an restablished fact. He has never hesitated from expressing his liking for Putin despite the fact the Russian election meddling allegations are still hovering in the air. The reality is that if any other European leader had expressed similar affection for Putin, then Trump would have certainly berated him or her with all the negative and sullied words in the dictionary. This is the Trump way of doing the business.
A cursory glance at all his controversies would divulge that “money” is at the bottom of each episode. Verbal tirade with Canada’s premier Justin Trudeau at G7 summit, financial management of NATO, intense criticism of Angela’s Merkel’s pipeline project and seeing the EU as trade foe, trade imbalance and trade tariffs are the key words that have been influencing Donald Trump’s extremely belligerent tone towards the chronic US allies. On the contrary, he has demonstrated fair amount of softness towards all those strongmen who have been previously the cheerleaders of anti-US camp – Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin etc. He is doing all this at the expense of inviting further disapprobation of the American establishment, which is very reluctant to listen to his pro-Russia mantra. Particularly at this time, when the allegations of Russia’s election meddling are very much alive and whirling at full speed in the corridors of Capitol Hill, Donald Trump is trying to change the anti-Russia module of US foreign policy – and that too with such a fervour and eagerness. This is a risky venture. But he seems to be determined to take the risk. Nonetheless, he has returned back from Europe with a bag full of new controversies and new tension between him and the European leadership in general.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Karachi.