Jun 26, 2018

Diplomats get undiplomatic about Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American allies abroad, NATO allies in particular, tell Axios privately that they're rattled by Trump — but love working with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and are encouraged by the early signs they’re seeing from new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The big picture: European allies say they're jarred by the contrast between Mattis’ reassuring words, and Trump’s fire-and-fury Twitter feed. They say they see an America that’s still very much engaged on the ground in Europe — the military ties are as strong and deep as ever — but a president who's viewed by some of these European officials as an angry landlord demanding rent payments from his tenants.

  • They’re worried about July’s NATO summit in Brussels. A bad, divided summit, like the recent G7, would put another crack in the post-World War II international order and would empower Putin. 
  • All world leaders fear being Justin Trudeau’d with Trump Twitter torture.

Over the past month, I've spent time with more than half a dozen top officials from some of America’s closest allies, and all say the same thing:

  • Here is a transactional president who sees the world as a set of countries that owe America money.
  • Some are happy to pay a little more — whether it be upping their defense budgets to meet NATO targets, or opening a more favorable trading arrangement for U.S. companies.
  • But they worry that nothing will be enough to satisfy Trump.
  • One senior European official went as far as to say the relationship between the U.S. and Europe had reached a state of “crisis.”

That feels like an overstatement. But relations with Germany are especially bad:

  • Trump has kept beating up on Angela Merkel — not only privately over trade in automobiles and German investment in Russian energy, but publicly over her immigration policies.
  • That same European official said he thought U.S-European relations — inflamed by Trump’s tariffs, public posturing and shredding of the Iran deal — are worse than at any point in recent memory.

Be smart: While transatlantic relationships are strained, Trump’s Middle Eastern relationships — with the deliberate exception of Iran — are flourishing.

  • Gulf leaders and the Israelis love Trump, support his aggressive attitude towards Iran, and are relieved Barack Obama is no longer president.
  • I met yesterday with Yair Lapid — chairman of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party — and Lapid said Trump is on his way to being the most popular American president ever in Israel.

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