Over the course of a NATO summit that spanned just two days, Donald Trump managed to offend and frighten many key allies of the United States, leaving foreign leaders convinced that he’s not a “very stable genius,” his latest claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
Hours after President Donald Trump departed NATO headquarters Thursday, U.S. military leaders embarked on a full-scale “damage control” operation with calls to their counterparts across Europe to reassure them that America will abide by its defense commitments in the region.
The outreach, directed by the Pentagon leadership, came after Trump threatened to reassess those commitments during a gathering with NATO allies in Brussels, according to multiple current and former diplomatic and military officials familiar with the calls.
The overall message from senior military officials in a series of phone calls to members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been that U.S. military bases in their countries will remain open and American troop levels in the region will not be reduced.
In other words, the message from U.S. officials to our international partners is effectively, “Don’t pay too much attention to what the Leader of the Free World has to say.”
It’s remarkable that such “damage control” is necessary – ideally, an American president should be able to attend a NATO summit and earn the respect of his or her counterparts – but what’s especially depressing about reports like these is often we’re confronted with circumstances in which U.S. officials urge international colleagues to ignore Trump.
Remember this Washington Post report from February?
Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.
U.S. lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream:
New York’s Jon Chait added last summer, “It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence.”
That’s true, of course, but there are practical considerations, as well. The more U.S. officials scramble into “damage control” mode in the wake of Trump tantrums, the more people abroad are led to believe the position of the United States on key issues isn’t necessarily what the president of the United States says it is.
The result, predictably, is widespread confusion – which is no way for a global superpower to conduct its foreign policy.