Germans have a reputation for being methodical and efficient, and dispassionate. Their cars do what they’re supposed to do and don’t break down. Germans sweat the details. They overlook nothing. That’s why Angela Merkel is where she is. She has a doctorate in quantum chemistry and worked as a research scientist until 1989, and since 2005 she has headed the German government, just as a careful theoretical scientist working things out would do. She has figured out what works, and why. She doesn’t mess with wild ideas. Hitler did that, while listening to Wagner. She’ll have none of that. She has no interest in Aryan mythology. She sticks to the actual job, making things work as well as they can work for Germany, dispassionately. Perhaps she’s boring. She certainly has no charisma. That doesn’t seem to bother her. She’ll be methodical and efficient. She’ll sweat the details. She’ll get things done – unless those relatively few pesky rural Aryan populists, encouraged by our ambassador there, finally toss her out.
She will never understand Donald Trump. He’s all passion. He doesn’t sweat the details. He has no doctorate in quantum chemistry. He has only his anger:
During his controversial meeting with leaders of the G-7 less than two weeks ago, President Donald Trump allegedly threw two pieces of Starburst candies on the table in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying “Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything.”
The exchange, described on CBS News by Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer, sheds further light on the tense atmosphere depicted in the now famous photograph of the meeting, in which Trump appears with his arms crossed and a defiant scowl across his face.
That image is now iconic but the whole thing had been a mess:
The annual G-7 meeting – which brings together the leaders or representatives of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – was held in Canada from June 8-9. Trump had decided to arrive late and leave early, and he ultimately refused to sign the joint communiqué that the G-7 leaders sign each year. Merkel had called Trump’s decision “sobering and a little depressing,” while French President Emmanuel Macron had also referred to “fits of anger” when describing the meeting. But Bremmer’s account demonstrates an even clearer picture of how terrible Trump’s relationship with Merkel and other U.S. allies is.
“It was at this point, towards the end of the summit, that Chancellor Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada got together with some of the allies and really wanted to press Trump directly to sign the communiqué that talked about the commitment to a rules-based international order. Trump was sitting there with his arms crossed, clearly not liking the fact that they were ganging up on him. He eventually agreed and said okay he’ll sign it. And at that point, he stood up, put his hand in his pocket, his suit jacket pocket, and he took two Starburst candies out, threw them on the table and said to Merkel, ‘Here, Angela. Don’t say I never give you anything,'” Bremmer described to CBS.
“The relationship is about as dysfunctional as we’ve seen between America and its major allies since the transatlantic relationship really started after World War II,” Bremmer noted in the interview.
And the rest is history:
Following the meeting, Trump not only refused to sign the communique but also lashed out at Canada’s prime minister on Twitter over his country’s trade policy. Trump also showed increasing disdain for Merkel, using an internal dispute within her party to criticize Germany’s immigration policy.
He does want those few pesky rural Aryan populists to toss her out, and for the record:
Trump is known to enjoy Starburst candies, especially the red and pink ones.
That’s good to know, but Angela Merkel should be used to this sort of thing, given what happened in June 2006:
Earlier this month the US president, George Bush, was captured giving Germany’s leader Angela Merkel a quick back rub at the G8 summit in St Petersburg. Ms Merkel flings her arms up and grimaces as the world’s most powerful man gropes her shoulders.
That caused quite a stir, but the message was the same. This was disrespect. She may be smart and methodical and efficient, but she was just a woman. There was no need to take her all that seriously. To be fair, that was probably not what Bush intended. He has been a goofball frat-boy and old habits die hard. But that’s what Donald Trump intended. He threw he candy at the woman with that stupid doctorate in quantum chemistry. He sneered. She didn’t matter.
All he has is his anger, and now it’s this:
NATO diplomats are dumbfounded by President Donald Trump’s barrage of acidic rhetoric at the annual summit in Brussels on Wednesday.
Trump came out brawling in his first public comments, accusing NATO ally Germany of being “a captive of Russia,” calling members of the alliance “delinquent” in their defense spending and insisting they increase it “immediately.”
“It’s like the world has gone crazy this morning,” one senior European diplomat told CNN. “Trump’s performance was beyond belief.”
And that led to this:
The President’s remarks sent officials scrambling for answers, triggered ripples of dismay among defense officials and alarmed members of Trump’s own party enough that one worried aloud the President is trying to “tear down” the 29-member alliance. The Republican-controlled House, usually careful to stay in lockstep with Trump, passed a resolution to send a “strong message of support” for NATO.
“This is very confusing,” another senior European diplomat said. Referring to Trump’s targeting of Germany, this envoy said, “the attacks before, and now this tremendous stuff today. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re still in the process of analyzing it.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told CNN he was concerned that that Trump is trying to “tear down” NATO and “punch our friends in the nose.” The Tennessee Republican said he supports the notion of getting NATO countries to increase their defense spending, but he said Trump’s rhetoric is “damaging to us.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he subscribes “to the view that we should not be criticizing our president while he is overseas, but let me say a couple of things. NATO is indispensable.”
And there was this:
Among NATO defense officials there were quiet questions about how long US Defense Secretary James Mattis – a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and strong believer in alliances – could stay on in Trump’s administration. For the second year, Trump was throwing a tantrum at NATO and Mattis would have to clean up after him.
British Prime Minister Theresa May used a press conference Wednesday to declare that “NATO is as vital to us today as it ever has been.” At a time when Trump’s provocative bluster increasingly raises questions about his commitment to NATO, May finished her sentence by declaring that “the UK’s commitment to it remains as steadfast as ever.”
She and others were fighting back, because they were surprised, but Ivan Krastev says no one should have been surprised:
For Mr. Trump, America’s alliances symbolize everything that is misguided about his country’s foreign policy. In a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, he said that the United States is “defending wealthy nations for nothing – nations that would be wiped off the earth in about 15 minutes if it weren’t for us.” They “laugh at our stupidity.” His views don’t seem to have changed since then.
Europeans are now finally being forced to realize that Mr. Trump’s world is one shorn of allies.
They simply miscalculated:
It’s not difficult to imagine a mainstream political leader campaigning with promises to build a wall on the border, move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and punish the Chinese government for its economic policies. Mainstream politicians might easily pledge all of these, but upon assuming power they would never act on them.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France may have had a similar mind-set about Mr. Trump. They read his tweets and waited for him to show up at a Group of 7 meeting, sure that he would never follow through on proposals. How could he, in the face of all the adults in the room? And yet, he has – again and again.
And there’s a reason for that:
Like today’s other populist leaders, Mr. Trump knows that his standing with voters hinges on making good on his most radical promises. For a populist leader to succeed, he or she doesn’t need to solve problems, nor outdo his or her predecessor. All the populist leader has to do is be different from the mainstream – to do what mainstream politicians would never do. For example, insult Germany.
So there was no surprise here:
In Mr. Trump’s world, there no longer is any concept of alliances. It is not that he is displeased with European military spending or with Europe’s position on Iran. Rather, it is that in a world where America is a disrupter and not a force for stability, allies are now a burden. They have expectations and claims that constrain America’s policies, whether that is a preferential trade agreement or a commitment to joint military exercises. Worse, they insist on predictability and reciprocity, which are completely out of sync with Mr. Trump’s view of the world.
Everyone should have realized that, and expected a man who cannot take yes for answer, as Philip Rucker and John Hudson and Josh Dawsey explain here:
For a president who loves declaring victory, the NATO summit here Wednesday could have provided a perfect opportunity.
After a year of haranguing by President Trump, Western leaders had agreed to his administration’s long-sought priorities on defense spending and counterterrorism – and were prepared to let him take all the credit.
But Trump had other plans.
The U.S. president began a remarkable day of transatlantic diplomacy by attacking Germany as “captive to Russia,” later called on NATO countries to double their previous commitment to defense spending and then effectively renounced the gathering altogether.
“He could declare victory and ride off in a blaze of glory as leader of the West,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Russia who met with officials on the sidelines of Wednesday’s summit. “But he’s rubbing salt in the wounds.”
All he has is his anger, but it’s only public anger:
Behind closed doors, Trump was cordial and even magnanimous at times with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders mingled as an acrobatic dancer performed, floating in the air, Trump said it was “a very good day at NATO.”
Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded – making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.
“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”
Outside the room it was this:
Trump tore into Germany, whose leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, is one of the most tenured NATO leaders and considered a consensus-builder in Europe. A cerebral physicist, she was especially close to President Barack Obama.
“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said, referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “So you tell me, is that appropriate? I mean, I’ve been complaining about this from the time I got in. It should have never been allowed to have happened. But Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”
As Trump un-spooled his case against Merkel, his aides looked stricken and stone-faced.
And there was more:
Trump arrived at NATO headquarters here Wednesday later than most leaders and did not walk down the long path on which others strode and took questions. In the closed session, he listened only to some of the statements from the 29 allied leaders and left soon after he demanded in his own remarks that NATO allies double their defense spending commitments to 4 percent of their countries’ gross domestic product.
Trump’s call was striking considering the figure is not even met by the United States, which spends 3.58 percent of its GDP, and was viewed by NATO experts as a transparent ploy rather than a serious proposal.
He was bored. He pulled that four-percent thing out of his ass, just for the hell of it, but otherwise he was a pussycat:
Despite Trump’s public focus on Germany’s dependence on Russian gas, he barely discussed it in his private talks with Merkel, according to an official with knowledge of the meeting. When the two leaders met face-to-face on the sidelines of the summit, Merkel defended herself and Trump did not lash out at her, the official said. Rather, their conversation focused largely on immigration, trade and Syria.
“We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor,” Trump told reporters, with Merkel at his side. “We have a tremendous relationship with Germany.”
Trump had a similarly non-confrontational meeting with Macron, the European counterpart with whom he has the warmest relationship. They spoke largely about trade, as well as energy and other issues, according to an official with knowledge of their discussion.
But there was one clear point of disagreement between the two men. When a reporter asked Macron whether he agrees with Trump that Merkel is beholden to the Russians, Trump interjected to try to cut off the conversation. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said.
Still, Macron gave his answer: “No.”
With that one word Macron said it all. This man has nothing but his anger, nothing else at all, so there was this:
As European leaders arrived at the gleaming new glass-and-steel NATO headquarters here, they walked, one by one, along a royal-blue-carpeted entry path, where some were questioned about Trump’s comments.
Merkel answered by pointing to her personal experience growing up in East Germany, which was controlled by the Soviet Union, and stressing unified Germany’s independence from Russia and her country’s shared values with the United States.
As the 29 leaders strolled together through the headquarters atrium – the $1.4 billion fortress that Trump has complained about as an example of bureaucratic excess – Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron led the pack out to the sunny, tree-lined plaza where they posed for their “family photo.” Trump lingered behind them, chatting up Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
As the leaders stood at attention at their marked places on a blue carpet, smiling for the cameras, Trump fidgeted slightly and appeared bored, though he looked to the sky with interest when 25 helicopters flew overhead.
He was lost without his anger, but Heather Hurlburt sees no need to worry:
NATO was still able to put out a unanimous communique calling on Russia to demonstrate “compliance with international law and its international obligations and responsibilities.” And it started a training program for post-ISIS Iraq. So, no, Trump didn’t destroy the Atlantic Alliance at the summit. He is not going to come home and attempt to withdraw from the treaty that commits the U.S. to the defense of its European allies, and vice versa. With all due respect to pre-trip headlines, that was never the plan.
Let’s look at the pattern here: Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris climate accord – but that doesn’t take effect until 2020. He said he would pull out of NAFTA – and we’re still waiting on that one. He described the Group of Seven major industrial powers as useless without Russia – and yet he is still happy to show up at the summit and throw Starbursts at Merkel. He threatened to quit the World Trade Organization – but really he’s just complaining other countries don’t live by its rules.
She thinks that Trump doesn’t want to risk open opposition from Republicans in Congress:
The two pacts he has bothered to walk away from are the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the seven-party “Iran deal” formerly blocking Tehran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. What did those two agreements have in common? They were brand-spanking-new Obama projects, not ensconced in years of policy-making tradition. His base was already against them, and both deals could be voided without doing much of anything, or asking congressional Republicans to do much of anything.
Trump is not going to do his opponents within the GOP the favor of giving them an issue on which they have a fighting chance to prevail.
NATO is safe, and Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog adds this:
This is the same argument often made for why Trump hasn’t given us a full-blown Saturday Night Massacre — Republicans in Congress have accommodated Trump’s every whim until now, but if he fires Bob Mueller they’re really gonna get mad!
I don’t know what congressional Republicans would do if Trump tried to withdraw from NATO (though I’m quite certain they’d let him can Mueller) – but in both cases, Trump may believe he’s at risk…
Or maybe, in both foreign and domestic affairs, Trump would rather fight than win. When he holds his regular campaign rallies, he clearly delights in having enemies who still seem powerful – Mueller, NATO, the G7 – he likes telling the crowds that he’s thriving even though he’s under siege. They eat that up.
Or maybe he can’t bring himself to fire NATO any more than he can bring himself to fire John Kelly. (A source recently told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that Trump wants Kelly gone but is “too chickenshit” to fire him.)
It’s widely known that Trump likes bullying people but doesn’t like firing them. Is that what he’s doing to NATO?
That seems to be what he is doing here. All he has is his anger, and nothing else, and Kevin Drum adds this:
When is everyone going to figure out what’s going on here? “This is Trump’s strategy,” an unnamed diplomat told the Washington Post. “He raises the stakes. Then he calms things down.”
No. That’s not what he does. He doesn’t have a “strategy” in the sense that normal people use the word. In private, he’s too ignorant to risk saying much of anything. In public, he has a sort of innate animal cunning about what will cause the maximum chaos and get him the most attention. This isn’t a negotiating ploy. It’s not good-cop-bad-cop. It’s not his way of eventually getting what he wants…
This is just Pavlovian behavior from Trump. When there’s a crowd or a TV camera around, he undergoes a phase change as reliably as water turns to ice at zero degrees. Then, when the crowds and the cameras are gone, he switches back. It’s not conscious and it’s not strategic. It just is.
None of the words he says in public mean anything. They’re just phonemes that are somehow generated in Trump’s limbic system and proceed directly to his vocal cords. Everyone needs to stop taking them seriously.
And Drum points out the obvious:
Today’s NATO summit basically went fine. On a purely operational basis, everyone agreed to the various initiatives they’ve been working on, and everyone signed the usual communique at the end, including the United States. At a working level, there were no hiccups. Literally the only thing that made it any different from any other NATO meeting was the fact that Donald Trump took advantage of the massive press presence to get off a few zingers that shocked all the normies.
But you can’t really report it that way, can you?
Yes, you can. This man has only his anger – nothing else. But that means that now America has only its anger – nothing else. And the world will move on. And that was our choice.