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Donald Trump, the US and its European allies

By Rotimi Fasan

DONALD Trump was not a conventional candidate for the office of the United States president. He had no political experience neither did he have any experience in the public service. He was the most unlikely person that could have contested for the presidency of arguably the most powerful country on our planet. But against all odds he went through the primaries of the Republican party, defeating better established candidates like Jeb Bush among others, to emerge the official candidate of the Republican party, a party whose core  tenets  he professes in nothing but words.

As a businessman, he gave financial support to whoever caught his fancy including Democrats like the Clintons whom he would eventually square up against in the presidential contest. All the while nobody took him seriously; he was expected to fall by the way side, well before the presidential contest. But one by one Trump defeated his opponents in the Republican party and edged his way forward with a combination of abrasive rhetoric and downright insults.

He had enough scandals, more than enough to drown the political career of the most accomplished and admired politician. His aggressive treatment of women that bordered on physical abuse, attack on Islamic values as opposed to terrorists who claim to profess Islam, complete disrespect of blacks and Hispanics and unsavory business practices could and ought to have done him in. But Americans were in love with his style. He was brash and unconventional, as politically incorrect as anyone, much more a politician could be. His mantra all through the primaries to the presidential contest with Hilary Clinton was ‘America first’. He presented himself as an anti-establishment politician and thought the political establishment in Washington had done considerable damage to American values. He therefore promised to ‘drain the swamp’.

He literally muscled his way up the ladder unleashing both verbal and physical punches on his opponents or anyone who stood in his way. While some worried about his divisive rhetoric many thought that was exactly what the country needed. If others outside America listened at all, they didn’t appear to have taken Trump’s tantrums and promised derailment of all America stood for in its relationship with other countries seriously. Certainly America’s allies in Europe might have felt concerned about candidate Trump’s attack on many of the alliances that gave America respect and its leading position in the ‘civilised world’.  From agreements on climate change, military to economic alliances, Trump promised radical changes to America’s relations with its European allies. He called the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation obsolete and openly supported the dismemberment of the European Union as exemplified in his encouragement of Brexit. For him, the EU was a smokescreen for Germany’s domination of Europe. He was particularly irked by Germany’s open door accommodation of refugees fleeing war zones.

Even while Britain might have begun the process of leaving the EU, Theresa May did not think it out of place to try to cozy up to Trump. She was the first leader of one of the traditional European allies of the US to visit Trump in the White House. But Trump gave her a cold shoulder. He barely tolerated her. But a worse treatment was in store for Angela Merkel, the German leader. In spite of all her warm gestures to Trump, the latter remained grumpy and cold to her moves. Merkel was apparently at a loss of how to respond to Trump during the press briefing that saw Trump putting her in ‘her place’. It was as if her visit to Washington was all the opportunity he needed to hit her for her many ‘sins’ of cavorting with refugees and canvassing of German domination of Europe in the guise of support for the EU. Trump took every opportunity to rail against what he considered Europe’s unfair treatment of America and its failure to play its part in world affairs. Trump thought the burden of Euro-American relations weighed too heavily against America. He wants things to change and for this to happen countries like Germany, France and Britain would need to do more by way of contribution.

This was the message he took to the G7 Summit during his first official foreign visit of his presidency that ended last week. If Trump had been complaining about the uneven balance of relations between Europe and the US before now, he finally had an opportunity to make his point loud and clear to the European leaders during the G7 Summit in Italy. Donald Trump gave to the leaders the treatment he had all through his presidential campaign reserved for blacks and Hispanics. He left nobody in doubt about the disdain he harbours for many of these leaders that had been friends with his political enemies like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. As if expressly lined up for that purpose, Trump tongue-lashed the leaders of the so-called advanced countries of the world as they looked on in bemused silence, staring into one another’s eyes. It was a particularly funny and instructive spectacle to behold. No doubt a major embarrassment to the EU leaders. Trump made clear who was in charge. He wanted it known that he was nowhere near getting close to Europe.

Africa and other counties of the ‘Third World’ have often been cast in the mould of aide-seekers, countries that look out for Western handouts in order to survive. Even the poorer countries of Europe made much of their common alliance and looked down on the ‘global south’. But without mincing words Trump made clear that the era of ‘Marshal Plan’ was over and to everyone now his burden. Europe must now carry its own can, Trump appeared to be saying. He bore sharp holes into the leaders with words. And they stood quiet like repentant school children caught dipping their hands in the cookie jar. Might is obviously right and everyone must pull their weight to be recognised. Surely, Trump’s hand was heavy on the leaders. If there was any doubt he was at the Summit to pull American weight that must have ended with his brusque elbowing of Dusko Markovic, the Prime Minister of Montenegro, the latest member of NATO. Donald Trump literally pulled this man by his arm out of Trump’s way as he took position for a photo opportunity. Angela Merkel seems to have taken Trump’s message home and is now talking of looking out to no ally anywhere anymore.

But while Trump dealt harshly with the US’s traditional allies he has been very friendly with Russia, America’s age long adversary. He has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin and called Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, a ‘smart cookie’ for holding on to power while surrounded by much older people. E get as e be!

 


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