Thursday, July 12, 2018


As I type this, Mara Liasson is on NPR saying that President Trump's impromptu news conference in Brussels this morning is the president finally "taking yes for an answer." In Brussels he'd suggested that he might pull out of NATO, but now he was saying positive things about NATO. Trump is claiming credit for a defense spending increase that NATO had already agreed to before he was elected (although it might now take place slightly faster than planned).

This is really the Art of the Deal -- Trump makes a lot of very hostile noises, violating all the normal rules of decorum, and then gets ... more or less what anyone else could have gotten using more conventional dealmaking techniques. But it appears as if his tantrum made all the difference. What he wants is for his observers to believe that no one can shake things up and make things happen the way he can.

The early saber-rattling in response to Kim Jong-un's provocations worked more or less the same way. Trump said hostile things, then decided he liked Kim when a summit was proposed. Trump has gotten nothing out of the deal that benefits America or the world, but he got what he wanted personally, which is the sense that he got in Kim's face and is now on the verge of a denuclearization breakthrough as a result (even though he obviously isn't).

It's all for domestic consumption. It's all an effort to win the adulation of his base. (The same is true for Trump in Brussels right now. Notice that his news conference today took place just as Americans were waking up and turning on Fox and Friends or Good Morning America or Morning Joe.)

Kim, at least, got something out of Trump's histrionics -- he now has a legitimacy he didn't have before. By contrast, the other NATO nations this week were just Trump's foils. They were Margaret Dumont, while Trump was a humorless Groucho Marx riding roughshod over them. No one tried to parry him or say he was acting like a brat.

And it's all an act, as a Washington Post story posted yesterday made clear:
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.”

During a closed-door working session of all the leaders, Trump was relatively reserved, according to attendees. He repeated the same arguments he made earlier in public that NATO member states needed to up their defense spending and that Germany is too dependent on Russia for natural gas. But he also stressed the common security threats all NATO allies face, according to a senior diplomat who was in the meeting.

“This is Trump’s strategy,” said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly recount the private meeting. “He raises the stakes, then he calms things down.”
Right, and it has one aim: to make Trump appear dominant. The Europeans have no counter-strategy, any more than Trump's 2016 primary challengers did. He made them squirm, and he did the same to the Europeans in Brussels. You can't let him get away with that.

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