Trump’s claims of suc­cess sub­ject to chal­lenge

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS -

BRUS­SELS — Declar­ing vic­tory over freeload­ing part­ners, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump claimed he had se­cured sig­nif­i­cant new con­ces­sions from NATO mem­ber na­tions on mil­i­tary spend­ing af­ter days of pub­lic ha­rangu­ing. But even be­fore Air Force One com­pleted its 50-minute flight across the English Chan­nel to the next stop on his Euro­pean tour, Trump’s claims of ac­com­plish­ment were chal­lenged by the same al­lies he claimed had caved.

Trump’s head-spin­ning 28 hours at the NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels be­fore vis­it­ing Bri­tain reaf­firmed a fa­mil­iar pat­tern for the sales­man-turned-pres­i­dent, who left a chaotic trail be­hind and whose self-pro­claimed ac­com­plish­ments abroad proved once again to be more show than sub­stance. In the space of eight hours, Trump had moved from doubt­ing the util­ity of the mu­tual de­fence al­liance and pro­vok­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary emer­gency ses­sion of its mem­bers to declar­ing the pact stronger than ever.

It’s a play­book Trump has fol­lowed be­fore: Trump claimed world-al­ter­ing suc­cess fol­low­ing last month’s meet­ing with Kim Jong Un, when he stated that North Korea was “no longer a nu­clear threat” af­ter their his­toric sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore. And in May, he took a vic­tory lap on a sup­posed trade deal with China, only to see it morph into the be­gin­nings of a trade war.

Af­ter days of calling on NATO mem­bers to in­crease their de­fence spend­ing to at least two per cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, ac­cus­ing Ger­many of be­ing “to­tally con­trolled” by Rus­sia and pon­der­ing “what good is NATO?” Trump of­fered Thurs­day that “peo­ple have stepped up to­day like they’ve never stepped up be­fore.”

“I’ve taken over a lot of bad hands and I’m fix­ing each one of them, and I’m fix­ing them well,” Trump said dur­ing a hastily called press con­fer­ence Thurs­day.

“What they’re do­ing is spend­ing at a much faster clip. They’re go­ing up to the two per cent level.”

But state­ments from NATO al­lies sug­gested there was lit­tle cause for Trump’s self-con­grat­u­la­tion.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron de­nied there were any new spend­ing com­mit­ments.

He said: “There is a com­mu­niqué that was pub­lished yes­ter­day. It’s very de­tailed. It con­firms the goal of two per cent by 2024. That’s all.”

That 2024 goal had been set in 2014. In­stead of new pledges, NATO mem­bers ap­peared to try to pla­cate Trump by giv­ing him a share of the credit for progress that had al­ready been un­der­way.

“I made clear that we know that we have to do more and that we have been do­ing so for quite a while,” Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel said. “That turn­ing point has long been ini­ti­ated.”

NATO sec­re­tary gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg de­murred when asked what Trump had ac­com­plished, say­ing the al­lies “agree that we need to de­liver on our com­mit­ments.”

He did al­low, though, that there was “a new sense of ur­gency” about in­creas­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing.

Trump’s boasts of achieve­ment have come un­der ques­tion be­fore.

North Korea has yet to take sub­stan­tial steps to dis­man­tle its nu­clear arse­nal, and on Thurs­day ap­peared to back­track on a pledge to repa­tri­ate the re­mains of Amer­i­can war dead — a move that Trump weeks ago said the North had al­ready un­der­taken. A let­ter from Kim that Trump tweeted out Thurs­day her­alded the “start of a mean­ing­ful jour­ney” be­tween the two na­tions, but made no men­tion of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

Trump’s tweet: “A very nice note from Chair­man Kim of North Korea. Great progress be­ing made!”

The dis­play at NATO shows how Trump, who views him­self as a world­class ne­go­tia­tor, likes to play both good cop and bad cop him­self. On Wednes­day, he showed up at a break­fast meet­ing with Stoltenberg steam­ing mad, charmed al­lies at a black-tie din­ner that evening, and sent them reel­ing Thurs­day morn­ing, only to praise their ef­forts hours later.

That mer­cu­rial side of Trump is less likely to be ex­pe­ri­enced Mon­day by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump has been an­tic­i­pat­ing a sit-down for weeks.

The pres­i­dent set him­self a low bar for what he’ll achieve in Moscow, telling re­porters: “I think we go into that meet­ing look­ing for not so much.” He said it could lead to “some­thing very pro­duc­tive — and maybe it’s not.”

His diplo­matic team ar­gues the meet­ing in it­self should be seen as notable achieve­ment, so look for more grand procla­ma­tions next week.

Lithua­nian Pres­i­dent Dalia Gry­bauskaite told re­porters she’s com­fort­able with the Trump-Putin sum­mit, but it “de­pends very much on out­comes.”

“These two peo­ple are very dif­fer­ent, very in­ter­est­ingly dif­fer­ent,” she said. “Hope­fully noth­ing bad hap­pens.”

BERND VON JUTRCZENKA / DEUTSCHE PRESSE-AGENTUR

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the end of the NATO sum­mit on Thurs­day in Brus­sels.

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