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7 Dec 2019 15:40
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  •   Home > News > International

    For Donald Trump, the line between allies and foes is fuzzier than ever

    The NATO summit left something clear: the leaders of countries that have stood with America for years see no reason to faithfully support Donald Trump, the way they once might have done for a US president, writes Michelle Maynard.

    Since the end of World War II, America had a loyal set of allies.

    Canada, one of its two closest neighbours and largest trading partner. Britain, with which it enjoyed the heralded special relationship.

    And France, whose Marquis de Lafayette was instrumental in the American Revolution of the late 1700s.

    Who could have anticipated that an American president would have been the subject of mocking among their leaders?

    And worse, that one of those allies would tangle with him publicly under a global spotlight?

    That's what happened this week at the summit of NATO countries in London.

    Whether Donald Trump was embarrassed, upset or simply tired from recent travels, he packed up early and went home to Washington — an even more hostile place, given that impeachment proceedings are swirling.

    NATO dustup underscores Trump's standing

    The NATO summit left something clear: the leaders of countries that have stood with America for years see no reason to faithfully support Mr Trump, the way they once might have done for a US president.

    They really don't even see a need to be polite about him among themselves, which only underscores his weak standing.

    Of course, you could call the leaders childish for speaking about Mr Trump where they clearly could be overheard.

    According to video captured at the reception, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson kicks things off by asking why the group, including Justin Trudeau of Canada and Emmanuel Macron of France, was late to the party.

    Mr Trudeau replies that the tardiness was due to an unexpected 38-minute press conference conducted by someone, presumably Mr Trump, at a photo opportunity.

    "I watched his team's jaws drop on the floor," Mr Trudeau says, as Mr Macron, Mr Johnson and Princess Anne listen.

    Asked about it, Mr Trump called Mr Trudeau "two-faced" and blamed the apparent mockery on Mr Trump's criticism over Canada's contribution to NATO.

    Then, he cancelled his own scheduled news conference and left town.

    "Can't get over this video, both for the fact that POTUS hates the thought of anyone laughing at him, and for the fact that he used 'other countries are laughing at us' as an attack against his predecessors," tweeted New York Times corresponded Maggie Haberman.

    But his dustup with Mr Macron was far more direct, and not pleasant.

    Macron's change in role

    Throughout Mr Trump's presidency, Mr Macron has always been obsequious to Mr Trump, inviting him to the Elysee Palace, putting on a military parade that sparked Mr Trump's desire for a similar display in Washington, and appearing publicly patient with his erratic behaviour.

    Mr Macron seemed satisfied to fill the perennial role of ally until this week.

    Before the summit began, he hurled criticism at NATO, saying the group is suffering from "brain death" in part due to a lack of US leadership.

    Mr Trump answered that the critique was insulting. But in both French and English tweets, Mr Macron said he stood by his statements.

    Certainly, Mr Trudeau, whose party won a narrow re-election this fall, and whose political pedigree is secure, gains nothing at home from a friendship with Mr Trump.

    Mr Macron, for his part, is positioning himself as a leader on European affairs, now that Angela Merkel's political career is starting to wind down.

    And, given that Mr Trump has now formally started the process to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, a topic crucial to Mr Macron, he virtually has a duty to take him on.

    Without friends, there's only foes

    Without the friendliness and respect of America's traditional diplomatic playmates, Mr Trump seems to be left with people who have long been considered America's foes, namely Russia and North Korea.

    Even as there have been widespread findings of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Mr Trump still talks about wanting to attend a military parade in Moscow, and critics say that Republicans and GOP-friendly commentators keep circulating Russian talking points about Ukraine.

    Meanwhile, Mr Trump finds ways to say nice things about Kim Jong-un, who has warned the US to be prepared for an ominous and unspecified "Christmas gift".

    Mr Trump revived his "Rocket Man" nickname for Mr Kim, and said the US would use force if needed, but he didn't seem seriously upset.

    "I have confidence in him, he has confidence in me, I like him, he likes me," he said, claiming Asia would be in a war without the relationship.

    There's nowhere else to go

    It all seems a little headshaking why America's traditional allies feel free to mock it while Mr Trump promotes relationships with supposed enemies.

    But Mr Trump really doesn't have anywhere else to go.

    The world sees his political problems at home and anyone who doesn't owe him something is safe to slink away.

    That leaves Mr Trump in the position of a school boy whose primary playmates are the ones he rewards to spend time with him.

    When Russia and North Korea decide an association with him has lost its value, then Mr Trump will truly be alone on the global stage.

    Micheline Maynard is an American author and journalist.


    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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