We get that President Donald Trump wants serious changes in the Atlantic alliance, but he began the Brussels summit looking like he’s out to “save” NATO by destroying it.
First came his comments while leaving Washington: “I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.” Easier to sit down with a tyrannical, warmongering thug than your allies?
Then his slams in Thursday’s breakfast with the NATO secretary-general, claiming Germany is “totally controlled” by Russia and again expressing his ire over other members’ long failure to meet the alliance’s defense-spending targets: “They’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”
He has fair points behind the bluster: Washington’s been pushing on NATO defense spending for decades now. And it’s fair to worry about German dependence on Russian gas and oil. Even some other NATO members dislike the proposed new Russian pipeline to Germany, which avoids Poland and war-torn Ukraine — war-torn thanks to Vladimir Putin.
And, yes, Trump made nice with Angela Merkel later in the day, noting, “We have a tremendous relationship with Germany” and even “I believe that our trade will increase.” But playing “good cop” to your own “bad cop” rarely comes off as sincere.
We look forward to a meeting with US allies where the president leads with his charm.