President Trump unexpectedly launched a verbal assault at the United States’ oldest ally Tuesday, slamming French President Emmanuel Macron’s warnings about the decline of the NATO military alliance as “insulting,” “very, very nasty” and “very disrespectful.”
Trump sought to smooth over his disagreement with Macron when the two later spoke with reporters, saying they had made progress on resolving differences over trade and security strategy.
But Macron held his ground, pointing his finger toward Trump, who responded with sour expressions and a renewal of his threat to impose tariffs on French wine and other products.
Trump’s surprising defense of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that he once derided as “obsolete,” and his public clash with a European leader who long was in Trump’s good graces, highlighted the president’s ever shifting, often confusing and frequently impolitic approach to foreign policy and national security.
Although he had no news conference scheduled, Trump went on a tear, not once or twice but in three freewheeling meetings with reporters — totaling more than two hours — on the first day of the two-day NATO leaders’ summit, one that was supposed to emphasize unity and celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary.
Summit officials had deliberately kept official group meetings here short on the planning schedule, partly in an effort to avoid the kind of disruptions that Trump has engineered in the past, when he threatened to upend the crucial alliance if other member countries did not contribute more money for defense.
While Trump repeated those threats Tuesday, he zeroed in on more familiar targets as he denounced
impeachment (“a disgrace”), Democrats (“gone crazy”), Joe Biden’s family (“We want the son”), Rep. Adam Schiff (“a maniac”) and more.
He announced that he will host the next Group of 7 leaders’ summit in June at the presidential retreat at Camp David in rural Maryland. He did not mention his abrupt about-face in October after he faced a storm of bipartisan criticism for trying to stage the summit at his golf resort in Miami.
Trump also rattled global stock markets when he suggested that the U.S. trade war with China might last another year.
“I have no deadline,” Trump said. “In some ways I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal.”
At one point, he said the United States did not stand with the anti-government protesters in Iran, only to correct himself during a later appearance.
Trump funneled some of his frustrations to Macron, who recently warned in an interview with the Economist magazine that NATO was experiencing “brain death.” Macron cast doubt on Article 5, the alliance’s collective-defense clause, and said he was not sure whether the U.S. would show up to defend Europe in a crisis.
Asked about Macron’s comment during a morning meeting with NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, Trump called it “insulting to a lot of different forces,” adding, “that is a very, very nasty statement” to the members of the alliance.
He then expanded his critique to France, noting its “very high unemployment rate” and suggested that history shows France cannot defend itself without American help.
He then appeared to question whether NATO’s role in keeping the peace in Europe since World War II was in U.S. interests.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France, and frankly the one that benefits really the least is the United States,” he said. “We benefit the least. We’re helping Europe.”
He said the U.S. is helping Europe protect against a foe “that may or may not be a foe,” referring to Russia. Trump took credit for pushing NATO, which was created to counter what was then the Soviet Union, to broaden its focus to other threats.
He suggested his greater ire stemmed from Macron’s threat to levy a 3% tax on tech companies, including U.S. giants Facebook, Google and Amazon, a topic over which he and Macron have been at odds for much of this year.
“If anyone’s going to take advantage of the American companies, it’s going to be us,” Trump said. “It’s not going to be France.”
Macron, who has been frustrated with Trump’s go-it-alone attitude, complained when the two met later that the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and Trump’s efforts to pull troops from Syria posed threats to European stability.
Macron also publicly disagreed with Trump’s assessment of Turkey’s regional role, and Trump’s claims that the militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been defeated and that only imprisoned fighters remain.
“For me the very first objective in the region is to finish work against ISIS,” Macron said, speaking in English. “And don’t don’t make any mistake. Your No. 1 problem are not the foreign fighters. [It] is the ISIS fighters in the region, and you have more and more … due to the situation today.”
Macron has tried more than other European leaders to befriend and flatter Trump.
But, like other allies, he has been frustrated by Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal as well as his fights over trade.
Macron said France is now close to meeting a NATO goal on sharing the cost of mutual defense, which requires countries to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on military.
“But when you speak about NATO, it’s not just about money,” he said, drawing a contrast with Trump’s critique.
Trump arrived in London late Monday evening and is scheduled to depart on Wednesday. He appeared intent on grabbing the spotlight from the ongoing impeachment probe while traveling abroad, speaking to reporters at length throughout the day.
Trump answered reporters’ questions for 52 minutes during his meeting with Stoltenberg at Winfield House, the official residence of the U.S. ambassador in the United Kingdom. He later spent 39 minutes taking questions with Macron and about 30 minutes with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
He chastised NATO allies for not spending enough on defense while taking credit for progress many countries made on spending goals set while President Obama was in office.
The public clash with an ally was not unusual for Trump, who has flouted diplomatic norms observed by previous presidents. During his session with Stoltenberg, Trump also attacked domestic foes — and his predecessor — something other presidents have usually resisted while on foreign soil.
“In Germany, they like Obama. The reason they like Obama is because Obama gave the ship away. He allowed them to take everything,” Trump said without specifying what he meant. “They may not like me because I’m representing us, and I represent us strong. President Obama did not represent us strong.”
He called Democrats leading the impeachment inquiry against him “unpatriotic” and said they would be to blame if the probe causes “a cloud” on his efforts internationally.
He said he would not accept a congressional censure resolution that would condemn his actions in Ukraine while stopping short of removing him.
“You don’t censure somebody when they did nothing wrong,” he said. “They’re what you call an investigation in search of a crime.”
Trump also weighed in on another domestic issue, the possibility that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo would resign to run for Senate in Kansas.
Trump said Pompeo, who stood behind him, was doing a “tremendous job,” but “if I thought there was a risk to losing that seat, I would sit down and seriously talk to Mike.”
Many Republican leaders think the GOP could lose the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Roberts, who plans to retire, and they have urged Pompeo to run.
Even as Trump clashed with an ally and Democrats, he continued to emphasize his strong relationship with U.S. adversaries. He shrugged when asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s missile tests.
“He really likes sending rockets up doesn’t he? That’s why I call him Rocket Man,” Trump said, again emphasizing his personal ties to the autocrat.
And even as NATO allies and American officials have complained about Turkey’s incursion in northern Syria and its decision to purchase Russian S-400 missiles, Trump undercut any attempts to rein in the NATO member country.
He praised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for allowing the U.S. military to cross its airspace during the mission that led to the death of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the founder of Islamic State. And he misleadingly blamed Obama for Turkey’s decision to buy the weapons, echoing Erdogan’s line.