By Tulsathit Taptim
One minute, Trump has us on the edge of our seats with his crazy, wild-eyed belligerence, as his rivals back home scream “See? We told you so”. But the next minute he is batting his eyelashes at Kim Jong-un.
Now comes another dilemma: Should we support an idea for the European Union to have its own army? A few EU members appear to favour the idea, but Trump, offended by the French leader’s remark – that an EU army would come in handy as protection against the United States – said the comment was insulting to America.
US Democrats called him a bully. That was a relatively kind description compared with their usual depiction of an insane man with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal at his command.
The dilemma for all foreign policy makers in the world, therefore, is who to believe.
If we believe Trump, the EU should not duplicate Nato and shift towards joint territorial defence of its members, something that goes far beyond its current military activities and role. And, yes, the US should feel insulted by French President Emmanuel Macron’s words.
The French leader last week repeated calls for a European army, “to protect us against China, Russia and even the United States of America”. In response, Trump tweeted: “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the US, China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of Nato, which the US subsidises greatly!”
If we believe Trump’s domestic opponents, the EU should definitely have its own army. A Trump-led America is probably a scarier proposition than China – which in recent memory has not initiated wars or secretly aided regime change – or Russia, which has been busy putting its house in order. And Trump will surely seek a second term, meaning the EU will possibly be stuck with him for six more years.
Analysts see the just-ended US midterm elections as a snub directed at Trump. Bad news, for his opponents at least, is that presidents who suffer midterm setbacks often bounce back to claim a second term. Worse still, Trump has been reportedly buoyed, not discouraged, by the midterm outcomes. His tendency to focus only on the positives – he was reportedly thrilled at some key midterm victories but practically ignored the humbling defeats – may be a prerequisite of great leadership, but critics say it is also a characteristic of dangerous narcissists.
The EU is like a man with a friend who is well-armed but potentially mad. If you want to hang out with him, you may need to carry a gun of your own. He might court trouble, if not being direct trouble himself.
Macron’s remark may be “insulting” but it could also be honest and straightforward. And internal US politics is not helping. Trump’s opponents accuse him of being a Russian “plant”, remember, so what’s wrong with the EU preparing itself in case that allegation is true?
The American media have not been particularly kind to Trump, either. They deeply distrust him and repeatedly caution that his declarations and policies are creating unnecessary global tensions and even fear of war. The EU, tuning in to the US media, could be forgiven for being torn between handing Nato more money and saving some for a new form of self-protection.
Is Nato enough? Macron does not seem to think so. “We will not be able to protect Europeans if we don’t decide to have a real European army,” he said. “Faced with Russia, which is at our borders, and which showed us that it could be threatening, we must have a Europe that defends itself more on its own, without only depending on the United States and in a more sovereign way.”
If Russians are angered by those remarks, it doesn’t show. Or else Trump has beat them to it. The world, however, should be grateful that Russia has not declared itself insulted, or the already tough job of diplomatic speechwriters would suddenly be a lot tougher.