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U.S. 2024 ELECTION:’Dismay and disbelief’: What U.S allies are saying about the chance of another Trump presidency

US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (R) as they pose for a group photo ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit leaders’ gala dinner in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEVMIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty ImagesMore

DURING his 19 overseas trips as president, Donald Trump  made headlines by muscling his way through a crowd of fellow leaders to the front of a group photo and siding with Russia’s Vladimir Putin , and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, over his own intelligence agencies, called North Korea’s murderous dictator “very honorable” and threatened to pull the U.S. from the NATO military alliance. 

He also reportedly refused to attend a memorial to fallen World War One soldiers in France over concern the rain would mess with his hairdo.

Now, with Trump pulling slightly ahead of President Joe Biden in some national polls, U.S. allies are steeling themselves for a possible MAGA (Make America Great Again) restoration with equal measures of dread and pragmatism.

World leaders and officials from friendly and even adversary countries tend not to comment on U.S. election campaigns. This is because − like them or not − they have to work with the eventual winner.

“I take the leaders that the people give me,” French President Emmanuel Macron, said recently.

Trump’s loudest critics: He got some world affairs right 

But in private some allies say they are preparing for a revenge presidency that might actively work against European interests − a dictator-loving administration that could turn its back on NATO while descending into chaos and political theater.

“We now know how Trump likes to operate. He likes to surprise us. He has a transactional approach. In this regard, we won’t be surprised,” said a senior official from a major Western European country who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But if Trump wins it will still be a shock.”

The official added, “we often say American presidential elections have the fate of the world in their hands. That idea is usually overstated. This time, it really could be true because the two candidates have a very, very different approach to international affairs and working constructively with their allies.”

‘Is Trump really the guy you are going to go for again?’

As president, Trump slashed and burned his way through international agreements and commitments on climate change, trade, troop deployments, public health, nuclear weapons and more.

He spread false information, routinely used inflammatory language and disparaged leaders of friendly nations like Britain and Germany, while lavishing praise on strongmen including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

Trump referred to African countries, Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole” nations.

He boasted he “saved” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman after U.S intelligence concluded MBS, as the kingdom’s de facto leader is known, had ordered the gruesome daylight killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi consulate in Turkey. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was a critic of the crown prince.

Donald Trump listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

 

After all, 18 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government directed cyberattacks on members of the Democratic Party during the 2016 election, Trump, following a meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, said he didn’t “see any reason why” Russia would be responsible.

In North Korea, experts say. Trump handed brutal dictator Kim Jong Un a powerful propaganda victory by holding fruitless and self-aggrandizing summits. He also exited a deal between Iran and world powers that appeared to be curbing Tehran’s nuclear development, banned nationals of six Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S. for ninety days and rolled back improving ties with Cuba.

“There is a huge level of dismay and disbelief in Europe among our allies. They are saying: ‘Are you really going to do this again? Is Trump really going to be the guy you go for again?'” said Lewis Lukens, a retired U.S. diplomat. Lukens was abruptly fired as the number two official at the U.S. embassy in London in 2018 by the Trump-appointed ambassador after speaking positively of former President Barack Obama during a speech to English college students.

“The first four years of Trump put a lot of stress on American institutions and the country internationally that caused a lot of damage to our allies with his erratic, uncertain policies,” said John Bolton, a former national security advisor to Trump.

Bolton has become one of Trump’s loudest critics to emerge from his White House. He said a second Trump term could damage the U.S. and its allies in ways “that simply cannot be repaired.”

More recently, Trump has appeared to talk fast and loose about abandon Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing has vowed to reunite with the Chinese mainland − by force if necessary.

Trump has also warned NATO allies he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that don’t pay their way in the alliance. He has said he would consider letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine in a deal to end the war − and that he could easily resolve it in a single day.

Trump’s “approach to international affairs is a matter of concern for us,” said a senior Taiwanese lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The U.S., France’s leader says, is ‘a democracy in crisis’

Biden swiftly jettisoned Trump’s “America First” nationalism upon taking office.

He rebuilt relationships with allies, rejoined international pacts such as the Paris Agreement on climate change. He rallied NATO and helped win the inclusion of two new members, long-neutral Finland and Sweden, in the face of Russia’s Ukraine invasion. He halted the U.S. departure from the World Health Organization, which Trump had denigrated.

Now that Biden is 81, polls show many Americans are concerned about his age. Like Trump, he appears to make frequent verbal flubs and sometimes confuses the names of world leaders. If U.S. allies believe Biden is too old, they aren’t saying. Biden has also stirred global anger, including among many allies, for failing to restrain Israel’s retaliatory war against Hamas in Gaza.

“How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders and foreign ministers around the world saying too many people are being killed?” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last month after Biden remarked that Israel’s conduct in the war was “over the top.”

 

Former President Donald Trump, looks on as French President Emmanuel Macron chats with German Chancellor Angela Merke in November 2018 in Paris. Over 60 heads of state and government took part in a solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to honor those who died in World War One.

 

France’s leader Macron has cautioned that regardless of who wins the White House in November, Europe should brace for the possibility that, long-term, U.S. priorities may lie elsewhere.

“They share our values, but it is a democracy that is also going through crisis,” Macron said, adding that the U.S.’s “first priority is itself.” Macron said the U.S.’s second priority is China. In recent days, Macron has floated the idea that Western countries may need to be prepared to send troops to Ukraine.

And Trump, 77, does have some supporters among U.S. allies.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right national security minister who has argued for a much more aggressive Israeli approach to its war with Hamas in Gaza, where at least 30,000 people have been killed over the last five months and the U.N. says famine is “inevitable,” recently said Biden was not giving Israel his “full backing.”

Ben-Gvir said, without elaborating, “if Trump was in power, the U.S. conduct would be completely different.”

 

Similarly, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose populist politics have often been compared to Trump’s, argued in a recent newspaper column, “a Trump presidency could be just what the world needs.”

Another senior European official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump’s recent comments about NATO, as well as his many threats to withdraw from the alliance while he was president, were “very disturbing” and “counterproductive” because they undermined faith in collective security arrangements.

The official said if Trump is re-elected, he threatens to upend U.S. and European relations at a time when they have been on a “very good track,” not least because of cooperation over Ukraine.

As Ukraine runs low on ammunition and weapons, Trump-supporting Republicans are already blocking congressional funding that could prove decisive in Kyiv’s battle to stop a recent Russian military advance.

The official said Europe would not be helpless if Trump were to pursue policies it considered unhelpful and that the region had “possible leverages” to pressure him, such as on trade.

This is what autocracy looks like: jailed for speaking out

There are also those who believe fears over a Trump 2.0 presidency are overblown.

“When I became foreign minister in 2019 it was still Trump times and it was impossible to talk to his then secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, about climate change or biodiversity or things like that,” said Pekka Haavisto, a Finnish lawmaker whoas the Nordic country’s top diplomat, negotiated its NATO membership.

“But on Russia, China, the Middle East we did have intensive engagement.”

 

 

Haavisto recalled asking NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “How was it in NATO during Trump?” He said Stoltenberg replied: “Despite all of Trump’s rhetoric, the U.S. kept all its economic commitments. And it also kept all of its personnel commitments. So actually, it was a normal time for NATO.”

A senior security official in Europe who requested anonymity agreed with this assessment. The official said Europe saw “historic increases in defense spending,” and this was “driven by strong U.S. urging.”

In other words, Trump was right to give NATO members a nudge on spending, even if he did it impolitely − and while threatening to ditch the U.S.-led alliance.

Hanno Pevkur, Estonia’s defense minister, said it’s clear to many in Estonia that Trump’s fiery rhetoric is aimed at domestic audiences. He said because NATO enjoys widespread bipartisan support in Congress, he did not think it mattered too much “who is the next U.S. president.”

Another senior official from Eastern Europe also balked at the idea, reportedly suggested by a German lawmaker at the Munich Security Conference last month, that a second Trump administration would mean a world in which Europe is competing with “three autocracies, Chima, Russia and the U.S.”

“Yes, Trump can be very outspoken. He can push lines. But the U.S. has an independent judiciary system. You have freedom of speech. Nobody’s going to throw you in jail for saying something about a president or an official. That’s what autocracy is,” they said.

Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, a Washington think tank, said a lot of America’s overseas relationships are “pretty institutionalized” and amount to a major check on presidential power.

He said Trump would be limited, like last time around, in what he could do by longstanding institutions, official bureaucracy and the people around him. “He wouldn’t be the only one making important calls” on foreign policy, DePetris said.

Not ready for the panic stations

Still, Trump’s former national security adviser Bolton said he thinks U.S. allies aren’t panicking yet because they aren’t convinced Trump is actually going to win.

“They’re worried about it. They wouldn’t look forward to another four years with him. I don’t think they have yet really internalized just how bad it could be,” Bolton said.

“Take the example of a NATO withdrawal. They see it as a possibility but they fundamentally don’t think that any American president would do it. And that, I believe, is the triumph of hope over experience,” Bolton warned.

 

President Donald Trump had a fractious relationship with national security adviser John Bolton.

Yet, like Bolton, many of the former first-term senior Trump officials who claimed they stood between the former president and his worst impulses − such as wanting to bomb Iran or North Korea − have now broken with him.

Who would restrain him in a second term?

“In any Trump job interview the most important question will be: ‘Will you do what I tell you to do and not offer your opinion?’ And if the answer to that question is ‘yes’ then you’re probably going to get hired.”

The Trump campaign didn’t return a request for comment.

Saudi’s man in America

Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi scholar and dissident, framed a possible Trump return another way.

After Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner left the White House, where he’d worked as a senior advisor, and helped cultivate close ties with Mohammed bin Salman, he started a private equity firm that received a reported $2 billion investment from the sovereign wealth fund controlled by the crown prince.

Kushner has defended the investment, saying everything he did while working in the White House was in the interest of the American people. That’s hasn’t satisfied Democrats, who have called for an investigation.

“They want him back,” Al-Ahmed said of Trump and the Saudis.

“He is their man.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY

 

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