A Slate story Friday covering the recent NATO summit suggested that world leaders are only nice to President Donald Trump because they need something from him and can’t risk angering him.
The piece was a report on a hot mic incident in which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were caught discussing interactions with Trump during the summit in London.
The tape that went viral shows Trudeau saying Trump was late “because he took a 40-minute press conference right off the top.”
Macron responds, but he can’t be heard. Trudeau then says Trump staffers’ “jaws dropped to the floor” when Trump announced the next NATO meeting would be held at Camp David.
Out of that fleeting exchange, we get “Other Leaders Never Get to Say What They Really Think of Trump” by Joshua Keating.
“On the scale of Donald Trump’s sins, the length of his press conferences is pretty minor,” Keating began.
Keating reported that Trump called Trudeau “two-faced,” which is true, then added, without evidence, that Trump left “the gathering early in a huff.” Trump said in a tweet he left without providing a final press conference because he had talked enough in London.
But “the reason the video caused such a stir,” Keating wrote, “was not because of what was actually said – Trump’s heard worse. It’s rare for us to hear what leaders of U.S. allies honestly think about Trump. Given his behavior over the past three years, it’s not exactly shocking that they’re fed up and baffled by him, but they never say so publicly, leaving reporters to draw conclusions from body language.”
Keating provides no evidence, other than the video, which is not conclusive, that leaders are fed up or baffled with Trump. Many, including Johnson and, of course, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, have made a point of moving closer to Trump.
Keating says Trump “has gotten away with a lot of his shabby treatment of allies because their governments can’t afford to push back.” He wrote that former UK Prime Minister Theresa May “repeatedly [tried] to stay on Trump’s good side in hopes of a post-Brexit trade deal.” Trump has argued since Brexit became possible that the U.S. would be waiting with open arms to make a trade deal with the UK the moment it left the European Union.
Another example of world leaders wanting to defy Trump came when “Syrian Kurds … threw rocks and rotting food at departing U.S. troops in October,” Keating wrote.
This was “probably an accurate representation of the Kurdish public reaction to Trump’s decision to greenlight a brutal Turkish military offensive into northern Syria. Syrian commanders, by contrast, refrained from criticizing the initial decision and effusively praised Trump after the U.S. helped reach a cease-fire deal that cemented Turkish control over much of what had been Kurdish territory.”
Keating allowed no possibility the leaders praised Trump because he had effectively diffused a difficult situation in a matter of days and extracted American soldiers from a war in which no national interest was at stake.
As for Zelensky, Keating marveled that “in the face of abundant evidence,” he “has continued to maintain that he felt no pressure to investigate Joe Biden’s son in exchange for military aid. During congressional impeachment hearings, Republicans used Zelensky’s silence” – it was not silence; it was affirmative acknowledgment on multiple occasions that the president’s characterization of the call had been accurate – “as evidence that there was no pressure, but Zelensky is not really in a position to say otherwise. … Zelensky can’t afford to be seen by the White House as affiliated with the impeachment effort.”
Photo by NATO