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Turkey at the crossroads following Istanbul shooting

There are no quick or easy solutions to Turkey’s terrorism crisis. However if the crisis is to be overcome Turkey urgently needs to reconcile with Syria and Iraq, in order to secure peace and establish good neighbourly relations with these countries, ending the threat of Jihadi terrorism spreading to its territory. Turks also urgently needs to focus on the fight against ISIS, work for better relations with Russia, and in the long term seek reconciliation with the Armenians and the Kurds.

Alexander Mercouris

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The murderous attack on New Year’s Day on a nightclub in Istanbul is merely the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in Turkey.

Responsibility for the New Year’s Day attack has been claimed by ISIS.  ISIS has also claimed responsibility for previous terrorist attacks in Ankara in October 2015 (which killed 100 people) in January and March 2016 in Istanbul, on Ataturk airport in Istanbul in June 2016 (which killed 45 people) and in August 2016 in Gaziantep (which killed 54 people).

ISIS is not the only terrorist organisation operating in Turkey.  The TAK (“Kurdistan Freedom Hawks”) has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack on a transport hub in Ankara in March 2016,  which killed 37 people, and it previously launched an attack in February 2016 on military buses in Ankara, which killed 29 people.

More recently, on 19th December 2016, Andrey Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, was shot dead in Istanbul by a gunman who the Turkish authorities say had connections to the Gulen movement but who shouted words after the killing which appeared to associate him with the militant Jihadist groups fighting the government of Syria.

This is a terrible pattern of extraordinary violence, and it shows the extent to which Turkey has been destabilised by events in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

It is often said that Turkish President Erdogan’s policies have contributed to this violence, and unfortunately that is true.  His decision to commit Turkey to the cause of regime change in Syria has made Turkey the main base for Jihadi fighters pouring into Syria to wage their war there.  The result is that Turkey is now awash with violent men with guns, with worrying signs that some sections of Turkey’s own population are becoming radicalised.

President Erdogan’s ham-fisted policies have no doubt also played a role in escalating the crisis with the Kurds, though it should be said that the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurds is very longstanding, and President Erdogan is its inheritor not its creator.

It should be said clearly however that by far the greatest cause of Turkey’s current terrorism crisis is Western policy, which by causing wars in Iraq and Syria has fostered the rise of violent Jihadism in the region, leaving Turkey desperately exposed.

Unfortunately there is no simple solution to this problem.  Though Turkey has become increasingly opposed to ISIS over the last year – after having previously flirted with and covertly supported it – the Turkish army’s recent defeat by ISIS near Al-Bab shows what a tough enemy for Turkey ISIS is.

The recent rapprochement with Russia may be in part intended to win for Turkey a strong ally against ISIS.  However as the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan for Syria shows, the price is the abandonment of the regime change project in Syria.

In the short term this creates risks for Turkey.  Any move by Turkey to scale down its commitment to the Jihadis fighting for regime change in Syria risks enraging the Jihadis and their supporters within Turkey itself, risking a violent backlash and a much greater spike in terrorist violence there.

As for the Kurds, in the earlier years of his administration President Erdogan and his party made a sustained and partially successful attempt to reconcile with the Kurds.  As President Erdogan has however come to base his appeal increasingly on Turkish nationalism that has however become more and more difficult.  With the Turkish army now fighting the Kurds in Syria and within Turkey itself, and occupying stretches of Iraqi Kurdistan, the fear has to be that relations between the Erdogan government and the Kurds have passed the point of no return.

Besides for many Turks, including for many of Erdogan’s supporters, Kurdistan is an existential issue, which strikes at the very heart of Turkey’s existence as a nation and as a state.  Suffice to say that there are reports that the plotters behind the July coup attempt in Turkey intended to put Erdogan on trial for treason because of his previous concessions to the Kurds.

This makes it very difficult to see what Erdogan can offer to the Kurds that would satisfy the more radical elements amongst them, who are behind the recent terrorist violence, but which would not antagonise large swathes of Turkish opinion, including many of Erdogan’s own supporters.

When Turkey suffered an earlier bout of terrorist violence in the 1970s the result was the 1980 army coup.  Though that was carried out with great brutality, it did at least stabilise the situation in Turkey.

Whether following the debacle of the July coup attempt the Turkish army is now in any condition to carry out a coup is very debatable.  Besides Turkey’s future ultimately depends on its breaking the cycle of violence and military repression which has been the pattern of Turkish politics since the 1960 coup, and which have up to now held it back.  President Erdogan for all his faults had appeared until recently to be making real progress in that direction.  Another coup would be a gigantic step back.

Though it is not easy to see an immediate way out of Turkey’s current crisis, I would say that those people who sometimes give the impression of wanting Turkey either to break up or to descend into civil war should be careful what they wish for.

Not only would that be a disaster for Turkey’s people, but given Turkey’s size and importance it would also be profoundly destabilising for the Middle East and for Europe, and indeed for the whole world generally.  Suffice to say that the biggest short term beneficiaries would be the various extreme Jihadi terrorist movements, first and foremost Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Having said all this, though it is not easy to see a quick way out of the crisis, it is nonetheless possible to identify certain things that can be done, and which should be done, and moreover without delay.

Firstly, it is in Turkey’s imperative interest that ISIS be destroyed, and that peace and good neighbourly relations be restored with Iraq and Syria.

If that means cooperating with Russia and giving up on the regime change project in Syria, then that is a price Turkey’s leaders must pay in the interests of their people and their country.  Whilst doing so will inevitably cause a short term spike in terrorist violence inside Turkey, Russia’s and Pakistan’s experience in defeating Jihadist terrorism on their territories shows that with good intelligence and single-mindedness it can be done.

Whilst Turkey with its Muslim population would face a huge challenge, it would have no shortage of allies in such a struggle.  The overwhelming majority of Turks have no time for violent Jihadism (I know Turkey sufficiently well to be able to say this with confidence), and if they were given a strong lead by their leaders I have no doubt they would support a Turkish government committed to fighting Jihadism on their behalf, just as Russians were after Putin became President.

Given time I am sure the challenge of Jihadi terrorism within Turkey can be overcome.

The alternative, of trying to keep the regime change project in Syria alive by prolonging the war there can only in the end make the internal situation in Turkey worse, and the problem of Jihadi terrorism within Turkey much greater and more intractable.

As for the Kurds, some sort of reconciliation with them – and incidentally also with the Armenians – is essential for Turkey’s long term future.  In my opinion it can be done without endangering Turkey’s integrity or existence as a state, though unfortunately I doubt it will happen soon, or that President Erdogan is the man to do it.

In the meantime some sort of deal involving the Kurds in Iraq and Syria is essential, and realistically that too cannot happen without peace and the restoration of good neighbourly relations with Iraq and Syria, and without some sort of partnership with Russia and Iran, the traditional friends of the Armenians and the Kurds.

Saying all this makes clear which countries Turkey should prioritise in seeking better relations.  Whatever lingering feelings Turks may still have for the European Union, it cannot help Turkey in its present predicament.

There are times when President Erdogan – or at least some members of his government – say and do things which show that they have at least some understanding of what they need to do.  The rapprochement with Russia, and the Russian-Turkish ceasefire plan for Syria, are two examples.

However if so then they also need to understand that doing these things is simply not reconcilable with the megalomaniac language and projects that President Erdogan unfortunately is all too manifestly given to.  Stealing a march on the Russians by launching Operation Euphrates Shield may appear clever.  In reality it is not clever at all if it bogs Turkey down in a quagmire in Syria, and if it enrages the Kurds, the Syrians, the Iranians and the Russians, with all of whom Turkey in its own interests urgently needs to reconcile.

Turkey’s leaders – first and foremost President Erdogan – have some very difficult decisions to make in the weeks and months ahead.  In the interests of Turkey’s people it is to be earnestly hoped that they will rise to the occasion and make the right ones.

 

 

 

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Nigel Farage lashes out at Angela Merkel, as Chancellor attends EU Parliament debate (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 17.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at Nigel Farage’s blistering speech, aimed squarely at Angela Merkel, calling out the German Chancellor’s disastrous migrant policy, wish to build an EU army, and Brussels’ Cold War rhetoric with Russia to the East and now the United States to the West.

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The Ukrainian President Signs a Pact With Constantinople – Against the Ukrainian Church

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via Strategic Culture:


Increasingly tragic and violent events are taking their toll on the plight of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Ukraine . After several fights over control of the church’s property, prohibitions and blacklists are starting to spread, affecting respected church figures coming from Russia to Ukraine. The latest news is that the head of the Moscow Theological Academy, Archbishop Amvrosyi Yermakov, was deported from Ukraine back to Russia. Amvrosyi’s name popped up on the black list of Russian citizens who are not deemed “eligible to visit” Ukraine. Obviously, this happened right before his plane landed in Zhulyany, Kiev’s international airport. After a brief arrest, Amvrosyi was put on a plane and sent back to Moscow. This is not the first such humiliation of the Orthodox Church and its priests that has taken place since the new pro-Western regime came to power in Kiev in 2014. Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has been declared persona non grata throughout Ukraine since 2014. That decision was made by humiliatingly low-level officials. A department within the Ukrainian ministry of culture published a ruling stating that Kirill’s visit to Ukraine’s capital of Kiev “would not be desirable.”

Since the ancestors of modern Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians were first baptized in 988 in Kiev, the Patriarchs of the Russian Church have never had problems visiting Kiev, the birthplace of their church. Not even under the Bolsheviks did such prohibitions exist. So, for Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church to be denied permission to visit Kiev can only be compared to a possible prohibition against the pope visiting Rome. Since 2014, there have also been several criminal cases filed against the priests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP) because they have called the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a “civil war” and have discouraged the faithful from supporting that war. This has been interpreted by the Ukrainian state authorities as a call for soldiers to desert the army.

Why Poroshenko’s meeting with Bartholomew is ominous

Despite the fact that the UOC MP has become used to all sorts of trouble since 2014, things have been looking even worse for the canonical church lately, as 2018 draws to a close. In early November 2018, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko broke the wall of separation between church and state in the most overt manner possible — he signed “an agreement on cooperation and joint action” between Ukraine and the so called Constantinople Patriarchate, the oldest institution of Orthodox Christianity, which is now based in Turkish Istanbul.

Rostislav Pavlenko, an aide to Poroshenko, wrote on his Facebook page that the agreement (not yet published) is premised on the creation of a new “autocephalous” Orthodox Church of Ukraine — a development that the official, existing Orthodox Churches in Russia and Ukraine view with foreboding as a “schism” that they have done all they can to prevent. Why? Because Poroshenko’s regime, which came to power via a violent coup in Kiev in 2014 on a wave of public anti-Russian sentiment, may try to force the canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine to merge with other, non-canonical institutions and to surrender to them church buildings, including the famous monasteries in Kiev and Pochai, as well as other property.

President Poroshenko was visibly happy to sign the document — the contents of which have not yet been made public — on cooperation between the Ukrainian state and the Constantinople Patriarchate, in the office of Bartholomew, the head of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Poroshenko smiled and laughed, obviously rejoicing over the fact that the Constantinople Patriarchate is already embroiled in a scandalous rift with the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian sister church over several of Bartholomew’s recent moves. Bartholomew’s decision to “lift” the excommunication from two of Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic “priests,” in addition to Bartholomew’s declaration that the new church of Ukraine will be under Constantinople’s direct command — these moves were just not acceptable for the canonical Orthodox believers in Russia and Ukraine. Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), as well as Onufriy, the Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine, are protesting loudly, viewing this situation as a breach of two basic principles. First of all, the Ukrainian state has interfered in the church’s affairs, asking Constantinople to give the Ukrainian church “autocephaly,” which that church never requested. Second, Constantinople itself has interfered in the affairs of two autonomous national churches, the Russian and the Ukrainian. In the eyes of Ukrainian and Russian clergy, Bartholomew is behaving like the Roman pope and not as a true Orthodox leader who respects the autonomy and self-rule of the separate, national Orthodox Churches.

The Russian President sympathizes with the believers’ pain

Two days before Poroshenko made his trip to Istanbul, Russian president Vladimir Putin broke with his usual reserve when commenting on faith issues to bitterly complain about the pain which believers in Russia and Ukraine have experienced from the recent divisions within the triangle of Orthodoxy’s three historic capitals — Constantinople, Kiev, and Moscow.

“Politicking in such a sensitive area as religion has always had grave consequences, first and foremost for the people who engaged in this politicking,” Putin said, addressing the World Congress of Russian Compatriots, an international organization that unites millions of ethnic and cultural Russians from various countries, including Ukraine. Himself a practicing Orthodox believer, Putin lauded Islam and Judaism, while at the same time complaining about the plight of Orthodox believers in Ukraine, where people of Orthodox heritage make up more than 80% of the population and where the church has traditionally acted as a powerful “spiritual link” with Russia.

Despite his complaints about “politicking,” Putin was careful not to go into the details of why exactly the state of affairs in Ukraine is so painful for Orthodox believers. That situation was explained by Patriarch Kirill. After many months of tense silence and an unsuccessful visit to Barthlomew’s office in Istanbul on August 31, Kirill has been literally crying for help in the last few weeks, saying he was “ready to go anywhere and talk to anyone” in order to prevent the destruction of the canonical Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

Politics with a “mystical dimension”

Kirill said the attack against the Orthodox Church in Ukraine “had not only a political, but also a mystical dimension.” Speaking in more earthly terms, there is a danger that the 1,000-year-old historical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP) — which now owns 11,392 church buildings, 12,328 parishes, and two world-famous monasteries in Ukraine — will be dissolved. The roots of the UOC MP go back to the pre-Soviet Russian Empire and even further back to the era of Kievan Rus, the proto-state of the Eastern Slavs in the tenth-twelfth centuries AD, when the people who would later become Russians, Ukrainians, and Byelorussians were adopting Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. It is by far the biggest church in Ukraine, as Mikhail Denisenko’s non-canonical “alternative” church has only 3,700 parishes that include church buildings (fewer than a third of what is owned by the UOC-MP, despite the fact that Denisenko enjoys official support from the Ukrainian state).

What many Russian and Ukrainian believers fear is that the Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew will eventually grant Kiev what is being called autocephaly. In that event, the UOC-MP may be forced to merge with two other, non-canonical churches in Ukraine that have no apostolic liaison. The apostolic succession of the UOC-MP consists in the historical fact that its first bishops were ordained by medieval bishops from Constantinople, who had in turn been ordained by Christ’s disciples from ancient Israel. Apostolic succession is crucial for the Orthodox Church, where only bishops can ordain new priests and where the church’s connection to the first Christians is reflected in many ways, including in the clergy’s attire.

Metropolitan Hilarion (his secular name is Grigory Alfeyev), the Russian church’s chief spokesman on questions of schism and unity, accused the patriarch of contributing to the schism by officially “lifting” the excommunication from Ukraine’s most prominent schismatic church leader — the defrocked former bishop Mikhail Denisenko. That clergyman stands to gain most from the “autocephaly” promised to Poroshenko by Patriarch Bartholomew. A hierarchical Orthodox Church is considered to have autocephalous status, as its highest bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has stated that for Ukraine to be granted autocephaly from Istanbul, this would mean a complete “reformatting” of the country’s religious status quo and the severing of all links to Orthodox Russia and its “demons.”. Most likely, the new “united” church won’t be headed by the UOC MP’s Metropolitan, but by Mikhail Denisenko, who was excommunicated by both the UOC MP and the Russian church back in 1997 and with whom real Orthodox priests can only serve against their will and against the church’s internal rules.

Constantinople’s first dangerous moves

On October 11, 2018, the Constantinople Patriarchate made its first step towards granting autocephaly by repealing its own decision of 1686 that gave the Moscow Patriarch primacy over the Kiev-based Metropolitan. This 17th-century decision reflected the political reality of the merger between the states of Russia and Ukraine and established some order in the matters of church administration. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow gave the Ukrainian church complete independence in financial and administrative matters, but the two churches retained their cherished “spiritual unity.” “Constantinople’s decision is aimed at destroying that unity,” the ROC’s Patriarch Kirill explained. “We can’t accept it. That is why our Holy Synod made the decision to end eucharistic communication with the Constantinople Patriarchate.”

How Moscow “excommunicated” Bartholomew

The end of eucharistic communication means that the priests of the two patriarchates (based in Moscow and Istanbul) won’t be able to hold church services together. It will be maintained as long as the threat of autocephaly continues. The Western mainstream media, however, interpreted this decision by the Russian church as a unilateral aggressive act. The NYT and the British tabloid press wrote that it simply reveals Putin’s “desperation” at not being able to keep Ukraine’s religious life under control.

However, Patriarch Bartholomew seems undeterred by the protests from the Russian faithful and the majority of Ukraine’s believers. Bartholomew said in a recent statement that Russia should just follow the example of Constantinople, which once granted autocephaly to the churches of the Balkan nations. Bartholomew’s ambassadors in Kiev do not shy away from communicating with the self-declared “Patriarch” Filaret (Mikhail Denisenko’s adopted religious name from back when he was the UOC MP’s Metropolitan prior to his excommunication in 1997). For true Orthodox believers, any communication with Denisenko has been forbidden since 1992, the year when he founded his own so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Unfortunately, Denisenko enjoys the full support of Ukrainian President Poroshenko, and recently the US State Department began encouraging Denisenko, by giving its full support to Ukraine’s autocephaly.

The lifting of Denisenko’s excommunication by Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul both upset and embittered the Orthodox believers in both Ukraine and Moscow, since Denisenko was excommunicated by a joint decision of the Russian church and the UOC MP in 1997, after a five-year wait for his return to the fold of the mother church. So, by undoing that decision, Constantinople has interfered in the canonical territory of both the Ukrainian and the Russian churches.

The UOC-MP protested, accusing not only Patriarch Bartholomew, but also the Ukrainian state of interfering in the church’s affairs. “We are being forced to get involved in politics. The politicians do not want Christ to run our church; they want to do it themselves,” said Metropolitan Onufriy (Onuphrius), the head of the UOC-MP, in an interview with PravMir, an Orthodox website. “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has been independent. Our church did not ask for autocephaly, because we already have independence. We have our own Synod (church council) and our own church court. Decisions are made by a congress of bishops and priests from all over Ukraine. We have financial and administrative independence, so autocephaly for us will be a limitation, not an expansion of our rights.”

Poroshenko’s premature jubilation

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Poroshenko did not conceal his jubilation about Constantinople’s moves. “This is a victory of good over evil, light over darkness,” Poroshenko said when the news about the lifting of Denisenko’s excomnmunication came from Istanbul in early October.

Poroshenko said he wanted a “united Orthodox Church” for his country, and he openly pressured Patriarch Bartholomew to provide autocephaly to Kiev during his visits to Istanbul in the spring of 2018 and in November of the same year. Meanwhile, Denisenko said that the provision of autocephaly would mean the immediate dispossession of the UOC MP. “This Russian church (UOC MP) will have to cede control of its church buildings and famous monasteries to the new Ukrainian church, which will be ours,” Denisenko was quoted by Ukrainian media as saying. “These monasteries have been owned by the state since Soviet times, and the state gave them to the Russian church for temporary use. Now the state will appoint our communities of believers as the new guardians of this heritage.” Denisenko also made a visit to the US, where he met Undersecretary of State Wess Mitchell, obtaining from him America’s active support for the creation of a “unified” Ukrainian church.

There is still a chance to prevent the schism from occurring. Poroshenko’s presidential aide, Rostislav Pavlenko, made it clear on Tuesday that the actual “tomos” (a letter from the Constantinople Patriarchate allowing the creation of an autocephalous church) will be delivered only IN RESPONSE to a request from a “unifying convention” that represents all of Ukraine’s Orthodox believers in at least some sort of formal manner. This new convention will have to declare the creation of a new church and elect this church’s official head. Only then will Constantinople be able to give that person the cherished “tomos.”

Since the UOC-MP has made it very clear that it won’t participate in any such convention, the chances of the smooth transition and easy victory over the “Muscovite believers” that Poroshenko wants so badly are quite slim. There are big scandals, big fights, and big disappointments ahead.

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Trump DEMOLISHES Macron; Tweets ‘Make France Great Again’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 16.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at US President Trump’s tweetstorm aimed at French President Macron, who just days ago used the WW1 ceremony in Paris to ridicule and talk down to the US President in front of world leaders.

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Via Zerohedge

Macron’s office has refused to comment on Trump’s claims.

OFFICE OF FRENCH PRESIDENT MACRON SAYS IT REFUSES TO MAKE ANY COMMENT REGARDING TRUMP’S TWEETS CRITICISING FRANCE AND MACRON

* * *

Without directly referencing the rumors, Trump has branded reports that he refused to appear at a cemetery for American soldiers because he didn’t want to get his hair wet as “fake news.” In the tweet, Trump insisted that he wanted the Secret Service to drive him to the speech instead of taking a helicopter, but they refused because of security concerns. He added that he gave a speech at the cemetery the next day in the pouring rain – something that was “little reported”.

Trump’s rampage against Macron continues. The president slammed his French counterpart for his low approval rating, as well as France’s high unemployment. Furthermore, in response to Macron’s “nationalist” snub, Trump pointed out that “there is no more nationalist country” than France..

…before adding a spin on his classic slogan.

Trump’s rage against Macron continues, but this time, the topic is slightly more serious. What could be more serious than questioning the foundation of Post-WWII military alliances, you might ask? The answer is simple – trade!

Trump conceded that while France makes “very good wine” (an interesting claim from Trump, who doesn’t drink), the country “makes it hard for the US to sell its wine into France, and charges very big tariffs”. Meanwhile “The US makes it easy for French wines and charges small tariffs.”

“Not Fair, must change!”

We now await Trump’s order of an investigation into the national security implications of imported French wine.

* * *

President Trump isn’t ready to forgive the “French diss” served up over the weekend by President Emmanuel Macron.

During a ceremony honoring the 100th anniversary of World War I at the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron insulted Trump to his face by launching into a screed about the dangers of toxic “nationalism” and subtly accusing the US of abandoning its “moral values”.

This did not sit well with the US president, who was already facing criticism over his decision to show up late to a ceremony honoring the war dead (the administration blamed it on security concerns though it’s widely suspected that Trump didn’t want to get his hair wet), and Trump has let his displeasure be known in a series of tweets ridiculing Macron’s suggestion that Europe build its own army, saying that France and other European members of NATO would be better served by paying their fair share for NATO while daring them to leave and pay for their own protection.

And in his most abrasive tweet yet mocking the increasingly unpopular Macron’s imperial ambitions (no, really), Trump pointed out that, historically speaking, Europe has been its own worst enemy, and that while Macron wants to defend the Continent from the US, China and Russia, “it was Germany in WWI & WWII,” adding that “they were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

Of course, Macron isn’t the only French official calling for the creation of a “European army”. The country’s finance minister advocated for the creation of a Continental army during an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt – a comment that was derided by the paper’s editors, who pointed out that Germans “weren’t very supportive” of the idea. One wonders why…

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