Donald Trump’s interview, published by The London Times and Bild-Zeitung, showed him once again the classic deal maker, playing his cards very close to his chest – a point by the way he made himself repeatedly during the interview.
The single most interesting comments in the interview were made about Germany and Russia.
In that context, Angela Merkel will be shocked to learn that Trump trusts Vladimir Putin as much as he trusts her – which is to say not at all
Talking about Russia, you know that Angela Merkel understands Putin very well because he is fluent in German, she is fluent in Russian, and they have known each other for a long time — but who would you trust more, Angela Merkel or Vladimir Putin?
Well, I start off trusting both — but let’s see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.
There are reports that Merkel is becoming increasingly concerned at Trump’s continued failure to communicate with her. Apparently Trump has only spoken to her once since the election, and her efforts to fix a date for a meeting with him have so far been unsuccessful. If so then what Trump says about her and Germany in the interview will make her even more concerned.
In the interview – given in part to a German journalist – Trump appeared to lavish praise on Merkel, but he did so in ways that are bound to alarm her. Firstly, he repeatedly said that her “open door” refugee policy was a disastrous mistake
In your campaign you said Angela Merkel’s policy on Syrian refugees was insane. Do you still think so?
I think it’s not good. I think it was a big mistake for Germany. And Germany of all countries, ’cause Germany was one of the toughest in the world for having anybody go in, and, uh, no I think it was a mistake. And I’ll see her and I’ll meet her and I respect her. And I like her but I think it was a mistake. And people make mistakes but I think it was a very big mistake. I think we should have built safe zones in Syria. Would have been a lot less expensive. Uh, get the Gulf states to pay for ’em who aren’t coming through, I mean they’ve got money that nobody has.
Secondly, and for Merkel far more worryingly, at one point in the interview Trump slipped into referring to her in the past tense, as if he felt her time has passed. Notably he did not support her for re-election as German Chancellor
When Obama came for his last visit to Berlin, he said that if he could vote in the upcoming election he would vote for Angela Merkel. Would you?
Well, I don’t know who she’s running against, number one, I’m just saying, I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. As I said, I’ve had great respect for her. I felt she was a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from. You’ll find out, you got a big dose of it a week ago. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake. Now, with that being said, I respect her, I like her, but I don’t know her. So I can’t talk about who I’m gonna be backing — if anyone.
(bold italics added)
I have gradually come round to the view that – contrary to the general opinion and the impression Trump himself sometimes likes to give – Trump actually choses his words carefully and always means what he says. If he slipped into using the past tense when talking about Merkel, and if he failed to endorse her as Chancellor despite being given the opportunity to do so, then in my opinion he did it calculatedly and deliberately.
Another aspect of Trump’s interview which will alarm Merkel and the German business community was his fairly transparent threats against German exports to the US
Do Europeans have to fear something similar to what you might announce for China — higher custom duties?
It’s going to be different — I mean Germany is a great country, great manufacturing country — you go down Fifth Avenue everybody has a Mercedes-Benz in front of their building, right — the fact is that it’s been very unfair to the US, it’s not a two-way street. How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Maybe none — not too many — how many — you don’t see anything over there — it’s a one-way street — it’s gotta be a two-way street — I want it to be fair but it’s gotta be a two-way street and that’s why we’re losing almost $800, think of it, $800 billion a year in trade so that will stop — ya know we have Wilbur [Ross, his choice for commerce secretary] as one of our guys, ya know Wilbur . . .
And I will say most of it . . . most of it is China ’cause China is a tremendous problem.
You just mentioned Mercedes, BMW, even VW — do you expect them to build more plants in the US? For example, BMW wants to open a plant in 2019 in Mexico . . .
I would tell them, don’t waste their time and money — unless they want to sell to other countries, that’s fine — if they want to open in Mexico, I love Mexico, I like the president, I like everybody — but I would tell BMW if they think they’re gonna build a plant in Mexico and sell cars into the US without a 35 per cent tax, it’s not gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen — so if they want to build cars for the world I would say wish them luck — they can build cars for the US but they’ll be paying a 35 per cent tax on every car that comes into the country . . . so what I’m saying is they have to build their plant in the US, it will be much better for them and what we’re doing — maybe more importantly, is we’re lowering taxes — corporate taxes — down to from 15 to 20 per cent and were getting rid of 75 per cent of the regulations — from 35 down to 15 to 20, we haven’t picked the final but from 15 to 20, and we’re also gonna let the companies bring back their money with the inversion, corporate inversion.
Again these comments are definitely not accidental, and they have already caused alarm in Germany within the business community which depends heavily on exports to the US.
Whilst the full impact of these comments has not had time to sink in – and will only fully do so depending on what happens next – in time it cannot escape the attention of the German business community that Germany simply cannot afford a Chancellor – Angela Merkel – who is on bad personal terms with the leaders of both superpowers – the US and Russia. With the need to strike a deal with the US to protect Germany’s economic interests becoming overriding, the pressure to find someone more acceptable to Trump than Merkel and who is better able to deal with him will grow.
Erika Steinbach’s resignation as the CDU’s human rights’ commissioner may not therefore be a complete coincidence, though it is fair to add that she is a longstanding critic of Merkel’s and the two have for some time been on bad terms, and that she hardly looks like a likely challenger for Merkel’s crown.
The fact nonetheless remains that Merkel may come to rue the endorsement she got a few weeks ago from Obama, and as of Trump’s interview yesterday her position as German Chancellor is even more in question.
If Merkel and the Germans will be alarmed about some of the things Trump had to say about them, Trump’s dismissive comments about both the EU and NATO will cause even more alarm in Germany and Europe.
Not only did Trump strongly endorse Brexit, but to the EU’s collective horror he declined to given the EU any sort of endorsement at all
What is better for the United States — a strong European Union or stronger nation states?
Personally, I don’t think it matters much for the United States. I never thought it mattered. Look, the EU was formed, partially, to beat the United States on trade, OK? So, I don’t really care whether it’s separate or together, to me it doesn’t matter. I can see this — I own a big property in Ireland, magnificent property called Doonbeg, what happened is I went for an approval to do this massive, beautiful expansion — that was when I was a developer, now I couldn’t care less about it — but I learnt a lot because I got the approvals very quickly from Ireland and then Ireland and my people went to the EU to get the approval — it was going to take years — that was a very bad thing for Ireland.
(bold italics added)
Russia’s President Putin is often said to want the destruction of the EU. This is completely untrue. Putin has always said he wants the EU to remain united. It is Donald Trump – the US’s President elect – not Vladimir Putin – who is the first world leader to say that it is a matter of indifference to him whether the EU remains united or dissolves into its separate nation states.
As to NATO Trump was every bit as dismissive, damning it with the faintest of praise
Can you understand why eastern Europeans fear Putin and Russia?
Sure. Oh sure, I know that. I mean, I understand what’s going on, I said a long time ago — that Nato had problems. Number one it was obsolete, because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago. Number two — the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay. I took such heat, when I said Nato was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right — and now — it was on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, they have a whole division devoted now to terror, which is good.
And the other thing is the countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries but a lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States. With that being said, Nato is very important to me.
Offered the opportunity to reassure NATO’s East European members supposedly afraid of Russian aggression (basically that means Poland, Romania and the Baltic States) of the US’s continued commitment to their defence, Trump expressed complete indifference (“Sure. Oh sure, I know that”) and instead launched into a tirade talking of how NATO has become obsolete because its European members – including those who say they feel threatened – don’t contribute enough money to the common defence, and because NATO hasn’t concerned itself properly with the real threat, which it turns out Trump considers to be terrorism rather than Russia.
Elsewhere in the interview, when Trump is asked what threat he considered to be the priority, he answers with the single word: Isis.
And what’s your priority for the military as commander-in-chief?
Quite obviously Trump does not believe the flesh-creeping talk that has become so dominant in the US and Europe during the second term of Obama’s Presidency that Russia poses a threat to Europe or to its East European member states. On the contrary he appears to see this talk as just a ploy to freeload off the US.
This is a radical shift and it is not surprising that it has filled the anti-Russia hardliners in Europe with alarm.
On the subject of Russia, Trump made it fairly clear what he wants: a deal to reduce nuclear weapons, which will release funding to beef up the US’s conventional defences to deal with the threats the US actually has to face. In return he is dangling before the Russians the lifting of sanctions.
Do you support European sanctions against Russia?
Well, I think you know — people have to get together and people have to do what they have to do in terms of being fair. OK? They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it. But you do have sanctions and Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit.
The subjects of Crimea and Ukraine – given such obsessive focus by the anti-Russia hardliners in the US and in Europe, and the central obsession of Angela Merkel’s diplomacy of the last three years – plainly don’t interest him, and found no mention anywhere in his interview.
Overall Donald Trump comes across in the interview as someone with clear views who is well informed about the subjects that interest him. In a lengthy discussion of the battle of Mosul he shows a detailed knowledge of the bloody stalemate there, which the news media has barely reported. On questions like trade he has all the facts about BMW’s plans to build a factory in Mexico at his fingertips.
Grand Strategy by contrast doesn’t interest him in the slightest, and he is entirely blind to ideology. Mantras about “democracy” and “freedom” – so beloved of past US Presidents – nowhere appear (I could not find either word anywhere in the interview) whilst Vladimir Putin is just another leader Trump will have to deal with, and is in that respect no different from Angela Merkel or anyone else.
To the neocons and neoliberals who dominate EU politics – as they have dominated until recently politics in the US – for whom ideology and Grand Strategy are central, this is anathema, and the airwaves in Europe are filled with their expressions of horror and dismay. RT has provided a good summary.
I recently wrote a piece for The Duran in which I pointed out that Donald Trump is in essence a businessman whose conception of his role as President is doing the best possible deal for the US.
That this is indeed how he thinks is shown by his comments about the nuclear agreement the Obama administration reached with Iran. It turns out that Trump’s objection to this agreement is not that he thinks Iran is an existential threat to Israel or the US, or that he thinks that Iran is a supporter of international terrorism, or that he has some other ideological objection to Iran. Simply, he thinks that in cash terms it was a bad deal
Will you rip up the Iran deal?
Well, I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal. I just don’t want to play the cards. I mean, look, I’m not a politician, I don’t go out and say, ‘I’m gonna do this — I’m gonna do —’, I gotta do what I gotta do. But I don’t wanna play. Who plays cards where you show everybody the hand before you play it? But I’m not happy with the Iran deal, I think it’s one of the worst deals ever made, I think it’s one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen, one of the dumbest, in terms of a deal. Where you give — where you give a $150 billion back to a country, where you give $1.7 billion in cash — did you ever see a million dollars in hundred dollar bills? It’s a lot. It’s a whole — it’s a lot. $1.7 billion in cash. Plane loads. Of, of — think of it — plane, many planes. Boom. $1.7 billion. I don’t understand. It just shows the power of a president — when a president of this country can authorise $1.7 billion in cash, that’s a lot of power.
And you think that money is now funding terror?
No, I think that money is in Swiss bank accounts — they don’t need that money, they’re using other money, I think they’ve taken that money and they’ve kept it for themselves. That’s my opinion.
(bold italics added)
As for one of Trump’s more controversial appointments – that of his son-in-law Jared Kushner – he defends it because Kushner is a good deal maker
What role will [your son-in-law] Jared [Kushner] play?
Oh, really . . . Ya know what, Jared is such a good kid and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no one else can — ya know he’s a natural, he’s a great deal, he’s a natural — ya know what I was talking about, natural — he’s a natural deal-maker — everyone likes him.
(bold italics added)
Donald Trump’s neocon and neoliberal critics in the US and Europe, who say he is un-American and who insinuate that he is in some way a stooge of the Kremlin, have got Trump completely wrong. On the contrary in his overriding focus on business and in doing a good deal for the US, Trump is the most American of Presidents.
Though much of the US’s political establishment is currently reacting to Trump’s ideas with incomprehension and horror, I suspect that in time more and more Americans will come to understand him.
It is the Europeans, who have a culture of politics and diplomacy which has very different roots from that of the US, who will in the end find it much more difficult to understand Trump.
The onus of doing so however lies with them. If they fail to do it the Atlantic will grow wider.