Trump claims of success with NATO subject to challenge

  • U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference before departing the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is at left and National Security Adviser John Bolton, right. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Pablo Martinez Monsivais

  • U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are greeted after disembarking from Air Force One as they arrive at London Stansted Airport in Stansted, England, Thursday, July 12, 2018. Trump is making his first trip to Britain as president after a tense summit with NATO leaders in Brussels and on the heels of ruptures in British Prime Minister Theresa May's government because of the crisis over Britain's exit from the European Union. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) Matt Dunham

Associated Press
Thursday, July 12, 2018

BRUSSELS — Declaring victory over freeloading partners, President Donald Trump claimed he had secured significant new concessions from NATO member nations on military spending after days of public haranguing. But even before Air Force One completed its 50-minute flight across the English Channel to the next stop on his European tour, Trump’s claims of accomplishment were challenged by the same allies he claimed had caved.

Trump’s head-spinning 28 hours at the NATO summit in Brussels before visiting Britain reaffirmed a familiar pattern for the salesman-turned-president, who left a chaotic trail behind and whose self-proclaimed accomplishments abroad proved once again to be more show than substance. In the space of eight hours, Trump had moved from doubting the utility of the mutual defense alliance and provoking an extraordinary emergency session of its members to declaring the pact stronger than ever.

It’s a playbook Trump has followed before: Trump claimed world-altering success following last month’s meeting with Kim Jong Un, when he stated that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat” after their historic summit in Singapore. And in May, he took a victory lap on a supposed trade deal with China, only to see it morph into the beginnings of a trade war.

After days of calling on NATO members to increase their defense spending to at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product, accusing Germany of being “totally controlled” by Russia and pondering “what good is NATO?” Trump offered Thursday that “people have stepped up today like they’ve never stepped up before.”

“I’ve taken over a lot of bad hands and I’m fixing each one of them, and I’m fixing them well,” Trump said during a press conference Thursday. “What they’re doing is spending at a much faster clip. They’re going up to the 2 percent level.”

But statements from NATO allies suggested there was little cause for Trump’s self-congratulation.

French President Emmanuel Macron denied there were any new spending commitments.

He said: “There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed. It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”

That 2024 goal had been set in 2014.

Instead of new pledges, NATO members appeared to try to placate Trump by giving him a share of the credit for progress that had already been under way.

“I made clear that we know that we have to do more and that we have been doing so for quite a while,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “That turning point has long been initiated.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg demurred when asked what Trump had accomplished, saying the allies “agree that we need to deliver on our commitments.”

He did allow, though, that there was “a new sense of urgency” about increasing military spending.

Trump’s boasts of achievement have come under question before.

North Korea has yet to take substantial steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and on Thursday appeared to backtrack on a pledge to repatriate the remains of American war dead — a move that Trump weeks ago said the North had already undertaken. A letter from Kim that Trump tweeted out Thursday heralded the “start of a meaningful journey” between the two nations, but made no mention of denuclearization.

Trump’s tweet: “A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made!”

The display at NATO shows how Trump, who views himself as a world-class negotiator, likes to play both good cop and bad cop himself.