While no reasonable person thought that diplomacy was going to be Donald Trump’s strong suit as President, no one anticipated it would be handled quite as badly as it has been so far.
Now, The Sunday Times (UK) reports that Trump presented Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany with an invoice, thought to total $374 billion, to cover the cost of defending NATO when the two leaders met in Washington last week.
According to The Times, one German minister described the action as “outrageous” and said:
“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations.”
During his campaign, Trump surprised the diplomatic community by seemingly abandoning the U.S.’s long-term commitment to NATO in favor of a policy more in line with the thinking of his friend Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian leader of Russia — the very country NATO was designed to protect Europe against.
An unidentified source close to the German chancellor told The Times:
“The president has a very unorthodox view on NATO defense spending. The alliance is not a club with a membership fee. The commitments relate to countries’ investment in their defense budgets.”
As someone who has a long-documented history of stiffing his contractors on their invoices, it’s ironic that Trump is upset that several NATO members, including Germany, have not contributed enough towards military spending by the organization, leaving the U.S. to foot the bill. While three years ago NATO members made a promise to spend 2% of their GDP on defense, only four other of the group’s 28 members have managed to met that target besides the U.S.
The fact that Trump had the temerity to present Merkel with an actual bill was insulting enough in its departure from diplomatic norms, but the manner in which Trump made the calculation compounded the injury.
Trump took the starting point of his calculation not as the 2014 date of the agreement, but went back to 2002, when Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, made a promise of higher defense spending — and then added interest to the total.
This latest diplomatic catastrophe comes after notoriously unpleasant conversations Trump has had with other traditional American allies and trading partners, including the Australian Prime Minister and the President of Mexico. He also has had to reverse himself in regards to his apparent overturning of the “One China” policy during a protocol-breaking call with the President of Taiwan back in December.
With embarrassing incidents like these, it’s no wonder that long-time State Department diplomats are hanging their heads in shame and even resigning over the new President’s amateur approach to the world stage.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.