As NATO prepares to host the heads of state of its 28 member nations, organizers are going to extreme lengths to make the meeting palatable to President Trump.
The alliance is asking world leaders to limit the length of their briefings to under four minutes and eliminated the usual publication of an in-depth meeting declaration to accommodate Trump’s gold fish-like attention span and disdain for international affairs.
“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” said one source privy to the meeting’s preparations. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing. They’re freaking out.”
While NATO officials are deeply concerned by Trump’s inability to grasp key issues, they are no less fearful of Trump’s fickle and often hostile attitude to world matters he does not understand.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump destabilized global relations by calling NATO obsolete only to reverse those remarks after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “It’s no longer obsolete,” Trump said after the meeting.
The foreign policy about-face was hardly an isolated incident. Last month, Trump softened his tough China stance after a ten-minute history lesson from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and also reversed a threat to scrap NAFTA following a phone call from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
On the world stage, Trump has fast built a reputation as a simpleton who is quick to inflame but can be placated with hollow pleasantries, and NATO is working overtime to find the President’s sweet spot.
“People are scared of his unpredictability, intimidated by how he might react knowing the president might speak his mind — or tweet his mind,” said a former NATO official.
“We’re bracing for impact,” said another.
Heightening the stakes of the meeting are the two key topics for the meeting, which were central to Trump’s campaign priorities: burden sharing and defeating the so-called Islamic State.
On the first matter, Trump famously handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a prop bill for NATO payments during her White House visit, a move widely derided by global onlookers as a childish and misinformed stunt. This leaves world leaders on unsure footing as they prepare for a meeting in which the man holding most powerful post in the world has shown a proclivity for letting childish pranks dominate his diplomacy.
Getting on the same page with ISIS may be even more problematic. Since entering the race for President nearly two years ago, he has promised a radically different approach to combatting the terrorist organization. As yet, however, his regime has shown no initiative in that regard, leaving its allies with an ultimatum but no direction or leadership.
“That’s where there’s a ton of panic in NATO,” said a Foreign Policy source. “The United States put that issue forward, but it has nobody on tap who’s doing any sort of fresh thinking on that front.”
When Trump took office, many predicted he would be out of his depth on a multitude of issues. Still, few could have known the extent of his ignorance, lack of interest, and reckless capriciousness. That reality leaves NATO with no good answers and, as with all things Trump, they must now work overtime to find the least bad option.
Sheila Norton is a writer with ten years of Capitol Hill experience. Subscribe to the OD Action email to get all the hottest news delivered right to your inbox every day at www.odaction.com