Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Nato’s surreal birthday party

From left- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron laughing at Trump’s expense
Time will tell what effect Trump’s humiliation will have on the body’s future.

By Alper Ali Riza

AS WITH any 70th birthday party Nato’s was surreal. It is bizarre to celebrate at the threshold of old age especially if you are reminded that you are already senile.

“Strategically, brain dead” was how French President Macron characterised Nato ahead of his arrival at the party.

This did not go down well at all with US President Trump even though he is not himself a fan. He branded Macron’s remarks “nasty” and “very disrespectful”, by which he meant that America expects respect for helping France in World War II – the president has a very transactional attitude to previous US assistance. To be fair to France she helped the Americans in their war of independence against the redcoats in 1776.

These opening salvos did not auger well but the British love a party and always have the Royal Family at their beck and call to host a celebration and provided Trump behaved, all would go swimmingly well.

After reassuring his hosts that he would not get involved in the imminent election and that the US did not want the National Health Service even if it were handed on a silver platter, Trump and his entourage headed for a reception at Buckingham palace with other Nato leaders.

Presidents Trump and Erdogan of Turkey do not drink alcohol and were not present at a cabal of leaders who gathered around Justin Trudeau at the palace to gossip over drinks.

It is not clear if Trudeau had had one too many, but at some point, he was overheard mimicking and mocking Trump for talking too much at a joint press conference they had given earlier that day.

The others present that included Boris Johnson and   Emmanuel Macron laughed at Trump’s expense, without realising they were being videoed by a ubiquitous smartphone of the kind that makes private conversations impossible these days.

When Trump found out the next day that Trudeau had been mocking him behind his back, he called Trudeau two-faced and left the summit in a huff without giving any further press conferences. As the old song goes “it’s my party and I cry if I want to, cry if I want to, you’d do the same if it happened to you.”

Trump is known to have thin skin and hates being mocked let alone being laughed at within earshot of the queen. Time will tell what effect Trump’s humiliation will have on Nato’s future.

Rumour has it that his decision to run for president crystallised when President Obama mocked him at a press dinner at the White House in 2011.

Not only that, but according to Britain’s former ambassador in Washington, American foreign policy under Trump is geared to reversing all the policies pursued by Obama.

America’s rapprochement with Cuba, the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris accord on climate change and support for the Kurdish militia in northeastern Syria, have all been abandoned because Obama mocked Trump at that fateful dinner.

It is no way to conduct foreign policy but it is Trump’s way, so Nato and Macron and Trudeau will have to negotiate around it.

This may not happen for some time, however, because Trump has a lot else to worry about domestically, though it may return to haunt Nato if he is re-elected.

As Trump flew back, the House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment to remove him from office for abusing presidential power for private political gain.

This will probably fail but it will keep the president busy with home affairs until the end of his first term.

For those of us around at the time of President Nixon’s impeachment in 1974, it brings back memories of what happens when the US is rudderless at the top, but that’s another tiresome story.

Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999 for lying under oath and obstructing justice but was found not guilty by the Senate.

Richard Nixon was not so lucky. He covered up the break-in at Watergate and was forced to resign when it became clear that the Senate would convict him of high crimes and misdemeanours.

This does not look likely to happen to Trump. The Republicans have a majority in the Senate and are firmly on side. A presidential election is looming next year and it would be extraordinary if Republican senators vote to remove their president so near an election.

So Trudeau and Macron may be spared the wrath of Trump this side of the US presidential elections.

In any case, the US and Canada are condemned by history and geography to remain close allies whatever the relationship between their leaders.

As for France, she has always been a semi-detached member of Nato anyway, and the worst that can happen is that US import duty on champagne will go up, which does not matter very much since Americans who drink the stuff can afford it whatever the duty.

In the old days under Charles De Gaulle France was Nato’s awkward member.  He did not trust the special relationship between US and Britain on which Nato was built and viewed Russia as an artificial rather than a strategic enemy.

De Gaulle wanted a free hand in foreign policy more in tune with France’s view of her place in the world. She withdrew from Nato’s military structure and maintained an independent nuclear deterrent.

De Gaulle was no Napoleon but he understood the importance of freedom of action as a great European power.

This mindset still prevails in France even if Turkey has nowadays replaced France as Nato’s awkward member. It informed Macron when he said that Nato is “strategically, brain dead”.

According to the French view, Nato is dysfunctional as a defence alliance because after the collapse of the Soviet Union it had lost its ideological enemy and no longer has a common understanding of the threat the alliance and its members face.

Neither France, nor Hungary, nor Turkey nor most Mediterranean countries regard Russia as their strategic enemy.

She may be seen as a threat to the Baltic states and Poland but that is a circular conundrum because Russia sees them as hostile and a threat for having ganged up on her by joining Nato.

As the poet said: ‘we would avoid many blunders if we could see ourselves as others see us.’


Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part-time judge

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