That the current U.S. president places a premium on loyalty has been evident from the start — loyalty not to the institutions of government and their legal functions but loyalty to the boss. Former FBI director James Comey cannot forget a certain memory of Donald Trump’s style recalling for him something familiar. It took him back to the days when he was investigating the Mafia. The boss was the dominant center: the loyalty oaths, serving the boss, the family first … as in this White House, not emphasizing what is right for the country.
It explains some of what happened this week. In Paris, Mr. Trump was pilloried for foregoing a visit to a First World War cemetery (where Americans are also interred) to pay his respects to the fallen. He explained it was raining. The outpouring of criticism included Nicolas Soames, Churchill’s grandson and a Member of Parliament, who labeled Trump “that pathetic inadequate.”
Trump’s tweeting attack on his host, French President Emmanuel Macron, began almost immediately, focusing on his proposal for a European army, his brand of nationalism, even his low poll ratings. French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux in response noted November 13 as the day of the 2015 attacks when 130 died in suicide bombings and mass shootings, adding Trump’s attacks on the same day lacked “common decency.”
Mrs. Trump had her own cavils. She wanted Mira Ricardel, Deputy National Security Adviser, fired according to news reports because she was upset by the seat allocations on the plane during her Africa trip and also because she ascribed negative leaks to her. Mrs. Ricardel in her seven months at the White House developed a reputation for such leaks as well as of a strong personality tending not to suffer fools gladly. She has been moved to pastures as yet unknown — not fired because anti-Iran policy architect John Bolton the National Security Adviser hired her as his top aide. Mrs. Trump appears also to be overcome by the miasma of loyalty and who one can trust or otherwise.
But why has Donald Trump soured on his erstwhile friend Emmanuel Macron. It is true the French leader’s response to Mr. Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra has been to advocate multilateralism but his words were sharper in Paris this time when he stated, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” He didn’t stop there.
Responding to Trump’s repeated shaming of Europeans to increase contributions to NATO, he has called for a ‘true European army’ in an interview with France’s Europe 1 radio, adding when Trump abandons “a major disarmament treaty” that resulted from “the 1980s Euro-missile crisis … who is the main victim? Europe and its security.” Later he added that Europe’s increased defense expenditures should be with European manufacturers if Europe is to be self-sustaining and truly sovereign.
One can argue that despite this backdrop, Trump was hoping to win over his bro on another matter so pressing for him … Iran. He clearly got nowhere. The Europeans continue to prepare for Iran trade via a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), though Austria the country designated to host the SPV has withdrawn from fear of U.S. penalties severing access to U.S. markets. The new host chosen is Luxembourg.
The stakes are high. Should the plan fail, Iran might well decide to build a nuclear weapon. Will Saudi Arabia perceive it as a threat? Will Israel launch preemptive strikes? Will the U.S. join them? These are unsettling questions.