During a difficult visit to Europe, Donald Trump appeared out of sync with traditional allies, struggling to show that unorthodox strategies toward rival powers Russia and China can deliver results. At one point Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel exchanged a knowing glance as the US president veered off on another tangent. What were to remark about women entrepreneurs had become a Trumpian soliloquy on his daughter Ivanka’s merits and his paternal failings. “If she weren’t my daughter it would be so much easier for her,” Trump said. “It might be the only bad thing going for her.” A few feet away, Merkel and Trudeau’s nervy laughs were corporal acknowledgement that Trump’s political peers are still unsure how to take the mercurial 71-year-old.
Throughout the meeting there was a sense the president of the United States, leader of the so-called “indispensable nation,” has shifted positions, leaving everyone else struggling to correct. In Warsaw, on the first stop of his four-day trip, Trump sought to reassert his claim to lead the free world.
Like a king riding along the cavalry frontline, he sounded the charge against terrorism and bureaucracy, which he painted as threats to Christian civilisation. He embraced allies by affirming his commitment to NATO’s mutual defence clause, satisfying long-standing demands to be clearer about the alliance. But for many, Trump’s idea of the West as a group of nations that “cry out ‘We want God'” — a West of high borders and fierce nationalism — seemed out of kilter with the times.
“It is no accident that he gave this speech to a country with an ultra-conservative and Eurosceptic government,” said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution. “The great risk,” Wright added, is that Trump’s remarks “begin dividing Europe into old and new — or those who don’t like him and his message and those who do.” Trump’s claim to be the guardian of Western values was further undermined by a press conference that saw sustained attacks on the free press and a downplaying of Russia’s election interference.