‘American credibility has been diminished’

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Trump rips diplomatic swathe across Europe

US President Donald Trump (left), tosses a soccer ball to his wife First Lady Melania Trump after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented it to him during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland on July 16. (AP)

HELSINKI, July 17, (AFP): Donald Trump was fired up. When the US president set off for Europe one week ago he was bent on knocking heads with Washington’s allies and finding friendship with Russia. As he fl ew homewards after Monday’s summit with President Vladimir Putin, the final repercussions of his diplomatic rampage were not yet clear.

“Trump’s trip to Europe is the single most chaotic and destructive by an American president,” diplomat turned professor Nicholas Burns lamented. “American credibility has been diminished,” he warned. After his activity in Brussels through London to Helsinki, only the weeks and months to come will tell whether Trump only strained or permanently sabotaged trans-Atlantic ties. But there is one immediate conclusion to be drawn. No-one, not even Trump’s most senior advisers and cabinet members, carries much weight with the commander in chief.

Trump’s approach to any foreign policy challenge will be guided by his longstanding views or his perception of what his nationalist base most desires. The carnage began with a simple Brussels breakfast. On the schedule of the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump’s breakfast with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did not seem like much of a minefield.

These events are usually photo opportunities, with perhaps brief remarks to celebrate the enduring trans-Atlantic ties of the world’s most powerful military alliance. But Trump was determined to set the agenda — of the summit and of the news coverage — from the opening minutes.

Member states were braced for Trump to be irascible about defense spending, but not the vitriol with which he launched into them before a visibly uncomfortable Stoltenberg. As Trump’s advisers averted their gaze, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany was declared to be “captive to Russia” because of her increasing reliance on gas supplies.

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