Perhaps the most striking 180-degree reversal by Trump on Wednesday came on NATO. While he was a candidate, Trump sent shockwaves through Europe by declaring that the most successful military alliance in history was “obsolete.”
Side-by-side with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday at an East Room news conference, Trump took the opposite tack.
The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism,
I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete.
Trump’s claims that NATO has suddenly adopted an anti-terrorism mandate because of his efforts is highly debatable. The Western alliance spent years fighting in Afghanistan in a war that was first launched to rout out al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
But Trump’s comments allowed the President a graceful way of walking back a position that had once threatened to undermine the very rationale of transatlantic defense relations.
Stoltenberg offered a subtle reminder that NATO nations are hardly novices when it comes to fighting terrorism. He noted that the only time NATO invoked its common defense clause, Article Five, was after 9/11. And he spoke about the sacrifices of more than 1,000 European and Canadian soldiers killed in the Afghanistan war.
Still, Trump’s comments on Wednesday, paving the way for his visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels in May, will likely send a sigh of relief through Europe.
Are the US and Russia entering a new Cold War? 04:16
The President’s modified rhetoric on Russia is also likely to reassure the American allies that had been deeply disturbed by his apparent desire to pursue a rapprochement with Moscow — perhaps at the expense of Western allies.
I’ll also see about Putin over a period of time. It would be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin, and if we got along with Russia. And that could happen, and it may not happen, it may be just the opposite,
Trump’s comments came with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow for frosty talks with Putin — and could reflect a new perspective on the Russian leader from Trump as he contemplates the Kremlin’s support for Assad and the horrific aftermath on chemical weapons attacks on civilians that prompted the
President to launch cruise missile attacks last week.
Everybody in this room saw it all too many times over the last three or four days — young children dying, babies dying, fathers holding children in their arms that were dead,
Dead children — there can’t be a worse sight, and it shouldn’t be allowed. That’s a butcher. That’s a butcher.
Trump: Syria attacks the work of a butcher 00:45
If Trump was downbeat on Putin, he was surprisingly gushing about Xi, following their summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort last week.
I don’t know Putin, but I do know this gentleman — I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last two days, and he is the President of China,
Trump said during the news conference.
President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea. We talked trade. We talked a lot of things,
And I said, the way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea; otherwise we’re just going to go it alone.
While there is no guarantee that China sees its interests as aligned with those of the United States over the North Korea question, or elsewhere in Asia, Trump’s position did represent a complete overhaul of rhetorical tone towards Beijing.
Soon after his election, he warned Chinese leaders in a tweet that he might use the issue of US relations with Taiwan and adherence to the “One China” policy on the table as a bargaining chip. Had he pursued that plan, he could have put policies that underpinned 40 years of Sino-US relations at risk.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, the President also gave notice that he would not penalize Beijing as a currency manipulator, as he had promised to do during the campaign.
They’re not currency manipulators,
The President repeatedly took the opposite stance during his campaign — even though experts say China has not been artificially suppressing the value of the yuan for years, and has actually been doing the exact opposite.
The President also gave a hint of flexibility on his demands for China to reverse the trade imbalance with the United States — another bedrock of his campaign.
He suggested that if China helped to defuse the threat to the US from its ally North Korea, he might settle for a less advantageous trade deal.
Trump and the Fed: Rewriting the script 02:26
Trump also offered an olive branch to Yellen in the Wall Street Journal interview.
I like her, I respect her,
Trump said, and referring to his prediction that he would not renominate her when her term ends in 2018, he said
It’s very early.
In yet another ditching of a campaign position, Trump expressed support for the US Export-Import Bank, a bête noire of some of the anti-Washington voters that helped him reach the White House, which has been left in limbo with two open seats on its board.
Actually, it’s a very good thing. And it actually makes money, it could make a lot of money,
Trump told the Journal.