WASHINGTON — When Winston Churchill was in one of the lowest ebbs of his political career, George Bernard Shaw invited him to the opening night of his new play.
“Enclosed are two tickets. Bring a friend, if you have one,” the socialist playwright penned in a note to the conservative prime minister.
Churchill wrote back that he was unable to attend due to a previous commitment, but added that he could make the second night’s performance, “if there is one.”
If President Trump has any really close friends among America’s European allies, they are few and far between, and dwindling faster than his job approval polls.
That became clear this week when Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, sent Trump this tweet as he was about to leave for Europe for a round of high-level meetings with European Union and NATO leaders:
“Dear America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don’t have that many.”
President Trump is on a seven-day trip abroad that will include meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May, European Union leaders, a NATO summit and a friendly chat in Helsinki next week with his bosom buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But if Trump was expecting a friendly reception from our allies, he was in for a big surprise.
Before he left Washington Tuesday, he couldn’t resist lobbing a few critical barbs against May, who was planning a full-court welcome that included a gala dinner at Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s boyhood home, and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
When reporters asked him if May will be able to remain in power in the wake of a rebellion in her government over Britain’s “Brexit” break with the European Union and the resignation of her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, he had nothing good to say about her chances.
“That’s up to the people,” Trump said, who went on to generously praise Johnson, May’s leading rival, referring ominously to the “turmoil” that the prime minister faces in her party.
In what sounded like a Johnson endorsement, Trump went on to say, “Boris Johnson is a friend of mine. He’s been very, very nice to me and very supportive. And maybe we’ll speak to him when I get over there. I like Boris Johnson. I’ve always liked him.”
He has also crossed swords with French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, America’s biggest trading partner.
After last month’s Group of Seven meeting of leading industrial nations in Quebec, where Trump left the conference without signing the statement that his advisers had endorsed, Trump attacked Trudeau as “weak” and “dishonest.”
Trump has also been harshly critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tweeting in June that “the people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition.”
But Merkel “has benefited at home from Trump’s attacks, since the U.S. president is deeply unpopular among the German electorate, as he is with voters across much of Western Europe,” The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
European Union President Tusk sent one more message directly to Trump this week, underscoring what is at stake with America’s longstanding alliances on trade and our national security:
“Dear @realDonaldTrump. U.S. doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU. We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian and Chinese spending.”
But Trump seemed in no mood to get along with our NATO allies Wednesday. He attacked Germany for its deal to buy Russian natural gas, a decision made by a German corporation, and criticized the nation for “being captive to Russia.”
This, from someone who has never criticized Russia for its seizure and annexation of the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine, and denying that their troops were in the eastern part of that country.
In the end, however, Trump agreed to NATO’s 23-page declaration that said it would boost defense spending, and reconfirmed its outrage over Moscow’s invasion of the Crimea, and to maintaining sanctions on Russia.
Still, members criticized Trump for his divisive remarks, saying that they weakened the alliance.
“We do have disagreements,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, but added that “at the end of the day, we all agree that North America and Europe are safer together.”