But when the two-day confab of NATO leaders kicks off Tuesday, Trump won’t be the only polarizing figure in attendance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an illiberal demagogue reviled by many in the European establishment, may furrow the most brows after his government acquired and then tested an advanced Russian antiaircraft missile system, a move some U.S. officials fear will give Russia a back door to more closely observe NATO militaries.
Then there’s French President Emmanuel Macron, who provocatively declared in an interview last month that Europeans are experiencing “the brain death of NATO” and raised doubts over the collective defense obligations of the organization’s member states. Macron’s eagerness to move further from a U.S.-guaranteed security umbrella earned a veiled rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His disapproval of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria led Erdogan to fire back on Friday, mocking his younger French counterpart’s “inexperience” and instructing him to check his own brain.
“It will be a great tribute to how much all the NATO allies value the institution if we manage to get through this leaders meeting without President Trump, President Macron or President Erdogan doing something damaging to the alliance,” Kori Schake, a former National Security Council official in the George W. Bush administration, told Bloomberg News.
Trump figures into that equation, too. The U.S. president has expressed his sympathy and support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hopes the election will give his Conservatives a more pliant Parliament through which he can force through Brexit. Trump, though, remains a staggeringly unpopular figure in Britain and will be once more met by protesters. Johnson has implored Trump to keep his nose out of the election and may try to maintain his distance from Trump during the visit this week.
As my colleagues report, Johnson’s opponents — primarily, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn — hope to pounce on any whiff of Trumpian election interference. That includes allegations that Conservative officials have already discussed essentially auctioning off segments of Britain’s public sector in putative post-Brexit trade talks with the United States.
“At his rallies, Corbyn asserts that Trump has formed a dark alliance with Johnson — intended, among other claims, to procure the sale of Britain’s beloved National Health Service to U.S. pharmaceutical companies,” my colleagues wrote. “
“Labour is saying that one of the most beloved institutions is being threatened by the most hated figure on the public stage at the moment,” Steven Fielding, a professor of political history at the University of Nottingham, told The Post, referring to the National Health Service. “It’s very clever.”
But Trump may be too fixated on his own predicament in Washington, where the next phase of the impeachment inquiry is scheduled for Wednesday. Over the weekend, he tweeted his apparent dismay that hearings would be scheduled on the same day as a NATO gathering north of London. Johnson, faced with the prospect of a photo op alongside Trump a week before Britain heads to the polls, may wish circumstances were different, too.