Angela Merkel grimaced. Benjamin Netanyahu hung to his podium with a white-knuckle grip at Donald Trump’s every word. And Theresa May rejected Trump’s attempt to guide her down a White House colonnade ramp.
The German chancellor mostly played it cool during her first interaction with the new U.S. president, though she expressed confusion at one of his brash claims. The Israeli and British prime ministers each used their joint press conferences with Trump to try to box in the political neophyte.
And, on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was all business. The former prime minister of Norway, who now leads the European-North American military alliance Trump so often panned as a candidate, crossed the Atlantic Ocean with one goal in mind.
As Trump offered a bit of his signature bluster during a joint press conference in the White House’s East Room, Stoltenberg kept things on an even keel. His facial expression and demeanor remained businesslike, and he opted against lavishing the U.S. president with praise or openly expressing Merkel-like bemusement. He also let the leaders of NATO’s member countries know that he secured what he came for.
“A strong NATO is good for Europe, but a strong NATO is also good for the United States,” he said after meeting privately with Trump. “And, therefore, I welcome the very strong commitment of the United States to the security of Europe.
“We see this commitment not only in words but also in deeds,” Stoltenberg said. Since Trump took office in January, “thousands of U.S. troops have been deploying to Europe, a clear demonstration that America stands with allies to protect peace and defend our freedom,” he said.
But other world leaders, in their first public appearances beside the real estate mogul-turned-U.S. chief executive, have been noticeably more effusive.
Collectively, their lavish praise of Trump and enthusiastic predictions about the many things they say are possible under his watch suggest that Trump, despite a spate of early stumbles, defeats and self-inflicted wounds, has an opportunity to work with several leaders whose interests on key issues closely align with those of the United States to score victories on the economy, trade, foreign policy, national security and other issues.
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One is Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The longtime, polished Middle East leader put on what amounted to a diplomatic clinic on April 5 under a warm spring sun alongside Trump in the White House Rose Garden.
Abdullah described himself as “very delighted” about Trump’s “vision” and “holistic approach” to the myriad challenges in the Middle East. He praised the “dedication” of Trump’s hand-picked team “in being able to translate your policy into action successfully [and] hopefully as we move forward.”
Minutes later, he told Trump, “You’ll find a strong ally in Jordan in supporting you in all your policies.”
And the Jordanian monarch’s gushing did not stop there.
“So I want to thank you, sir, because you have the outlook of looking not just at the Syrian challenges, but that of Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Libya, and everything that is in our region,” Abdullah told Trump. “So I think your message to all of us is a message of hope.”
Ironically, hope was the calling card of Barack Obama, whose approach to Syria and overall foreign policy candidate Trump hammered for months and President Trump continues to criticize.
Just last week, nearing his 80th day office, Trump still appeared fixated with his stunning election victory last fall.
He told a builders union conference in Washington on April 4 that “if you watch the Democrats now, the anger — the anger and hatred — they’re trying to figure out where did all these people come [from] that voted for Donald Trump?”
“The odds are stacked. And they would say there’s no way to 270 [electoral votes],” the president said. “It’s very, very tough. They say almost impossible for a Republican to win. But … we had tremendous support. Oh, we did.”
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived at the White House on Feb. 10 for meetings, he appeared well aware of Trump’s frequent boasting about his Electoral College upset.
Abe, during a joint press conference in the ornamented East Room, noted that Trump had never before held elected office. He then showered the 45th president with praise for being an “excellent businessman” and for making the presidency his first elected office.
“But you have fought the uphill struggle and fight for more than a year in the election campaign to become a new president,” Abe said. “And this is the dynamism of democracy. I would like to celebrate and congratulate Donald being sworn in as the president.”
While Abe might be celebrating, many of America’s closest allies are still sleeping with one eye open — and focused on Trump’s presidency — even if they publicly backed his Tomahawk missile strike in Syria last week following a gas attack on civilians.
After all, it was just last Tuesday when Trump broke with his recent predecessors, who have acknowledged America’s role as a world leader and tried to bolster the United States’ global power and influence.
“I’m not — and I don’t want to be — the president of the world,” Trump said. “I’m the president of the United States. And from now on, it’s going to be America first.”
Perhaps worry that Trump will withdraw the U.S. from the global stage is why Abe bathed the new American chief executive with praise on a personal level.
“We will play golf together. My scores in golf [are] not up to the level of Donald at all,” he said at the February press conference, before they flew together on Air Force One to Trump’s Florida golf resort. “Now with the birth of the Trump administration, a new genesis will be built between Japan and U.S. in economic relations.”