Donald Trump’s Times interview has been a big story in Britain, but the President Elect’s parallel interview with Bild Zeitung (Europe’s largest circulation newspaper) has made an even bigger splash in Germany. Why so? Because Trump’s comments about Germany were a lot more pointed – and specific – than the pro-Brexit platitudes he tossed to Michael Gove.
Trump’s remarks about Merkel’s ‘catastrophic mistake’ of ‘letting all these illegals [sic] into the country’ hardly came as a surprise. After all, when Merkel won Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Trump tweeted that ‘they picked the person who is ruining Germany.’ Yet until this week, there were still some Germans who thought he might rein in his anti-Merkel rhetoric.
For these optimistic souls, such robust language was a rude awakening. Trump’s description of Nato as ‘obsolete’ falls into the same category. It’s of a piece with what he’s already said (‘That’s really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us’ he tweeted, about Ukraine) but it’s still a shock for Germans to realise that the splenetic showman they saw on the campaign trail is the same man who’ll be sworn in as US President in a few days.
Even more disconcerting was Trump’s suggestion that Nato should be fighting terrorism, rather than deterring Russian incursions into Eastern Europe. Henning Riecke, head of the Transatlantic Relations Programme at the German Council on Foreign Relations (an independent think tank) called this ‘A profound misunderstanding of what Nato is and what it’s able to do.’ As Riecke told the German TV channel Deutsche Welle, ‘Nato isn’t designed to fight terrorism. Terrorism is not a problem that can primarily be combated with military means.’ The subtext is clear. Never mind what Trump wants.