Those were just a few of the comments I heard in Berlin this week from senior European officials trying to make sense of the meltdown in Washington at just the moment when a politically imploding President Trump embarks on what he called “my big foreign trip” in this morning’s kickoff tweet.
For months, the American president has raised unprecedented questions about the future of the American-led alliance that has persisted since the end of World War II. He has slagged off NATO, evinced skepticism about the European Union, cheered for like-minded right-wing populists, boosted antidemocratic strongmen like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and vowed to rip up free trade deals—and Europe’s political class has been outraged, confused and even terrified.
Trump’s tumultuous last two weeks—from firing his FBI director to allegedly sharing highly classified information with Russian officials even as a formidable special counsel was being named to investigate his campaign team’s possible collusion with the Kremlin—has them still confused about his foreign policy. But now they are more appalled than afraid of the man with whom they have no choice but to partner.
Many I spoke with said they had made a fundamental mistake of viewing Trump primarily as an ideologue with whom they disagreed rather than what he increasingly appears to be: an ill-prepared newcomer to the world stage, with uninformed views and a largely untested team that will now be sorely tried by a 9-day, 5-stop world tour that would be wildly ambitious even for a seasoned global leader.
“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”
“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.”
Of course, Americans have had presidential scandals before, and Europe has a long history of substantive clashes with U.S. presidents over everything from the Vietnam war and confronting the Soviets to the widely opposed 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Source/More: POLITICO Magazine