sábado, 28 de janeiro de 2017

The Guardian view on the Trump-May meeting: they are playing with fire / 5 takeaways from the May-Trump talks / Never mind the optics, Theresa May’s US dash was mortifying

The Guardian view on the Trump-May meeting: they are playing with fire
Friday 27 January 2017 19.46 GMT

It could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. The prime minister survived her first ordeal by Trump
Most of Theresa May’s visit to the United States this week followed a fairly familiar pattern for such trips. Except for one thing. The press conference between the prime minister and Donald Trump in the White House today was an off-the-scale risk. Politically, it was a dash across sniper’s alley. Mr Trump might again say something new and shocking. Mrs May would have to respond. Not surprisingly, there was doubt about whether there would even be a press conference. Rightly, it went ahead. The stakes for both leaders were very high and different. But they got safely to the other side.

The dangers all concerned Mr Trump. He duly said some provocative things and some embarrassing ones. He repeated his support for waterboarding and torture, several times, which was shameful. He said he was up for a great relationship with Vladimir Putin, which Mrs May was not. He was rude about Mexico. He was angry, with a smile on his face, with the BBC’s political editor. His performance was a reminder of the immense damage his election has already done to America and its place in the world. But he said nothing new that will add massively to the many rows and outrages in which he is already embroiled.

For Mrs May the danger was of being collateral damage in a Trump explosion. Since there was no explosion, she will count the event and the visit more generally as successes. Her speech in Philadelphia on Thursday night raised her profile and went down well, deservedly so in some ways. The prime minister may even be tempted to think that she can take some credit for Mr Trump’s good – or less bad – behaviour. That may seem naive if Mr Trump’s state visit to the UK implodes or turns sour in some way later in the year. Mrs May should beware any feeling of confidence about her relationship with the new president. Other prime ministers have passed this way before and ended up humiliated.

The big political prize for Mrs May was her assertion, not repeated by Mr Trump but not denied either, that the president is 100% behind Nato. This is an important outcome, if true. The message will be heard in every Nato capital, especially in eastern parts of Europe, and will be heard in the Kremlin too. Quite what Mr Trump’s 100% support means in practice remains to be seen. Mrs May seemed very keen to lobby for all Nato states to raise their spending level and to raise their defence equipment spending too. It is hard to know whether, post-Brexit, she has the clout or whether she and other Europeans see eye-to-eye on outcomes. Yet, given Mr Trump’s earlier scorn for Nato, this was a big prize.

It is, though, early days, as Mr Trump himself said. That applies in particular to any prospective trade deal between the UK and the US. The US is traditionally a powerful and an uncompromising trade negotiator. It looks to advance American interests, not those of its partners – as Mr Trump made clear on Mexico. Nothing will happen soon, and London’s optimism is almost certainly misplaced. Mr Trump’s vocal embrace of Brexit will have caused real anxiety in Brussels and around the EU – and annoyed his UK opponents too. Mrs May’s eagerness to get round the table in the Oval Office will be seen by some as a disruptive act against the EU, whatever she herself thinks. The French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron said precisely this today.

The main danger facing any British prime minister in the relationship with America is hubris. Pushed by the press and fired by Britain’s seemingly indestructible institutional desire to be loved by America, prime ministers feel the need to seize first friend status and hug it close. Sometimes, however, this can become a destructive desire, as Tony Blair found in his relationship with George W Bush. These visits ought not to matter too much. But they do. Mrs May will feel that she did well. All of us are glad it is now over. In the end, though, Mr Trump is the master of his own fate and, if Mrs May is not careful, he will be master of hers as well.

5 takeaways from the May-Trump talks
The British prime minister has tied her fortunes to the new American president. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

By TOM MCTAGUE 1/27/17, 11:30 PM CET Updated 1/28/17, 10:50 AM CET

WASHINGTON — This was the moment Theresa May came face to face with the great American bear.

Donald Trump was courteous, calm and funny as he held his first press conference with a world leader since becoming president — pulling faces, joking with reporters and repeatedly praising a “most special relationship” with the U.K., ticking the same diplomatic box every U.S. leader feels compelled to tick.

He looked pleased as May announced the Queen had invited him to Britain later this year. The pair had already bonded over a bust of Winston Churchill, returned to the Oval Office after an eight-year sojourn in the less photographed corridors of the White House.

And yet the president was defiantly, unmistakably himself. This was no watered down Trump, tamed by the responsibilities of office.

When May reaffirmed Britain’s commitment to sanctions on Russia, Trump did not. When May announced the U.S. president was “100 percent” committed to NATO, Trump muttered “true” but nothing more.

On torture, he repeated his view that it worked. On Brexit, he said it was “fantastic” that Britain was finally “free and independent.” The U.K. prime minister smiled at all the right moments, and will be pleased with Trump’s warm words for Britain, but this was uncomfortable stuff.

It is, however, her new reality. Over 48 hours in the U.S., the U.K. prime minster has indelibly tied her fortunes to those of the new man in the White House.

Here are five takeaways from the opening scene of this most unlikely of political romances.

1) Trump can’t be tamed

If May came to Washington looking for reassurances on key diplomatic differences, Trump’s press conference performance must be chalked up as a loss.

May managed to extract one concession — on NATO — but only just. There was no commitment on trade, notably warm words for Russia and praise for torture. In Britain’s eyes: Not good.

In her opening remarks, May pulled the equivalent of a diplomatic fast one, shoehorning in Trump’s private reassurance about his commitment to the NATO military alliance. That she had to do that perhaps says more about Trump’s real feelings on the issue.

When pressed by U.S. reporters about his views on Russia, Trump was defiant. “If we can have a great relationship with Russia and China and with all countries I’m all for that. If we can, that would be a positive.”

He went further. If relations between Washington and the Kremlin are as good as those between the U.S. and U.K. that would be great, he said.

British prime ministers aren’t used to hearing that. A special relationship isn’t so special if everyone has one.

2) Quiet menace

“That was your choice for a question? There goes that relationship!”

This was Trump’s response to a humdinger of a question from the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg, who pointed out his controversial views on muslims, abortion and torture weren’t exactly popular in some parts of the U.K.

Trump’s response was funny — but even more so, perhaps, because it contained an element of truth.

Downing Street clearly believes Trump responds well to praise and carefully choreographed every element of this week’s trip to the U.S. accordingly.

May went out of her way to hail his “stunning” election victory, declaring her delight at being able to congratulate him in person.

But for the next four years it’s clear there is going to be a lot of treading on diplomatic eggshells.

Trump was clear in his view that America is being ripped off and that he is the strong leader it needs to stand up for itself again, whether Britain likes it or not.

3) A vassal state?

As May arrived at the White House, driven past a procession of American flags and greeted by the president on the steps of the West Wing, it was like a regional governor returning to Rome to greet the new emperor.

French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron has said May’s tour of the U.S. exposes Britain’s status as a “vassal” state of the U.S. empire.

But May is no pushover and was determined to make it known, contradicting the president on Russian sanctions and insisting she will not shy away from confrontation. The U.K. prime minister’s visit was no Washington sideshow either. The vast East Room in the White House was packed with U.S. and British reporters, camera crews and TV anchors.

But the interest was clearly not so much in what May had to say, but how this most unpredictable of politicians was going to behave — and what he was going to do about Mexico, Putin and China.

The U.K. may well get its special relationship with Trump, but it remains unclear whether this will have any impact on his wider behavior.

4) Symbolism matters

As the two leaders walked from the East Room press conference down the White House colonnade to the West Wing for lunch, Trump took the British prime minister by the hand, patting it slightly.

The president is unlikely to try that with Vladimir Putin.

May looked untroubled but it is unlikely to be the image she wants beamed back to Britain. She wanted warm but businesslike. This was not it. Despite that image, the talks went down well with the British press: “Trump blesses Britain,” said the Times. “Love-in at the White House” was the Daily Mail’s front page headline.

The personal chemistry between the two leaders is crucial. But the relationship between their top teams is almost as important on a functional, day-to-day level.

At the press conference all the main players were in the room.

Steve Bannon, the president’s ideological inspiration, came in smiling and shaking hands with all May’s top team, including ambassador Kim Darroch, whom he appeared to know well.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager during his run for president, was second row back. Sean Spicer barked instructions before the two leaders emerged.

The night before, May held a drinks reception at the British ambassador’s residence, giving her the chance to speak privately with most of Trump’s key cabinet appointments including “Mad Dog” James Mattis and Wilbur Ross — the man who, as Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, will negotiate the U.K.-U.S. trade deal on which May has placed so much credit.

The two teams were also present at the White House talks Friday and for lunch with the two leaders afterwards (they had blue cheese salad, beef shortribs with potato purée and winter vegetables and a salted caramel creme brûlée).

5) Mayism takes shape

From ribs in Washington with one strongman leader to coffee in Ankara with another.

Direct from talks with president Trump in the White House, May jets overnight to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

What either man does domestically appears of little interest to May. On the plane out to the U.S. May was asked what she would do to represent Britain’s muslim community in talks with Trump. Her reply involved everything that she could do for them at home. Pressed on whether she had a duty to represent British muslims, she shot back that she was in Washington to represent all of the United Kingdom.

To May, it’s the national interest above all else. Human rights can wait.

In her speech to Republican leaders in Philadelphia Thursday she declared the end of liberal interventionism. On Friday she declared Mexico’s problems with Trump a matter for Mexico and Trump and none of her business. On Saturday she will begin deepening the relationship with Erdoğan regardless of his increasingly authoritarian turn.

In a world of strong men, turmoil, Brexit and Trump, Britain’s second female prime minister is prepared to work with whoever looks likely to make the U.K. more secure, from both terror and economic shocks.

This article has been updated to clarify Donald Trump’s reaction to Theresa May’s NATO comments.

Tom McTague

Never mind the optics, Theresa May’s US dash was mortifying

Jonathan Freedland
Sure, it went fine – Trump managed not to drop any bombshells. But this hasty visit smacks of desperation

Friday 27 January 2017 20.50 GMT

In normal times, you’d say everything went swimmingly. Sure, the American president seemed a tad unsure how to say the name of his guest – whom he greeted as Ter-raiser – slightly reinforcing the White House’s earlier failure, in a briefing note, to spell the British prime minister’s name correctly, dropping the “h” and thereby suggesting Donald Trump was about to receive Teresa May, who made her name as a porn star.

But other than that, the PM would have been delighted. In the press conference that followed their Oval Office meeting, there were no bombshells: Trump managed to get through it without insulting an entire ethnic group, trashing a democratic norm or declaring war, any of which might have diverted attention from May’s big moment. He was on best behaviour, diligently reading the script that had been written for him, attesting to the “deep bond” that connects Britain and the US. May received all the assurances she craved that her country’s relationship with the US remains “special”. Why, he even, briefly, took her hand.

However, these are not normal times. May and her team will be pleased with the optics and indeed some of the substance – artfully, May got Trump to confirm, on camera, that he is “100% behind Nato” – but the underlying truth is that this dash to Washington was mortifying.
First, there was the unseemly haste. May’s eagerness to be the first foreign leader to shake that short-fingered hand, the scramble to catch up with Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, gave off a strong whiff of desperation.

That is a scent Trump understands. What he lacks in book smarts, he makes up for in alpha male gamesmanship. His lifelong training was in real estate, an area in which there is rarely such thing as a win-win deal: the more you get, the more I pay.

He will have seen May as that most desperate of creatures: the housebuyer who rashly sold her old house before she had found a new one. Having tossed away Britain’s keys to the European single market, she will soon be homeless – and Trump knows it. For all the niceties – May’s shrewd deployment of a royal invitation for a state visit and her compliment to the president on his “stunning election victory”, flattery which saw Trump glow a brighter shade of orange – he will have seen May as a sucker who needs to make a deal. And he will look forward to naming his price.

What would such a deal look like? Tariffs between the US and the UK are already low, so it is the dropping of a different kind of barrier that Trump would be after. That could be a softening of the food standards that have kept out hormone-injected US beef. Or granting access to the NHS to overcharging US drug companies. Or a relaxation in environmental or labour rules that, set with our onetime EU partners, proved too onerous for US firms until now.

When Trump demands all that, May – needing a deal, any deal, to prove that Brexit is not a disaster – will struggle to say no. And what would be gained? One study, released on Friday, estimated that leaving the single market would bring a loss in UK trade of up to 30% – while a new deal with the US might boost it by a meagre 2%. It was a reminder that while the US might be a bigger market for British exports than any other single country, it is dwarfed by the European continent on our doorstep.

The losses will not just be economic. What can our other allies – Europeans, chiefly, but not only them – make of May’s rush to stand with Trump? Contrast Britain’s headlong dash to Washington with Angela Merkel’s wariness to cosy up to a man who says torture “absolutely” works and who regards climate change as a “hoax”. In our determination to be Trump’s new best chum, Britain risks being tarred with his brush, becoming a mini-me to a man already regarded as a global danger.

Underpinning May’s approach was a kind of optimistic naivety tinged with arrogance, the same sentiments that mistakenly informed so many Republicans in their dealings with Trump during the past year: the belief that they could tame him and that he would change.

Whitehall believes May can steer Trump towards sanity on the importance of the UN, Nato and a rules-based international system as well as the necessity of vigilance when it comes to Vladimir Putin. (“Engage, but beware,” as May put it.) As Jeremy Shapiro, a former state department official, told the New York Times, London tends to think “our expert tutelage will socialise him and it’ll be OK”.

Donald Trump and Theresa May awkwardly hold hands at White House
Hubris apart, such thinking woefully misjudges Trump. He has not changed, and is not likely to, as the lies and lunacies of this past week have shown. What’s more, it assumes that Trump could ever be led to some kind of steady, consistent world view. He managed it for a few short minutes on Friday. But the evidence suggests Trump tends to agree with the last person he speaks to. Give it a few days or weeks, and he’ll happily say the exact opposite.

He is feeling warm about Britain and Ter-raiser now, but just wait till he gets in a room with the one person for whom his admiration has been constant: Putin. Then we’ll see which relationship Trump sees as really special.

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