If memory serves, it was Fox News co-anchor Shannon Bream who asked whether the Trump “who wants to be liked” or the Trump who “wants to be feared” would show up in Europe. And it seems the answer to that question may be that both made a command performance abroad this past week.
In what’s largely considered to be one of the most conservative governments in Europe, the likable Mr. President appeared in Poland to deliver a rousing speech at the historic Warsaw Uprising monument. To throngs of Polish Nationals, the President said he was honored to be addressing “a Poland that is safe, strong, and free.” “Despite every effort to transform you, oppress you, or destroy you, you endured and overcame,” the president bellowed to roars of applause and approval from the crowd.
Then in Hamburg, Germany it may not have been the fearsome – but it certainly was the hard-hitting Trump — who arrived to challenge Mexican President Peña Nieto. “We’re negotiating NAFTA and some other things with Mexico, and we’ll see how it all turns out,” Trump said with a testing demeanor to the Mexican president.
Switching gears again, the president went on to inveigle British Prime Minister Theresa May with kind words regarding their “very special relationship” before moving on to some friendly banter with President Widodo of Indonesia and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore. “On the cusp of Bilateral talks, President Trump told Loong, “… we have a very big relationship now. It will probably get much bigger,” — whatever that means. As well, he took a similar tone with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzō Abe before the trade talks took place.
The gloves, however, came off with Chinese President Xi Jinping. After hammering him about the tense situation in North Korea, where the president has been clear that he expected more from Jinping and is getting irritated with the lack of support from China, he moved quickly on to trade. “Trade is, as you know, is a very, very big issue for the United States now, because for years, and certainly over a long period of time, many things have happened that have led to trade imbalances. And we’re going to turn that around.” Uh oh. Sounds like he’s putting Jinping on notice that the U.S. is playing a high stakes game of poker and if the Chinese president plans to bluff his way through the talks, Trump is ready to call his hand.
Finally, it came time for the big kahuna – Russian President Vladimir Putin and the president to meet. And despite myriad reports that Putin and Trump are buddies, the two have never so much as eye-balled one another before. Face to face meetings between two Alpha males can be a tricky thing. Remember in June of 2001 when President George W. Bush declared that he had looked at Putin and “was able to get a sense of his soul.”? While we don’t know precisely what went on in that room with Trump and Putin it sure didn’t seem as if the two leaders were having a theological moment. Not a lot of soul talk spilled out from that meeting.
But meet they did – for a thirty-minute meeting lasting over two hours – with no one declared the victor. Perhaps the likable and the fearsome Trump both met with Mr. Putin. Who really knows?
One thing is certain: the president’s desire and ability to keep people off balance and be both likable and fearsome – that “one-never-knows” unpredictability – may, in fact, establish a commanding presence with foreign leaders. It’s hard to read someone who is coming at you from two different directions, maybe even both at once. It is this ability to throw one off-base that may be the president’s most valuable attribute. And perhaps that’s the idea. To be a master negotiator, to coerce or persuade another to do what you want may be handled best by someone other people can’t quite grasp.
And this means that in the sport of international gamesmanship it is “Advantage America,” my friends.