Maybe even Donald Trump has had enough.
After a day and a half of fun and games at NATO'S 70th anniversary gathering where he clashed with French President Emanuel Macron and appeared to be mocked by Canada's Justin Trudeau and other NATO leaders in an embarrassing video, the President decided to cancel one of his favorite pastimes — holding forth at the final press conference. Of course, no one will be surprised if in his traditional mercurial fashion, he tweets some closing thoughts later.
NATO will survive. Indeed, Trump claimed the future of the organization would be "stronger than ever." But the much hoped for image of unity among the NATO nations was anything but and that should come as no surprise.
Neither should the fact that Trump's traditional antics were again on display: grabbing center stage, doing battle with allies he ostensibly disrespects, taking the opportunity to defend himself on domestic issues and ensuring that his own ego takes precedence over US national interests.
That the NATO summit shared half a split screen with the Congressional impeachment inquiry hearings only tethered the NATO event more closely to the President's personal needs and politics and ensured it would be all about him — a truly sad and unfortunate development on the 70th anniversary of perhaps America's most important and historic alliance.
Is Trump the only one allowed to criticize NATO?
It was odd, not to mention hypocritical, to watch Trump — NATO slayer par excellence and critic of America's freeloading allies — emerge as a seeming defender of the alliance against the "very, very nasty" and "very disrespectful" comments made by Macron in an interview with the Economist where the French president disparaged the organization.
One can be forgiven for thinking about the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Wasn't this the same guy who has consistently blasted the alliance for no longer serving a purpose and being filled with members that aren't meeting their military spending obligations? One suspects that the real source of Trump's upset with Macron had nothing to do with NATO at all but with the fact that Macron said that NATO was suffering a "brain death" because of members' inability to cooperate.
Indeed, given Trump's thin skin, he surely took Macron's comments personally. And in fairness to Trump, Macron's words could be read as — and likely were — a stab at Trump's leadership within the organization.
That Trump chose not to give final remarks after the NATO gathering does not show that he is backing down from a fight with the leaders who have criticized him. It may well be that even Trump recognized, particularly in view of the impeachment cloud, that nothing was to be gained by another reality TV venting session. He will almost certainly choose instead to take his shots from far away in the Twittersphere.
Nonetheless, Macron and Trump's comments revealed a deep discord over NATO, Turkey's acquisition of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles, and policy on Syria that will not be healed anytime soon.
Trump hates (and loves) multilateral diplomacy
Trump may have been looking forward to the NATO trip to escape the impeachment mess in Washington and to demonstrate his presence on the world stage — especially another pomp and circumstance meeting with the queen at Buckingham Palace. Indeed, Trump criticized Democrats for pursuing impeachment inquiries while he was representing the nation at the NATO gathering.
Still, looking back on the last three years, it's clear that Trump prefers big bilateral meetings (with Russia's Vladimir Putin, North Korea's Kim Jong Un and China's Xi Jinping) and hates large multilateral gatherings. He undoubtedly ranks them somewhere between migraine headaches and root canal operations.
Trump has opted for foreign meetings where he will be feted and flattered and when large multinational gatherings arise, he tends to play the role of disrupter.
Much of that was seen this time at this week's NATO meeting. But Trump couldn't have been happy with the way things turned out.
Macron refused to back down on his comments, forcing Trump to concede that he and the French President had a "minor dispute" that they could probably work out.
Then, in response to the video of the leaders, including the amiable Trudeau, appearing to mock Trump's behavior, the President called the Canadian prime minister "two-faced."
This clearly hit home because one of Trump's major themes with his base is that nobody laughs and disrespects America. Worse still, his allies were disrespecting him.
Impeachment on the brain
The biggest event this week wasn't Trump's spat with Macron, the embarrassing video, or the NATO meeting. It was the completion of the House Intelligence Committee's report on the impeachment inquiry. The first meeting of the House Judiciary Committee now reflects the reality that presidents cannot escape domestic travails no matter how far they travel.
That this is one of the most embarrassing and depressing moments in the Trump presidency goes without saying. It's even worse that it's playing out while Trump is attending the 70th anniversary of NATO. His alleged gross misconduct of withholding aid to Ukraine for political benefit (Trump denies any quid pro quo) — thereby playing into Russia's hands — has weakened the very alliance Trump praised on Tuesday.
Yet the President seamlessly mixed foreign policy and impeachment topics while he was in London. True to form, Trump without hesitation or the hint of embarrassment defended himself and in some truly shameless gaslighting accused Adam Schiff of being "deranged" and called the impeachment a "hoax."
Despite Trump's bravado, counterpunching and galactic narcissism, it's hard to imagine that the prospects of impeachment does not weigh heavily on the President. Indeed, cancelling the NATO press conference reflects the stress he is under. Try as they might, presidents cannot use foreign policy to escape their domestic travails.
In this case, Trump, confronted and mocked, appeared far from sure-footed and confident. And it was on display for all the world to see. Whatever the outcome and impact of the impeachment inquiry, it's likely to cling to his presidency and his legacy like a barnacle to the side of a boat.