Hardball is what President Donald Trump has always been known for.
He became a legendary reality TV star thanks to his trademark (and brutal) “you’re fired” catchphrase — along with the close-fingered, forearm-snapping gesture he employed that came to be known as the “cobra.”
That hardball style has manifested itself all across his presidency and has paid dividends.
Gone is the namby-pamby, “lead from behind” American foreign policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration. Trump has replaced it with a “get on the train or get out of the way” foreign policy that has thrown the rest of the world for a loop.
Now, days before the Group of Seven summit of global economic powers in France, Trump has thrown down a spiked gauntlet he intends to force European leaders to pick up.
Ever since Trump turned the tide against ISIS, the United States has accumulated thousands of jihadi prisoners.
Trump puts the number at close to 10,000, with 2,500 hailing from European countries, the Daily Mail reported. The president mentioned France and Germany specifically.
Now, fed up with being forced to fund and imprison so many Islamist fighters, Trump is saying that enough is enough.
Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Trump said, “if Europe doesn’t take them, then I have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came, which is Germany, and France, and other places.”
The timing was almost certainly no coincidence given that Trump meets with delegates from European nations on Saturday at the G7 in France.
Whether the threat was designed to get an early edge in negotiations or was an off the cuff shot from a fed-up president remains to be seen.
Trump has expressed frustration over the contrast between the United States’ role in defeating ISIS and Europe’s unwillingness to shoulder enough of the burden that goes with keeping the world (and mainly Europe itself) safe.
The Daily Mail reports Trump as saying, “We beat [ISIS]. We captured them. We’ve got thousands of them. And now, as usual, our allies say, ‘Oh no. We don’t want them.’ Even though they came from France and Germany and other places.”
“So we’re going to tell them and we’ve already told them, ‘Take these prisoners that we’ve captured because the United States is not going to put them in Guantanamo for the next 50 years and pay for it.'”
Trump’s mentioning Guantanamo is interesting in itself. During the Bush years and even during some of Obama’s time in office, the left routinely decried use of the off-shore military prison to house jihadis captured on Middle Eastern battlefields.
Now nary a peep can be heard about what the left once considered a massive human rights violation. Apparently human rights at Gitmo don’t matter when fictionalizing their violation isn’t politically helpful to the left.
Trump has clearly expressed his desire to end as much American interventionism as possible. Depopulating Gitmo and pushing Europe to be more responsible for its own security would go a long way toward that end, as far as both optics and policy go.
Even if Trump’s threat turns out to be a bluff, European leaders need to realize what’s behind that bluff.
Trump chafes at the disproportionate role the U.S. plays in NATO, the UN, and global security in general. He also (thankfully) has a track record of doing what he wants, regardless of what the talking heads and conventional wisdom in D.C. dictate.
He’s signalling to Europe that it’s time to grow up and stand on its own two feet. Whether Europe learns that lesson or gets burned by security reductions and impromptu visits from once-detained jihadis remains to be seen.
One thing’s for certain, though. Trump thinks America’s getting a bad deal, and hardly anything pushes him to play hardball more than getting stuck with a bad deal.
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