For Leaders Abroad, The Prospect Of A Trump Rise Is Always There

LONDON — Whether foreign leaders view Donald J. Trump's potential return to the White House with hope or horror, the prospect of Trump's restoration is so entrenched abroad that leaders in several nations have hedged their bets in diplomacy, security, and even their venues. invest their wealth.

There are some signs that Trump's indictment last week on criminal charges in New York has shifted the calculations.

Foreign leaders have watched Trump bounce back from so many disasters, according to diplomats and foreign policy experts, that they now regard his political toughness with something close to fatalism. This is especially true in Europe, whose leaders spent four years restraining Mr. Trump on issues ranging from military spending to climate change.

Even if Trump's legal woes end his political viability in a way that two impeachments and the election loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not, many fear that he will be replaced by a number of Trump-like alternatives, among them Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis , is the most prominent example.

“If Trump is really history, many people in Europe will have fewer sleepless nights,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States who is running the Munich Security Conference through 2022. “But it is the underlying fear that Trump provoked six years ago. will not happen. disappear.”

“What if the isolationist virus that Trump put out continues to infect other candidates?” said Mr. Ischinger. “What if, instead of Trump, the Republicans nominated another isolationist candidate for president? And what if that candidate wins?”

These fears deepen when Mr. DeSantis, Mr. Trump's primary challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, recently characterized Russia's war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” He later recanted the comments under heavy criticism from fellow Republicans.

But his remarks, which echo Trump's usual treatment of a Russian invasion, arguably landed with a bigger blow in European capitals than in the United States, given Europe's heavy reliance on American military and diplomatic support to maintain a unified resistance to Russia. aggression.

“Trump is a phenomenon, but no longer unique,” said Kim Darroch, the former British ambassador to the United States. “He has spawned an entire generation of mini-Trump and Trump lite.”

“So if you believe that isolationism is flourishing in America, or it is politically appropriate for you to assert this, you shouldn't be hanging on to Trump,” said Darroch, who was forced to leave his post in Washington after a critical crisis. cables he wrote about the Trump administration were leaked in 2019. “There are many alternatives.”

None of this means that Mr Trump hasn't remained a singular figure, or that his legal woes haven't attracted attention overseas. The case against the former president, with lurid accusations of “hush money” paid to a porn actress, is the only kind of spectacle in America fit to make tabloid headlines.

“Very Common Suspect,” said London's Daily Star, with a collage of unflattering photos of Mr. Trump with the background used for mug shots. “Trump will refuse to be handcuffed,” the Times of London said in a front-page article on Saturday that included an interview with Stormy Daniels, the actress who said she had a sexual relationship with Mr Trump and received payments from Mr Trump. lawyer in exchange for his silence.

But the Daily Telegraph, which leans to the right, focused on potential gains for Trump with his right-wing political base, declaring “The Impeachment is a golden opportunity for Trump.” The feeling that Mr. Trump can happen unexpectedly extend to Parliament and government offices.

For one thing, Darroch said, only those who follow the Trump saga closely will realize that this is the first of several potential charges, in a case involving election interference and the mishandling of classified documents. More casual observers will ignore him, focusing instead on his lead in the polls over his Republican rival.

One of the reasons some Europeans are promoting the view that Trump is tough, he said, is because it advances their geopolitical agenda.

In Britain, some on the right are openly longing for a return to Trump, who is fighting for Brexit and pinning the prospect of a trans-Atlantic trade agreement on hold. President Biden has ruled that out, and while his relations with Britain are cordial, he is not as lively as Mr Trump. Mr. Biden missed the coronation of King Charles III, the kind of showy and thoughtful ceremony his predecessor would have enjoyed.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron has advanced European “strategic autonomy,” the theory that Europe needs to maintain itself more independently from the United States. Trump's disdain for NATO is a major motivating factor, and Trump's second term, in which he may actually withdraw from the alliance, will make it all the more important.

In the Middle East too, countries are hedging their bets on Trump's return to power. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have invested in private equity funds started by Trump's son-in-law and former adviser, Jared Kushner. The investment, experts say, reflects their desire to remain on good terms with Mr Kushner, who is married to Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka.

“The Saudis, in particular, are betting on the return of Trump or at least a Republican presidency,” said Martin S. Indyk, former American ambassador to Israel. “The relationship between Biden and MBS is so complicated that ABB – anyone but Biden – is the approach,” said Indyk, referring to Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Indyk said he was skeptical that Arab leaders would change their calculations because of the indictments. “I doubt they have concluded that this will knock Trump out of the contest,” he said. “And if it does, it might pave the way for other Republicans who have a better chance of beating Biden.”

In Israel, analysts say, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also likely to welcome Trump's return, not least because they share the same concerns. Both face lawsuits: in Mr Netanyahu's case, allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, for which he has fought a wildly unpopular – and now suspended – attempt to exercise more control over the judiciary. Like Mr Trump, Mr Netanyahu has accused prosecutors of carrying out politically motivated attacks against him.

For America's allies, Mr Trump's unrelenting assault on the American legal system, and the fact that he has been supported by so many other Republicans, is perhaps the most worrying short-term impact of his indictment.

But for foes like Russia and China, the prospect of Trump boosting another campaign for the presidency, while at the same time defending himself against criminal accusations, plays into their narrative of American chaos and decline.

Evan S. Medeiros, former China adviser to President Barack Obama, said, “The Chinese will use this to bolster an argument they have made for a long time: that America is consumed by its democratic dysfunction, and that China is the better bet.”