Life comes at you fast. Just two weeks ago, Theresa May was bragging that she’d secured “a very significant commitment” on Nato from Donald Trump in the House of Commons. A week later, she insisted that one of the fruits of her visit was a “100 per cent commitment” to Nato from the President in an interview with the New Statesman.
Now Jim Mattis, the American Secretary of Defence, has warned that the United States will “moderate its commitment”, unless every member of the alliance meets its obligation to spend at least two per cent of GDP on defence.
The British government has recently been embroiled in a row over whether or not it is paying the two per cent, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies insisting that the United Kingdom pays closer to 1.97 per cent and the Ministry of Defence claiming that the IISS has not taken the lower value of sterling into account.
Whoever is right on that issue, this much is clear: Britain is a hell of a lot closer to meeting the two per cent target than Donald Trump is to being 100 per cent committed to Nato. Yes, you can make a strong argument that, with just five of the 28 members of Nato hitting the two per cent target, not enough nations are either, and that too much of Nato’s defence bill falls on the Americans. But if you make increased payments a prerequisite of your continuing commitment, the one thing you cannot make a strong case for is that you are 100 per cent committed or anything close to it.
And that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has studied anything Donald Trump has said or done, in politics or in business. This is a man who during the election claimed to be the 2011 winner of Michigan’s Man of the Year award, a prize that has never existed. This is a man who said that he had paid for the charitable gifts on Celebrity Apprentice¸- he did not. This is a man who only a few days before Theresa May visited him in the White House claimed that it had stopped raining during his inauguration – it had not.
There’s been a long-running structural problem that Downing Street has never had the in-house foreign policy expertise it needs, which will become more acute once Britain leaves the European Union. But you don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to know that everything Trump says should be considered untrue until proven otherwise.
It was an act of pure delusion, nothing more, nothing less, to believe that a 15-minute chat and some handholding with Theresa May could turn Donald Trump into Ronald Reagan. Attempting to use those promises as leverage with our European partners was as foolish as trying to pay rent with Monopoly money.
Yet the foreign policy genius who boasted about a promise from a man whose final act as President-Elect was to settle $25m worth of lawsuits for false advertising is now tasked with negotiating the most complex foreign and domestic policy challenges in decades. Get ready for a wild ride.