The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is at the center of media attention world-wide. What kind of leader will he turn out to be and how will his presidency impact European and world affairs? Those are questions that not just Czechs, but people around the globe are asking themselves. American entrepreneur Brady Clough has lived and worked in the Czech Republic since 1993. I asked him about his impressions of the US president-elect and how he interpreted some of his recent comments about the European Union, Brexit and NATO.
“The comments about NATO, he has mentioned something like that in the past, because he was concerned about the budget and that everybody pays their fair share, the comments about Brexit, those are fairly new. I think it is unfortunate to discount NATO and not to appreciate the value of the alliance, because I think it has contributed to a strong, stable Europe for a period of over 60 years now. It is one of the few alliances where everyone knows that if another member is in trouble the rest of the group will come and help them. What I think is interesting about Mr. Trump’s comments on NATO and his calling into question the value of the alliance is the well-known Article 5 about if one member is attacked then everybody comes to their rescue and I read in the paper the other day that the only time it has actually been applied was when the US was attacked, i.e. after 9/11. So I think it is quite interesting that the US would discredit an organization which proved that when the US needed help everybody came to their aid. So I hope that Mr. Trump will think through his comments and perhaps give some thought to the greater value that the European Union and the NATO alliance provided over the past 60 years, because I think what people forget, or don’t realize is that this is the longest period of peace in Europe that the Old Continent has ever known and I think we can’t take that for granted.”
Do you think that these negative comments are more likely to consolidate the EU or hasten its potential disintegration?
“Well, from what I have seen of the reactions so far, I think it is leading more towards consolidation. And I hope that if we should ever get to the unfortunate scenario that NATO might be dissolved or that there would be an abandoning of the EU on the part of the United States –that the positive outcome might be a stronger Europe, that France, Germany and other founding members will realize that they need to look after themselves, they need to be strong and they need to push for a future in a stronger, integrated, consolidated Europe.”
Now, Mr. Trump’s statement is not in line with what his candidate for defense secretary James Mattis told the US Senate earlier. Although, Mr. Trump is not in office yet, it is a strong statement coming from the president-elect. So what are we seeing here – is he a loose cannon?
“Well, sometimes the statements are not always thought through, his team has been pushing him to give up his Twitter account because it is difficult to regulate and you need to have a consolidated, unified message on foreign policy, even on economic policy….we have seen since he has been president –elect Mr. Trump has made different comments about different businesses in the US and that has had an impact on their stock prices….hopefully, he will come to the realization that his words have gravity, they have value, they have an impact on what happens in the world. You mentioned the candidate for the minister of defense, but I think there were also discrepancies between statements during the Senate hearings by the candidate for minister of foreign affairs Rex Tillerson and what Mr. Trump has been saying, so I think there needs to be some sort of consolidation and consensus and the communications department at least for the White House, led by President Trump, needs to have some sort of unified talking points because it is not fair to the partners of the United States of America to hear three different opinions from three different organizations or institutions in the executive branch of the US or maybe a different opinion from the Congress. We do have to have some sort of unity and clarity in our foreign policy with regard to our alliance partners and the foreign government we want to work with.”
How do you think the change-of-guard at the White House will affect relations with the EU. Do you feel that maybe Mr. Trump would prefer to deal individually with individual states? Does he want to deal with the EU?
“I haven’t seen any indication of what his future direction on that will be. But just by evaluating his behavior and the way he interacts with different leaders I do think that he prefers a one-on-one or a two-three-on- one meeting. He prefers to work with a smaller group, work with individuals. I don’t know whether he fully appreciates and understands the workings of the EU. I think we will just have to wait and see, but I do think that considering recent comments and observances – how people and governing bodies have observed him in the past few weeks – there is going to be a certain degree of skepticism – in Czech I would call it “odstup” (distance) just to see what exactly his intentions are and where he wants to lead the United States vis-à-vis Europe.”
Given the threat of terrorism, the migrant crisis and everything that is happening in the world today, does not the US see the need for a strong Europe?
“I think there are definitely certain segments of the US, if we are talking at the governmental level then maybe the centre-left segment is probably more pro-European, along the same spectrum as in most European countries you tend to have a socialist or left-centre vote that is more pro-EU and would like a better integrated, stronger centralized European government and then the right of centre parties are perhaps a little bit more wary, whether it is the Republicans in the US or the Tories in Great Britain. I think that one thing that we have to see is basically that we have to honour past alliances and we have to think about how European governments, be it as individual member states – or the European Union as a whole, or NATO as a whole – have helped us in the past and I think we have to respect the support we have had because I think that most of the phenomena that governments are faced with today are not of a local character. It is too easy to travel, terrorism is something that has impacted the US, it has impacted the EU, it has impacted South-East Asia, Turkey and the Middle East and I think that we all need to – at least the governments of the world who would like to support liberal democracy, free decision making and self-determination for their peoples - have to support this cooperation. I don’t think it is practical – and it has been proven in the past that it is not practical for the US to try and go it alone.”