It amounts to a blueprint of his foreign policy and has caused widespread consternation among European allies. Germany's foreign minister at EU meetings in Brussels described reaction among leaders as "astonishment and agitation
After months of little detail, Trump has opened up in a joint interview for German newspaper Bild and British newspaper The Times — which sent its columnist Michael Gove, a sitting UK member of Parliament and prominent Brexit campaigner. In the interview, the President-elect laid out his thinking on a host of global issues, from China to Russia to NATO to his thoughts on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Queen of England.
He both complimented and castigated Merkel, accusing her of making "a catastrophic mistake" letting "all these illegals in the country," a clear reference to Merkel's 2015 open door policy
to Syrian refugees.
Merkel took the apparent slur in her stride, saying once he is in office, "We will see what sort of accord we can forge between us."
What emerges in the interview is Trump's clear view that many parts of the world require fixing, and he is the man to do it.
He admits that he is no politician and talk of deals permeated the dialogue, most notably with Russia. "Let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia," he told the two reporters, holding out the prospect of a nuclear weapons reduction deal with Vladimir Putin that could see him trading US sanctions on Russia to achieve it.
He also raised fundamental questions about his future relationship with Russia, describing NATO as obsolete
because it was "designed many, many years ago" and that other countries "aren't paying what they're supposed to pay."
None of this is new, but coming so close to Inauguration Day, it is rattling America's allies. NATO is offering its own self-assuring spin
, saying it's "absolutely certain" the United States will remain "committed to NATO."
At Europe's bureaucratic heart in Brussels there was even more incredulity. Germany's foreign minister said he called NATO's secretary general to discuss his worries: "This is in contradiction with what the American defense secretary
[nominee James Mattis] said in his hearing in Washington a few days ago."
From Europe's perspective, Trump revealed a thinness of knowledge about not just NATO, but also the European Union, describing it as a construct to take jobs from the United States, while also being in the pocket of Germany, telling reporters: "You look at the UK and you look at the European Union and it's Germany. Basically a vehicle for Germany. That's why I thought the UK was so smart in getting out."
France's foreign minister bristled at Trump's suggestion
in the interview that "Brexit is going to end up being a great thing," and that more EU nations could follow the United Kingdom out. Jean-Marc Ayrault quickly announced: "The best way to defend Europe is not to accept Mr. Trump's invitation, it is to stay united as a bloc."
The assault on European sensitivities wasn't limited to geopolitics; trade was on Trump's mind, too.
Here, German automakers were in his gaze, with the President-elect noting how many Mercedes vehicles cruise New York's 5th Avenue, and how few Chevrolets are owned by Germans. "How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Maybe none ... it's gotta be a two-way street ... that's why we're losing almost $800, think of it, $800 billion a year in trade."
Germany's vice chancellor shot back, saying America needed to make better cars, but it didn't stop BMW or Daimler's shares taking a 2% shower.
Trump said BMW and others must manufacture in the United States or face a 35% trade tariff on cars brought into the country. BMW quickly fired back that it does produce in the United States, and is a net exporter.
There were other less obvious trades in play. On one hand, Trump promising Britain a much-desired speedy trade deal; on the other saying he was looking to the United Kingdom to back the United States on Middle East peace. When asked whether he thought Britain should veto any UN Security Council resolution, he responded: "I am hoping for a British veto." He didn't link the two directly, but he didn't have to.
A hastened trade deal with the United Kingdom is exactly what the British government wants. For British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump's comments couldn't have come at a better time. But it may yet be a double-edged sword for both of them.
As May aligns herself to the President-elect
to make up the Brexit trade deficit and Trump casts doubt on Europe, it makes the United Kingdom's increasingly acrimonious divorce from the European Union all the more bitter.
Historically, of course, at a time of US-European tension, US presidents have turned to Britain to put in a good word and help improve relations. But with the British Prime Minister readying herself for a difficult negotiation process with the European Union over the terms of Britain's departure, May might discover Europeans are not so receptive to her diplomatic whispers.