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Trump hands Netanyahu major victory weeks before election
02:53 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

He’s trashed the British Prime Minister. He’s cheered protesters in France. And now he’s handed Israel’s embattled leader a win days before a re-election. When it comes to other countries’ domestic politics, President Donald Trump hasn’t hesitated to put his thumb on the scale.

When he first met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office weeks after his inauguration, Trump heard out the Israeli prime minister’s appeal to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

But Trump didn’t immediately deliver. Instead, he waited until less than three weeks before the most consequential election of Netanyahu’s political career to announce “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

Combined with the warm embrace Trump will offer Netanyahu in Washington next week and the White House’s silence on the timing of the announcement, experts quickly identified Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as a brazen attempt to boost Netanyahu’s re-election chances, giving him a foreign policy achievement to tout in the final stretch of the campaign.

And while it was perhaps the most blatant attempt by the Trump administration to wade into a foreign contest, it was not the only time the President or his team has weighed in on the domestic politics of other countries. From undercutting British Prime Minister Theresa May during a visit to the United Kingdom to calling attention to protests against French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump has repeatedly sought to influence the internal affairs of the US’s closest allies – in full public view.

“It’s not without precedent that United States leaders have said things that affect politics in other countries, but it is without precedent for them to do it as brazenly as Trump has done,” said Joseph Nye, the former dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “His style and the degree to which he intervenes are both unprecedented.”

American administrations have long sought to quietly sway the domestic politics of other countries, whether through covert influence campaigns or military support. But rarely has a US president so eagerly voiced his opinions or taken steps to influence another country’s internal affairs, particularly among close US allies.

Instead – even when an administration’s preferred outcome was widely known or assumed – the White House maintained an officially neutral stance. A country’s internal affairs were off-limits, at least as a matter of stated position.

Trump and Netanyahu

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 23:  (ISRAEL OUT) In this handout photo provided by the Israel Government Press Office (GPO), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with US President Donald Trump prior to the President's departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017 in Jerusalem, Israel. Trump arrived for a 28-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority areas on his first foreign trip since taking office in January.  (Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images)
Netanyahu channeling Trump amid corruption charges
02:06 - Source: CNN

With the Israeli elections approaching and Netanyahu damaged by a pending indictment stemming from a corruption investigation, it became increasingly clear that Trump would look to bolster one of his closest international partners.

Netanyahu in recent weeks had begun to renew his push for the US to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel. Earlier this month, he brought US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to the Israeli-occupied territory, touting its strategic importance. Graham, a close ally of the President’s, promised Netanyahu he would personally lobby Trump to deliver.

The Israeli ambassador’s visit was a precursor to Trump’s announcement on Thursday, a senior administration official told CNN. The Golan Heights recognition had been in the works for several weeks, the official said, and culminated in a series of meetings between the President and his senior staff this week.

US officials have offered no explanation as to why Trump decided to take this step now, rather than wait until after Israel’s April 9 elections.

“The timing is bad. There’s no question about it that making a move like this that would even give the appearance of support to the incumbent prime minister is – it will be viewed by some as problematic,” said Jonathan Schanzer, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has previously called for the US to recognize the Golan Heights.

But Schanzer pointed out that past US presidents have also sought to sway Israeli elections. President Bill Clinton, for example, invited Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to the White House to sign an anti-terror pact at the White House just under a month before Peres faced reelection.

Trump, though – who enjoys sky-high popularity in Israel – will welcome Netanyahu to the White House for meetings and a dinner over two days just two weeks before Israeli elections. And he is handing Netanyahu an achievement sought by successive Israeli administrations.

Trump and Brexit

US President Donald Trump (L) and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May  hold a joint press conference following their meeting at Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, near Ellesborough, northwest of London on July 13, 2018 on the second day of Trump's UK visit. - Britain and the United States have agreed to pursue "an ambitious UK-US free trade agreement" after Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday following talks with US President Donald Trump. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Theresa May dodges Trump criticism question (2018)
02:40 - Source: CNN

Trump has sought to leave his imprint on the politics of another close US ally, the United Kingdom.

After openly advocating for the United Kingdom to vote to leave the European Union as a presidential candidate, Trump as president has done little to disguise his views of UK’s May and her handling of the matter, which has drawn scorn from all sides in the United Kingdom.

Hours before he met May at her Chequers estate outside London in July, the Sun newspaper published an interview with Trump in which he undercut his counterpart and suggested one of her political rivals, former London mayor Boris Johnson, might perform the job better.

“I would have done it much differently. I actually told Theresa May how to do it, but she didn’t listen to me,” Trump told the tabloid. “The deal she is striking is a much different deal than the one people voted on.”

Trump apologized in private to May, one of the rare times he’s admitted wrong. And though he’s expressed a desire to remain diplomatically impartial – “I think we will stay right in our lane,” he said last week when questioned about Brexit – he has nevertheless bemoaned May’s handling of the issue over and over.

“I’m surprised at how badly it’s all gone from the standpoint of a negotiation,” he said in the Oval Office last week, moments after suggesting he wouldn’t offer an opinion on the issue. “I gave the prime minister my ideas on how to negotiate it. And I think you would’ve been successful. She didn’t listen to that, and that’s fine.”

A few weeks before, Trump spoke briefly with one of the UK’s most visible pro-Brexit campaigners, Nigel Farage, on the sidelines of a conservative conference outside Washington. And he’s maintained close ties to the hardline conservatives who have bemoaned May’s handling of the matter.

Trump wasn’t alone in his criticism. Two of his top confidants – son Donald Trump Jr. and national security adviser John Bolton – both offered critical views this week of May and her plan to try and delay Britain’s exit from Europe.

“The people of Britain have voted. When is the political class going to give effect to that vote?” Bolton said in an interview with the British broadcaster Sky.

Trump Jr. was more forceful in an opinion article published in the Telegraph, comparing the Brexit referendum to his father’s election and asserting both were subject to interference by a class of political elites.

“With the deadline fast approaching, it appears that democracy in the UK is all but dead,” wrote Trump Jr., who hasn’t weighed in previously on foreign matters and isn’t a known expert in British politics. “Why is this important for us Americans? Because Brexit is an example of how the establishment elites try to subvert the will of the people when they’re given the chance.”

The White House declined to say whether Trump Jr.’s op-ed reflected the views of the administration, or whether he consulted with the White House about his message.

On Brexit at least, Trump was not completely breaking from presidential norm. His predecessor President Barack Obama traveled to London in the months leading up to referendum and encouraged voters against a decision to leave the EU, saying such a move would leave them at the “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the US.

Trump and Macron

ZAKARIA: But obviously your expression about the European Army irritated President Trump -- he tweeted something about it. Do you think that there is an inevitable clash here? Are you--  MACRON: No. We had a very good discussion this morning and he confirmed in front of the press that he was OK. I think--   ZAKARIA: Does that mean that his tweet was a mistake? What--   MACRON: I don't know, I'm not the one to comment his tweet. I always prefer having direct discussion or answering questions at making my diplomacy through tweets. But I think we had a very clear discussion. He is in favor of a better burden-sharing within NATO. I agree with that. And I think that in order to have a better burden-sharing, all of us do need more Europe. And I think the big mistake--to be very direct with you--what I don't want to see is European countries increasing the budget in defense in order to buy Americans' and other arms or matériels coming from your industry. I think if we increase our budget, it's to have to build our autonomy...
Macron responds to Trump tweet
01:12 - Source: CNN

Across the English channel, Trump has also not hesitated to undercut his French counterpart, hailing the Yellow Vest protests in France as an endorsement of his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

“How is the Paris Environmental Accord working out for France? After 18 weeks of rioting by the Yellow Vest Protesters, I guess not so well! In the meantime, the United States has gone to the top of all lists on the Environment,” he wrote last week.

That was quickly followed by a phone call from President Emmanuel Macron, who began his tenure as a fast friend of Trump’s only to see the relationship sour over perceived slights and divergent views.

While the France protests were spurred in part by anger over rising fuel prices, they are not an explicit opposition to the climate deal, which Trump withdrew from early in his presidency. That hasn’t seemed to matter to the President, who claimed on Twitter starting late last year the sometimes-violent protesters were clamoring for a Trump-like leader.

“The Paris Agreement isn’t working out so well for Paris,” tweeted Trump in December. “Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting ‘We Want Trump!’ Love France.”

Later, it was determined that a widely circulated video of protesters uttering that chant were from a far-right protest in London, not the yellow vest protests in France.

Trump has even struck out at his French counterpart by highlighting his unpopularity, even though the President himself has suffered from sluggish approval ratings.

“The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%,” Trump tweeted in November. “MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!”