— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 25, 2017
President Donald Trump today attended a ceremony for the new NATO headquarters (after possibly shoving the Montenegro prime minister) led by Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and ah, to have been a fly on the wall. The Berlin Wall, that is. It, and several leaders’ comments, seemed to cast quite a bit of shade on President Trump. Not to be deterred, Trump forged ahead with his position on NATO, in more ways than one.
First, the Berlin Wall. Two fragments of the infamous wall make up a monument at the headquarters, described by the Associated Press as featuring graffiti with an eye motif and the slogan “Gorby sees all.” The tag refers to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as a police state that might seem a little familiar to anyone whose reading habits helped spike George Orwell’s 1984 to the top of the best seller list right after Trump’s election.
The AP reports that Merkel remarked on her own youth behind the Berlin Wall in East Germany, stating that it is “not walls that will be successful, but open societies that are built on common values.” Of course, a rhetorician always knows her audience, and one member in particular has a well-documented obsession with building a wall between the United States and Mexico to deter illegal immigrants, and making Mexico pay for it.
The unveiling of a new monument was just one of many significant moments throughout the day that reflected tensions between Trump and the leaders he is meeting with on his first trip abroad since becoming President.
Merkel’s speech echoed similar sentiments expressed by former president Barack Obama earlier in the day, when he spoke to German youth leaders at Merkel’s invitation. Politico reports that Obama remarked, “In this new world we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves. We can’t hide behind a wall.” He also commented on the importance of self-awareness in a leader, noting, “If I become so convinced that ‘I’m always right’ the logical conclusion of that often ends up being great cruelty and great violence.”
Trump had the opportunity to give a speech of his own, during which he reiterated his belief that the United States’ NATO allies aren’t fairly compensating the U.S. for military protection. In March, he allegedly handed Merkel a bill for what Germany owes the United States. In his speech at the NATO headquarters, Trump reiterated that “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.”
Trump also refused to commit to Article 5, which assures NATO members that they will come to one another’s aid in times of crisis. This was particularly awkward, as the AP points out, given that the President was standing in front of a second monument — one made up of a crumpled steel beam from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The September 11th attacks were the first, and only, time that NATO has invoked Article 5.
Last, but not least, CNBC reporter Steve Kopack noticed this awkward moment when Trump seemed to push his way to the front of a pack of NATO leaders, the touchy capstone to a day of tense moments.