The thirst for war is ancient. As old as disputatious
neighbors or rival tribes, it is enticing -- a siren call for the
strong, presenting as it does a quick, easy and final solution. That it
is often not, has hastened the end of royal dynasties (Hohenzollerns,
Hapsburgs and Romanovs after WWI) and empires, including the British.
There are cogent arguments both world wars could have been avoided: the
first, Europe fell into in accidental haste; the second, an end of a
trail leading from the first.
So here we are in the 21st century and a West increasingly subject to violent small scale attack. The latest has 22 killed, 59 wounded, after a pop concert in Manchester, U.K. -- the perpetrator, a native-born UK citizen of Libyan descent apparently radicalized by ISIS/Daesh, which has claimed responsibility. A nasty intrusion into the usual comfort and security of life in Europe, it has captured headlines across the world to the delight of Daesh. Like a shattered mirror, it and other such incidents scar our consciousness with jarring images -- images not to be ... after a concert in Manchester, a marathon in Boston, walking across Westminster bridge in London, or a French promenade (in Nice) on Bastille Day.
But back to another reality: the police in the U.S. kill over a thousand people on average each year in what is termed justifiable homicide; on British roads, 1810 people died in 2016 alone. While none of this is much comfort to the bereaved of Manchester, such mundane statistics like road casualties seldom hit the headlines, although posing at least a hundred times greater probability of occurrence. Also the spate of IRA attacks in the last quarter of the 20th century clearly dwarf those resulting from British involvement in the Middle East and North Africa as a junior U.S. partner -- a region so devastated, it is hardly recognizable as the relatively thriving Iraq, Libya and Syria of the past.
The day before Hassan Rouhani had been reelected Iran's president after a tough battle against hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Perhaps it was the exultation of the moment but the usually diplomatic cleric, UK educated lawyer, and architect of the US peace deal could not help reminding Trump of where he was, a country where there has never been an election. He, of course didn't hear.
That Mr. Trump is unconcerned about such niceties or freedoms or human rights was clear from his speech. In the end, it was Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan who toned down the belligerence by calling for dialogue as the only way to a sustained peace. All it earned him was a snub.
Onward in our president's odyssey to the Vatican and a frosty reception from the Pope, who presented him with an olive branch embossed medallion and a copy of his encyclical on the environment. The Vatican Foreign Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin encouraged him to stay in the Paris Climate Accord. Despite the cold shoulder, he and his family got their photo-op.
Then to Brussels and another gaffe: he accused NATO members of not fulfilling the 2 percent of GDP contribution. Well in the first place, the amount is not mandated; second, it is not about a contribution to NATO -- NATO's expenses are paltry, amounting to less than $2 billion. What the 2 percent figure actually represents is a recommended guideline for each member country's own defense spending so that it can provide adequate support in a time of need. The German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen's prompt response: Germany doesn't owe NATO any debt.
Mr. Trump knows all this. He might appear stupid to Europeans as he ignores basic facts, but the public shaming was intended actually to bolster him with his own ill-informed voters back home. Of course, some Europeans are voluntarily increasing spending due to deteriorating relations with Russia, spending for which Mr. Trump will no doubt take credit.
So, is Trump a fool or a wily coyote making the best political use of his trip before returning to the problems at home? It's easy to answer that one.