White House to Europe: Trump picks on you because he likes you

During meetings in Europe last week, President Donald Trump devoted much of his public remarks to chiding NATO members he insists are freeloading by not meeting their commitment to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. | Getty

President Donald Trump may be aggravating Germany, France and other U.S. allies in Europe with his tirades and qualms about trade imbalances, NATO spending and the Paris climate change deal.

But the White House is casting Trump’s approach as one designed to strengthen the U.S.-European relationship — not kill it.

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After all, Trump aides insist, real friends tell each other hard truths.

Trump “views not just Germany but the rest of Europe as an important American ally,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday, adding that the Republican president’s demands during his first official visit to Europe last week that other NATO countries spend more on defense were “getting results.”

“That is a good thing for them, it’s a good thing for NATO, and it’s a good thing for America,” Spicer said.

To others, however, the Europe-U.S. tensions over defense spending, trade deals and climate change are real, growing and could ultimately lead to shifts in alliances if Trump does not temper his tone. European leaders, some of whom face elections at home, do not want voters to see them as weak next to Trump.

While it’s unlikely the United States and Europe would flat-out abandon each other, smaller rifts could be exploited by rivals such as Russia, lead to new partnerships with emerging forces such as China, or threaten cooperation on joint endeavors such as stabilizing Afghanistan.

“Europeans really are asking themselves, ‘How can we try and proceed and construct a positive way forward with someone who won’t even meet us…

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