On Saturday, President Donald J. Trump added Sweden to a list of allies that he had insulted publicly.
Mexico was the first. Trump pounded so hard on his campaign point that the United States was going to build a wall across its southern border and make Mexico pay for it that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto canceled his scheduled visit to the United States. Next was Australia. Trump found his telephone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull so unsatisfying — presumably discussion of an exchange of refugees President Barack Obama had agreed upon with Australia — that he let an account of his annoyance go public, in the process insulting the Australians, one of America’s closest allies.
It was Sweden’s turn Saturday, at a political rally Trump held at Melbourne, Florida. The reason for the event, presumably to cover its financing, was an early opening to Trump’s campaign for re-election as president in 2020. In making his familiar point that migrants were bad for a country, he cited Sweden’s relatively high rate of acceptance of migrants and attributed to it as a result a terrorist attack there the night before.
The unfortunate part, for Trump and for America, was that there was no such attack, which the Swedes hastened to verify and then affirm. When called on his mistake, Trump said he had seen a story on Fox News about immigrants and Sweden. That network had broadcast one of its habitual reports hammering immigration, focusing on a documentary asserting a wave of violence by refugees in Sweden, but nothing about an attack the night before.
In the meantime, Vice President Mike Pence was in Europe busily trying to calm European fears that America is about to abandon Europe, in security terms in NATO, and in its support of fruitful relations with a strong European Union. Trump’s Sweden miscue did nothing to enhance Pence’s claims of continued firm U.S. attachment to its traditional economic, political and security alliance with Europe. Continued disarray within Trump’s administration centering, in part, on communications and ties with Russia, featured by the sacking of Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser, hasn’t reassured the Europeans either.
Trump’s addition of Sweden, an EU member that partners with NATO, to his list of disrespected countries just makes things worse. How is Pence to assure Europe that America seeks continued good relations without telling its leaders simply to ignore what Trump says?