- The French leader said NATO was experiencing a "brain death."
- Macron was touching on the ways in which Trump has undermined NATO, including by paving the way for another NATO member (Turkey) to invade Syria in October.
- With the US a less reliable security partner under Trump, the French leader has called for European leaders to come together and play a more active, collective role in the continent's defense.
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President Donald Trump has spent years bashing NATO, but just went after another world leader for following his lead.
As NATO members met for a summit in London on Tuesday, Trump slammed French President Emmanuel Macron for stating the historic alliance is experiencing a "brain death" in an interview with The Economist published last month.
But Trump left out the fact Macron's comments on NATO were in reference to the US president's lack of commitment to the alliance, and the anxiety this has induced among the allies.
Trump, who has referred to NATO as "obsolete," told reporters: "NATO serves a great purpose...And I heard that President Macron said NATO is 'brain dead.' I think that's very insulting to a lot of different forces, including the man that does a very good job in running NATO."
"You just can't go around making statements like that about NATO. It's very disrespectful," Trump said, referring to Macron's comments as "very, very nasty" while also drifting off into commentary on France's "very high unemployment rate" and economy more generally. Meanwhile, Trump referred to other NATO members as "delinquent" when discussing defense spending.
'We should reassess the reality of what NATO is'
Since entering the White House, Trump has repeatedly attacked NATO allies for not spending more on defense, zeroing in those who have not yet reached a non-binding goal of increasing military spending to 2% of their GDP by 2024.
Alluding to this in last month's interview, Macron said: "The instability of our American partner and rising tensions have meant that the idea of European defence is gradually taking hold ... I would add that we will at some stage have to take stock of NATO. To my mind, what we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO."
"We should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the US" and Trump's treatment of it as a "commercial project," Macron said as he pushed for Europe to become more self-reliant on defense.
NATO is as divided as ever, and Trump is at the center of the schism
In early October, Trump abruptly withdrew US troops from northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish military operation that targeted US-allied Kurdish forces who've been instrumental in the fight against ISIS. The Turkish invasion has led to a humanitarian crisis and allegations of war crimes.
Macron presented Turkey's invasion of Syria as a major quagmire of the alliance and its core principle of collective defense, in which an attack on one member is considered an attack on all (enshrined in Article 5 of the alliance's founding treaty). He questioned whether NATO members would come to Turkey's defense if it was attacked by Syrian forces, given Turkish forces invaded to go after Kurdish forces who helped squash ISIS's so-called caliphate.
The French president said that "strategically and politically, we need to recognise that we have a problem." He excoriated the US and Turkey over the Syria invasion, referring to it as an "uncoordinated aggressive action by another NATO ally...in an area where our interests are at stake."
"To have an American ally turning its back on us so quickly on strategic issues; nobody would have believed this possible," Macron said.
Macron's commentary has not been received particularly well by other NATO members. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested the French president might be experience his own "brain death." Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel in late November referred to Macron as "disruptive" and said she's "tired of picking up the pieces" in the aftermath.
But Macron defended himself, pointing to the chaos in Syria as a result of Trump stepping aside for Erdogan to invade. "I cannot sit there and act like nothing has happened," he said.
These are the divided and dismayed feelings among the NATO leaders meeting in London this week.
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