BRUSSELS – For a president who loves to announce victory, the NATO summit on Wednesday could have been the perfect opportunity.
After a year in which President Trump delivered his speech, the Western leaders followed his government's long-awaited defense plans of spending and anti-terrorism – and were ready to let him take all the credit.
But Trump had other plans.
The US President began a remarkable day of transatlantic diplomacy by calling Germany "the prisoner of Russia." NATO countries doubled their previous commitment to defense spending and then effectively renounced the assembly.
"He could declare victory … and ride away in a glittering glory as the leader of the West," said Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to NATO and Russia, who was on the verge of summit on Wednesday with officials met. "But he rubs salt in the wounds."
Behind closed doors, Trump was sometimes warm and even magnanimous with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders cavort in the air as an acrobatic dancer, Trump said it was "a very good day at NATO."
But Trump publicly tripped and faltered, interrupting and obstructing ̵
"Everything in the room was fine," Dalia Grybauskaite, president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump's "outspoken rhetoric" was less productive.
During a closed working session of all leaders, Trump was relatively reluctant, according to participants. He reiterated the same arguments he had previously made public that NATO member states would have to top up their defense spending and that Germany relied too much on natural gas. He also stressed the common security threats faced by all NATO allies, said a high-ranking diplomat who attended the meeting.
"This is Trump's strategy," said the diplomat, who sincerely reported on the private meeting under the condition of anonymity. "He raises the stakes, then he calms things down."
Trump started the day at the Brussels residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union, where the President spent the night and hosted NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. This was supposed to be a superficial breakfast, but once reporters and cameramen were brought into the room – "the legitimate media and fake news media," as the president called the journalists – Trump exchanged more than typical diplomatic courtesies with Stoltenberg.  "Many countries have been owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years where they are delinquent to me," Trump said. He added, "That has gone for many presidents, but no other president has addressed it, as I suggest."
As Stoltenberg explained, many European countries, as well as Canada, actually increased defense spending last year, and Trump cut him off.
"Why was that last year?" Asked he.
Stoltenberg seemed to be rattling, answering with fidelity and praise: "Because of your leadership."
Trump then tore to Germany, whose leader Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the most respected NATO heads of state and government and is considered a consensus in Europe. As a cerebral physicist, she was particularly close to former President Barack Obama.
"I find it very sad when Germany concludes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia to protect Russia," said Trump. based on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. I mean, I complained about it since my arrival, it should never have happened, but Germany is completely controlled by Russia. "
When Trump handled his case against Merkel, his saw Assistants shocked and stony. Trump's broadside set the tone for a summit that Europeans feared could be contentious and even fateful – especially after they had ignored him last month at the Group Seven summit and protested to NATO in an electoral campaign week in Montana
"The rapid erosion of confidence in Donald Trump, I have never seen such a thing for our President after the Second World War," said Nicholas Burns, former US Ambassador to NATO. "They are furious with this continuing attack on NATO … They all heard the talk about Great Falls, Montana, and followed him on Twitter, and there is a tremendous disappointment that an American leader would be so ungrateful and so vile.
When the European leaders arrived here in the dazzling new NATO headquarters of glass and steel, they walked one after another along a royal blue with carpet entry, where some were asked about Trump's comments.
Merkel responded by pointing out her personal experience in the Soviet-controlled GDR and emphasizing the unity of Germany from Russia and the common values of his country the United States.
While the 29 leaders strolled through the headquarters atrium – the $ 1.4 billion fortress trumped by bureaucratic excesses as an example – Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron led the pack to the sunny one Place where they posed for their "family photo". Trump stayed behind and talked with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
When the leaders waited attentively at the cameras in their marked spots on a blue carpet, Trump fidgeted slightly and seemed bored, though he looked with interest at the sky as 25 helicopters flew overhead. He pushed himself against British Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in a domestic crisis and had put pressure on Trump the day before by praising her rival Boris Johnson, and took a picture of her with his thumbs up ( Trump complains that such summits are largely a waste of time, and prefers face-to-face talks with colleagues in which he can negotiate deals or gatherings in which he is celebrated, such as his recent visits to China and Saudi Arabia ,
White House advisers say Trump believes that taking overseas countries in multinational countries does him good, so he regularly accuses a number of heads of state of exploiting the United States
"He's right," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.). "Every president in the recent past has urged NATO to do more … He was stronger than others, but that's what he ran for."
Trump arrived on Wednesday as most leaders in NATO Headquarters and did not go along the long path on which others walked and asked questions. In the closed session, he heard only a few of the statements of the 29 Allied leaders and left him shortly after calling in his own statements that the NATO allies would double their defense spending commitments to 4 percent of their country's gross domestic product  Trump's appeal was remarkable Considering that the United States, which spends 3.58 percent of its GDP, failed to meet this number and was considered by NATO experts to be more permeable than serious.
"He uses exaggeration to reinforce a negotiating tactic," said Damon Wilson, a NATO expert in the think tank Atlantic Council. "Our president tends to find a lever through unusual negotiating tactics."
Despite Trump's public attention to Germany's reliance on Russian gas, he barely discussed it in his private talks with Merkel, an official with knowledge of the meeting said. When the two heads of state and government met on the sidelines of the summit, Merkel defended herself and Trump did not challenge them, the official said. Their conversation focused on immigration, trade and Syria.
"We have a very, very good relationship with the Chancellor," Trump told reporters with Merkel at his side. "We have a tremendous relationship with Germany."
Trump also had a non-confrontational meeting with Macron, the European counterpart with whom he has the warmest relationship. They talked extensively about trade, energy and other issues, said an official with knowledge of their discussion.
But there was a clear point of disagreement between the two men. When a reporter asked Macron if he agreed with Trump that Merkel was committed to the Russians, Trump intervened to stop the conversation. "Thank you very much, thank you," he said.
Nonetheless, Macron gave his answer: "No."
Despite their differences, NATO leaders all signed a far-reaching statement that any other US government would have considered an unqualified success.
"In substance, this is one of the most successful NATO summits I've seen," said Stefano Stefanini, former Italian ambassador to NATO.
He cited the Alliance's new training mission in Iraq and an initiative sought by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to prepare more NATO battalions, ships and aircraft for combat, a plan known as 30-30-30
"There's a lot of substance here," Stefanini said.
Derek Chollet, a former official of the Obama administration, said the concrete progress made during the meeting was a startling contrast to Trump's rhetoric.
"There is a fundamental separation in this government because many of the ideas agreed American ideas are, "he said. "The 30-30-30 plan is a Mattis initiative, and the Iraq training mission was a US decision to have a larger NATO presence in Iraq."
"Everyone says that's good, but Trump says 'It's bad because he's basically an opponent,' he said.
In fact, shortly after Trump was kidnapped from NATO headquarters in his motorcade, he launched a militant tweet highlighting Germany and even questioning the value of the alliance.
Trump wrote, "What good is NATO if Germany is Russia paying billions of dollars in gas and energy?"
Michael Birnbaum has contributed to this report.