Trump’s Off-the-Cuff Tweets Strain Foreign Ties

Jun 05, 2017, 10:17 AM

On one level, President Trump reacted to Saturday night’s terrorist attack in London much as his predecessors might have. He expressed solidarity and telephoned Britain’s prime minister to offer condolences. “WE ARE WITH YOU,” he wrote to Britons.

But even as the investigation into the attack was getting underway, Mr. Trump wasted little time in using the episode to defend his hotly disputed travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries and to criticize the judges who have blocked it. And by Sunday morning, he decided to go after the mayor of London as not being tough enough on terrorism.

Along the way, he mischaracterized the mayor’s position, renewed a trans-Atlantic feud stretching back a year and widened his rift with the United States’ traditional European allies a bit further. And he set off a chain reaction in the news media world, triggering partisan reactions that illustrated just how polarized both the United States and the world have become about the uninhibited, Twitter-obsessed president.

Mr. Trump’s penchant for picking fights is well established by now, but it continues to confound and exasperate foreign leaders who are not accustomed to such rough-and-tumble interactions with American presidents. The niceties of international diplomacy have never had such a reality-show flavor to them in the modern era, but Mr. Trump has thrilled his nationalist base with his “America First” approach, and all the complaints from overseas only seem to embolden him.

The latest contretemps came when Mr. Trump heaped scorn on Mayor Sadiq Khan of London. “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

He went on to say that residents should not worry as they encounter more police officers patrolling the streets.

“Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days,” Mr. Khan said. “No reason to be alarmed. One of the things the police, all of us, need to do is make sure we’re as safe as we possibly can be. I’m reassured that we are one of the safest global cities in the world, if not the safest global city in the world, but we always evolve and review ways to make sure that we remain as safe as we possibly can.”

Mr. Khan’s office later dismissed Mr. Trump’s post, saying the mayor was too busy to reply. “He has more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks urging Londoners not to be alarmed when they saw more police — including armed officers — on the streets,” his office said in a statement.

The exchange reflected the tensions between Mr. Trump and the United States’ close allies in Europe. The president returned a little more than a week ago from Belgium and Italy, where he questioned the role of NATO. Then, once home, he followed up by criticizing Germany on trade and pulling the United States out of the Paris climate change accord.

The friction has been especially acute for more than a year between Mr. Trump and Mr. Khan, the first Muslim to serve as mayor of a major Western European capital. During last year’s presidential race, Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from entering the United States and endorsed Hillary Clinton, prompting an exchange with Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Critics of Mr. Trump in Britain and the United States faulted him for his acrimonious response to the Saturday assault. “I don’t think that a major terrorist attack like this is the time to be divisive and to criticize a mayor who’s trying to organize his city’s response to this attack,” former Vice President Al Gore said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Damon Wilson, who was President George W. Bush’s top Europe adviser and is now the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council, lamented that the spat only undercut a relationship that mattered to the United States...