Washington: As the harangue thundered on, the representatives of NATO stared at the wall. Sometimes they stared at their plates. Sometimes they stared at their hands. And sometimes they stared at the press.
They stared at anything, in short, but the source of the harangue: Donald Trump.
US President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The NATO summit had just begun, and, at a breakfast meeting in Brussels, the US president was berating his hosts over Germany's alleged dependence on Russian energy.
On and on he raged. His hosts didn't dare to interrupt.
Instead, they simply sat there, at the other side of the breakfast table, in a tense, awkward and pallid silence.
It was an extraordinary scene. And yet, at the same time, strangely familiar. The representatives of NATO were behaving like bus passengers do when an angry drunk staggers aboard, and starts ranting, loudly and to no one in particular.
That is: they were looking away, saying nothing, keeping themselves to themselves, and acting as if the man wasn't there – while clearly praying that he would get off at the next stop.
The difference, of course, was that the ranting interloper was not some unknown alcoholic whom none of them would ever have to see again. He was the most powerful man on Earth.
The US, complained Trump at tremendous length, was sick of having to "protect [Germany] from Russia" while Germany was "paying billions of dollars to Russia for energy… Germany is totally controlled by Russia… They will be getting 60 to 70 per cent of their energy from Russia…"
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, gestures while speaking to US President Donald Trump.
If any of his hosts were tempted to suggest that the Germans weren't the only ones "totally controlled by Russia", they thought better of it.
None of them even dared to query his figures (Germany gets just nine per cent of its energy from Russia). The harangue rumbled on. Eventually, Jens Stoltenberg – NATO's Secretary-General – plucked up the courage to attempt a word in edgeways.
Gingerly, and with an air of almost desperate politeness, he ventured that NATO was about defence, and strength in numbers; it didn't preclude trade in gas, even with Russia.
Also, it wasn't just good for Europe; it was good for the US, too.
The man on the bus was having none of it. The harangue immediately resumed. "You're not dealing with Russia, you're just making Russia richer… Germany is captive to Russia, because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia…
US President Donald Trump gestures while speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
"We're supposed to protect Germany, but they're getting their energy from Russia… Explain that!"
If this was a challenge, his fellow passengers decided not to accept it.
Just keep still and say nothing, that was the safest thing.
As long as they didn't catch his eye, it was going to be fine.
After all, it was bound to be his stop soon. Wasn't it?
Trump arrives in Britain tomorrow. Good luck, Prime Minister.
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