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Foreign Perspective On The White House Turmoil


It's only 900 words long, but The New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous senior administration official has gotten a lot of attention in the United States. President Trump considers its writing a national security breach and is calling on his attorney general to investigate. As this administration lurches from one internal crisis to another, we wondered how this is being seen elsewhere around the world.

So we turn now to three journalists in countries allied with the United States. With us now is Yael Lavie, an Israeli journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Welcome to the program.

YAEL LAVIE: Hello to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Piya Chattopadhyay is a host for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's "Out In The Open," and she is in Toronto. Hi there.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Stefan Kornelius is the foreign editor of Suddeutsche Zeitung, and he is in Munich.

STEFAN KORNELIUS: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. I want to start with you, Piya. What is the status of the relationship right now between Canada and the United States?

CHATTOPADHYAY: Well, I think it depends where you look. I mean, you hear the president and Justin Trudeau saying words like closest ally. That certainly is something that most Canadians see the U.S. as still, even though we're going through this, quote, unquote, "rough patch" with NAFTA right now. We do seem, at the end of this week, closer to a deal than we did in the last few weeks for sure and even earlier this week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yael, obviously, the relationship under President Trump with Israel is certainly a lot warmer than it was under President Obama.

LAVIE: That would be putting it very mildly. And if you ask the bulk of Israeli citizens, the bulk of the Israeli population, they think that Donald Trump - and I'm quoting things that were written here in Israel - "is good for the Jews." One can see that when it comes to the American embassy move to Jerusalem. That's something that could only happen under Donald Trump. That's something that makes many Israeli citizens happy and definitely the administration and government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stefan, you're the foreign editor of a major paper in Germany - also a bumpy relationship with your leader and Donald Trump. What kind of focus do you give the United States?

KORNELIUS: Oh, the U.S. is in full focus right now. The impacts of the U.S. policies are felt on a daily basis. And I guess the domestic turmoils in Washington and the U.S. are seen as sort of a nasty preshadow of what could happen in Europe, since Europe is going through tremendous turmoil itself - all the rising nationalism and populism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how was the op-ed covered in your country and in your paper?

KORNELIUS: What really struck a nerve was the wording of the author because he talked of resistance. And resistance has quite a different connotation here in Germany. If you take the French (speaking French), it leads us back to the Second World War - to resistance against Adolf Hitler. And in Germany, resistance - (speaking German) - is pretty much what played out in the last months of Hitler's dictatorship when a core group of children officers tried to assassinate him. So it has a huge connotation of standing up against a dictator, which is definitely not what the author probably meant, but this is what - definitely what is heard here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yael, I'm assuming that it is seen very differently in Israel.

LAVIE: Very much so. That memo was not played out in a very big way within the Israeli media. Foreign news departments used basically the president's reactions - the tweets were covered more than the memo itself. And it is also something that is important to note that the Israeli media is very centered on Israel. They don't really delve into the minutia of the policies of the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Piya, the view from Canada - I mean, what do Canadians and the Canadian media there see when they see something like this coming out?

CHATTOPADHYAY: Yeah, look. I mean, if I was an alien and I landed in Canada, I might mistake Donald Trump as our leader when you look at the news coverage over the last a year and a half. As far as the op-ed goes, it was above the fold of every newspaper, led the 6 o'clock radio newscast on Wednesday.

But what you didn't hear here as much was the actual substance of what was said in that op-ed and what the repercussions are, both for your president and Washington and beyond in your country, but also the reverberations here, especially - again, I have to go back about the timing of this op-ed in the Canadian context because the backdrop to all of this is NAFTA. And we're obsessed, rightly so right now, to seeing if we and the United States and Mexico can get a deal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess my question for all of you - and, Piya, I'm going to put it to you first - is how does this make the United States look, basically?

CHATTOPADHYAY: This, I think for a lot of Canadians, is, first of all, you know, a bit tiring because we're always kind of being obsessed with U.S. coverage and the chaos that it - that at least seemingly seems to be happening out of the White House and beyond. On the other hand, I think one of the things Canadians were talking about when this op-ed first came out was, what does Donald Trump do now?

Because one of the things we know about the president of the United States is he likes to change the channel - change the subject of public conversation. And so there was, you know, wonder - would he try and push through a NAFTA deal? Would he try - would he bend in order to say, look, I won?


KORNELIUS: Well, I guess it confirmed the split-screen image we have from the U.S. right now. On the one side, you have this president causing huge rows every day. And you have, on the other side, sort of the decent folks who run the country. Just this weekend, the U.S. Defense Department confirmed an additional 1,500 troops being deployed to Germany, saying this after, well, two months ago, Trump almost announced withdrawing all troops from Germany.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yael, I think Israel has very much taken Trump at his word and...

LAVIE: It's a very, very different picture here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. And Trump has done what he said he was going to do there.

LAVIE: He's done everything he said he was going to do. The one thing that Israelis would look for - and I'll give you an example. About 10 days ago, the president of the United States spoke in a convention in the United States. He was mentioning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, or that perfect deal that he's been promising, along with Jared Kushner, all throughout the campaign and in the last year and a half.

And the one line he said on that stage was the Israelis got a present, now it's - and I'm adlibbing - now it's time for the Palestinians; they're going to get something really good. That got a lot of play in the Israeli media. Exactly, as Stefan mentioned, A, what does that mean? Nobody here understands.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, you know, in no uncertain terms, is not speaking with anybody at the U.S. administration. And right now, everybody doesn't see anything happening on that front. But that said, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, over the course of the Obama administration, made no - you know, no secret of the fact that Obama was seen as a foe is now basically touting the fact that the American president sitting in the White House is the best friend Israel could have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yael Lavie is an Israeli journalist based in Tel Aviv. Stefan Kornelius is the foreign editor of Suddeutsche Zeitung, and he is in Munich. And Piya Chattopadhyay is the host for the CBC's "Out In The Open." Thank you all so very much.

LAVIE: You're welcome.

KORNELIUS: Thank you.

CHATTOPADHYAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.