Ex-U.S. diplomat: Trump evokes memories of Mussolini

Bella ciao, Donald Trump — or at least that’s what former U.S. Ambassador to the EU Anthony Gardner is hoping American voters decide in November.

In an interview with Jack Blanchard, the editor of POLITICO’s London Playbook, on Monday, Gardner said Trump evokes memories of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and that former Trump officials who are now criticizing the president, like ex-Defense Secretary James Mattis, are “collaborators” who should have spoken out sooner or never joined the administration in the first place.

“For a couple of years, I was troubled by many things that Donald Trump shares with Benito Mussolini, someone my Italian grandparents fled from in 1938,” Gardner, a Democrat who is supporting former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, said in the interview.

Asked about the recent protests against racism and police brutality, Gardner added, “It’s very disappointing, very dispiriting to have a president of the U.S. who is openly fomenting and inciting racial divisions in order to energize part of his base.”

In regard to officials like Mattis and former White House chief of staff John Kelly, who have criticized Trump’s handling of the protests and his call for deploying troops, Gardner said it was too little, too late.

“You know I am glad that these people are speaking out, but I’ll be very honest here, and undiplomatic: I don’t welcome those statements in the sense that those people served this president,” he said. “And to me quite bluntly they are accomplices … So when you choose to work for this kind of administration, which showed its true colors very early on, at some point you abet the policies even if afterwards you decide that they’re terrible, that the man you were serving is a terrible person. So while I am glad they are saying what they are saying, it comes too late.”

Gardner also slammed Trump’s plan to reduce the number of U.S. military forces in Germany.

“It makes no sense,” Gardner said. “It’s a gift to Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s good friend. This is another indication of how he embraces autocrats and enemies of our country. We should be holding firm. It serves not only defense of Europe and Germany but our own purposes, right? Because those bases are incredibly important also for the projection of our influence and our power on Europe, the Middle East and even beyond, so it makes no sense whatsoever. This is a political act. There is no military strategy behind it.”

Gardner said the move seemed to show Trump lashing out at German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“He has been angry at Angela Merkel for many years, for many reasons,” the former ambassador said. “She is very forthright, outspoken in defense of certain values that we used to share.” He added, “He’s probably annoyed at her because unlike some European leaders, she has not gone out of her way to curry favor with him.”

On trade issues, Gardner, now a senior adviser in the London office of Brunswick Group, a strategic consulting firm, said that the era of the blockbuster free-trade agreement had likely come to an end, and he acknowledged that during his time as ambassador to the EU under President Barack Obama, negotiators had failed in what was perhaps the last chance for a major EU-U.S. trade deal — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

“It was important not only economically but I would argue even more so politically and we failed,” Gardner said.

He said that aspects of TTIP might be achievable as smaller stand-alone agreements.

Gardner said that the EU and U.S. had lost years of potentially crucial cooperation on issues like climate change and reform of the World Trade Organization. He also predicted that U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government would look to end the Brexit transition period without a trade deal in place, and would try to obscure the economic damage in the financial fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

And he predicted that the U.K. would struggle to reach any trade agreement with Washington until the parameters of an agreement with the EU had become clear.

As for U.S. politics, Gardner said that he realized many young voters were not necessarily excited about Biden, but he insisted that other Democrats, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were simply unelectable.

“I am convinced he’s the right person,” Gardner said of Biden, adding: “I am going to do everything I can to make sure we get a change in November.”

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