With all eyes turned towards Brussels in anticipation of a highly anticipated NATO summit set for later in the week, Gordon Sondland, a hotelier-turned-United States Ambassador to the European Union, arrived in the EU capital a day ahead US President Donald J. Trump to present his credentials to European Council President Donald Tusk.
Sondland, a first-generation American whose parents fled from Germany after the rise of the Nazi Party, is a billionaire hotel magnate and a longtime member of the Republican establishment that disavowed Trump’s xenophobic isolationism and his nationalistic campaign pledges.
He arrives in Brussels at a time when the foundations of the Western alliance that have been in place since the end of the Second World War are in disarray after Trump opted to slap the EU with hostile trade tariffs and accused the NATO military alliance of “ripping off the United States”.
Sondland was confirmed by the US Senate in late June and arrives at his as ambassador to the EU after the post had been vacant since Trump took office on January 20, 2017.
Like the bulk of Trump’s other key appointees, Sondland has no experience in diplomacy. He has, however, been a key donor to the Republican Party and had previously supported Trump’s long-time rival Jeb Bush for the party nomination prior to the 2016 election.
Sondland’s will hit the ground running now that he has taken up the position as Washington’s point man in the European Union capital. The whole of the Western Alliance is waiting in nervous anticipation about what Trump might do and say at the NATO summit.
Trump has threatened further tariffs against the EU and continues to curry favour with Russian President Vladimir Putin, going so far as to say he would look into the possibility of recognising Russia’s invasion and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, while all the while excoriating both NATO and the European Union – both pillars of the post-World War II security order – for being threats to the US’ national security interests.
In addition to offering French President Emmanuel Macron a deal on bilateral trade if he pulled France out of the EU, Trump has labelled the European Union “worse than China”, and made comments about German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which he said he, “can’t stand” because “embodies everything that I hate”.
Sondland’s views towards Europe and NATO remain unknown, though he had long been a stalwart of the “traditional” wing of the Republican Party, which has been a staunch defender of Washington’s decades-old tradition of internationalism and defending the US’ place as an essential global player both economically and militarily.
Owing to his background as a respected international businessman, a philanthropist, and the son of Jewish immigrants who faced persecution in a Europe that was descending into chaos, it will be difficult task for the cultured and urbane Sondland to carry the message of a highly erratic White House that all too often appears to detest the pragmatic and wiser wing of the Republican Party that, in the seven decades since the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan, helped solidify the US’ position as a global superpower and built the Western Alliance into the mutually robust relationship that it continues to be.