In the later days of August 2019, the Trump administration presented a dizzying array of outrageous claims and proposals, one of which appeared to capture the hearts and minds of American reporters completely for several days — a pitch to buy Greenland:
In the latest only-in-Trumpland episode skating precariously along the line between farce and tragedy, the president of the United States on Wednesday attacked the prime minister of Denmark because she will not sell him Greenland — and found the very notion “absurd.”
Never mind that much of the rest of the world thought it sounded absurd as well. Amid a global laughing fit, Mr. Trump got his back up and lashed out, as he is wont to do, and called the prime minister “nasty,” one of his favorite insults, particularly employed against women who offend him, like Hillary Clinton and Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
All of which might be written off as just another odd moment in a presidency unlike any other. Except that attacking Denmark was not enough for the president. He decided to expand his target list to include NATO because, as he pointed out, Denmark is a member of the Atlantic alliance. And he chose to do this just two days before leaving Washington to travel to an international summit in France, which also happens to be a NATO member.
The Greenland flap took up the better part of the week, with Trump abruptly canceling a diplomatic trip to Denmark and turning the affair into a feud with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization:
“Sometimes it is hard to believe that what Trump is saying and doing on the world stage is actually happening,” said Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO. “This is one of those days.” Denmark, after all, is a key partner in the North Atlantic alliance, and was among the first countries to pledge military support in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 40 Danish troops died in Helmand province, fighting alongside American and British soldiers.
“I realize this is yet another bizarre and humorous Trump moment for the late night talk shows here in the U.S.,” Burns told me. “But, for the rest of the world, particularly our allies, it is simply shocking how far America has fallen from grace in their eyes.”
NATO is the largest peacetime military alliance in the world, and the United States cannot withdraw from the agreement unilaterally — although Trump has threatened to do so more than once. In 2018, he left the meeting in diplomatic chaos:
Ignoring the discussion about Georgia and Afghanistan, Trump charged forward, saying his predecessors in the White House had pushed for an increase by Europeans on defence spending and he was not going to put up with it. Dispensing with the usual diplomatic niceties, he pointed at Merkel, whom he dislikes on a personal level as well as over their policy differences, and said: “You, Angela.”
The most stunning comment came from a source reported by Reuters: “He said they must raise spending by January 2019 or the United States would go it alone.”
This was greeted with shocked silence. It had seemed unthinkable: a US president threatening to pull out of a military alliance that the US has regarded as a cornerstone of its military strategy for 69 years.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance was first formed, in part, as a bulwark against Soviet aggression. Today, it has a complicated relationship with Russia, particularly after that country’s annexation of Crimea:
Tensions skyrocketed between NATO and Russia after the 2014 annexation. “Now, countries bordering Russia, including the Baltics, are really fearful,” Karaganov says. If they had not joined NATO and stayed “neutral” they would have been “much more comfortable.”
Since 2014, Russia and NATO’s relations have reverted back to their Cold War hostility. But today the threat Russia poses is much more complex, says Rasmussen, the ex-NATO Secretary General. The security environment has transformed from a “predictable, bipolar confrontation” to a “multilayered, non-transparent picture of threats and challenges.”
In his view, Russia has become a “geopolitical spoiler” that seeks to undermine trust, confidence and stability in democratic society. Russia’s war games and regular military exercises have struck fear in its neighbors, including Poland and the Baltics. Even countries that are geographically far from Russia, such as the Balkans, fear Russia’s subtler methods of destabilization including disinformation and cyber warfare.
An article on a satire site called The Rochdale Herald, which at first glance appears to be a local newspaper, poked fun at these events on August 21 2019, starting with the headline (“Denmark offers to buy America from Russia”):
Rich in natural resources and fuckwits the territory covers almost 10 million square kilometers and is said to contain huge oil and gas reserves and the largest number of fatties on the planet.
Russian Premier Vladimir Putin who bought the US with a Betamax videotape of two prostitutes urinating on a dementia patient told The Rochdale Herald.
“It’s a pretty good deal and we’re open to discussing it with Denmark. Russia bought North America for the price of two hookers and a large bottle of Evian Water so anything over 75 rubles is a good return on our investment.”
“Denmark would be a pretty good acquirer for the territory. They’re the happiest country in the world, have an amazing welfare state and they can all read.”
“Frankly, I have no idea why they want to buy it.”
The site contains multiple references to the fact that its stories are satire, including a tongue-in-cheek biography of the author:
Quentin D Fortesqueue is a founding editor of The Rochdale Herald. Part time amateur narcissist and full time satirist Quentin is never happier than when playing his lute and drinking a full bodied Bordeaux. He rarely plays the lute and never gets to drink Bordeaux.
Nevertheless, the article did fool some readers. However, while the overture by United States President Donald Trump to buy Greenland and ensuing diplomatic attacks against Denmark and all of NATO was real, the offer by Denmark to buy the United States from Russia was decidedly not.