Trump's Syria Strike Turns Populist Fans in Europe Against Him

  • Farage said Trump voters ‘will be worried’ by the U.S. attack
  • Le Pen backs Russian criticism, compares strike to 2003 Iraq

You could not find a bigger fan of Donald Trump in Europe than Nigel Farage, the poster boy of Brexit and ex-leader of the U.K. Independence Party.

But the U.S. president’s decision overnight to launch cruise missiles at Syria has put him, and other right-wing populists, at odds with a man whose vision -- until only yesterday -- they celebrated as very much in line with their own.

Nigel Farage

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Farage, who Trump had tweeted would make a great British ambassador to Washington, fired a message to his 750,000 Twitter followers expressing concern about the U.S. action: “Many Trump voters will be worried about this military intervention. Where will it end?”

His successor, Paul Nuttall, was more blunt: “The U.S. bombing of Syria last night was rash, trigger happy, nonsensical and will achieve nothing. I hoped for better.” In Italy, the leader of the Northern League who traveled to the U.S. last year to campaign on behalf of Trump, was appalled.

“Horrible idea, grave mistake and a gift to ISIS,” Matteo Salvini tweeted, using an acronym for Islamic State. “The disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have taught us nothing?”

The U.S. action presents a dilemma for populist movements in Europe that had been hoping to capitalize on the success of Trump and Brexit in a bumper election year. While condemning the missile strikes sets parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Front apart from the mainstream, it risks putting them out of sync with public opinion after the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.


Le Pen

Le Pen had nothing but warm words for Trump’s controversial travel ban targeting majority Muslim countries. But she objects to the U.S. now acting like “the world’s policeman.”

Marine Le Pen

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

“I’m a little surprised because he indicated on several occasions that he didn’t want to make the U.S. the world’s policeman, and yet, that’s exactly what he has done,” she told France 2 television. “Is it too much to ask for to wait for the results of an international investigation before doing such strikes? What I want is to avoid the same scenario as the one we saw in Iraq, in Libya, which led to chaos.”

Le Pen, who went to Trump Towers in New York in January but didn’t get an audience with its owner, has cultivated tighter ties with Russia of late, and recently visited President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Back in 2014, her party received funds from a Russia bank.

The U.S. attack puts Trump on a potential collision course with Putin, an ally of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. And Le Pen has indicated clearly whose side she is on. Her evocation of the ghost of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq echoes some of the same language used by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

— With assistance by Giovanni Salzano

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