Trump Would Encourage Russia to Attack NATO Members Who Don’t Pay Up
Yet more evidence the man is unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.
NYT (“Trump Says He Gave NATO Allies Warning: Pay In or He’d Urge Russian Aggression“):
Former President Donald J. Trump said on Saturday that, while president, he told the leaders of NATO countries that he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that had not paid the money they owed to the military alliance.
Mr. Trump did not make clear whether he ever intended to follow through on such a threat or what that would mean for the alliance, but his comment at a campaign event in South Carolina — a variation of one he has made before to highlight his negotiation skills — is likely to cause concern among NATO member states, which are already very nervous about the prospect of a Trump return.
Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he would encourage Russian aggression against allies of the United States — for any reason — comes as Republicans in Congress have pushed back against more aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia, and as European officials have expressed concerns over possible Russian aggression on NATO’s Eastern side.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, dismissed those warnings as “threat mongering” in an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, that aired on Thursday. “We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Mr. Putin said.
But he has also called on the United States to “make an agreement” to end the war in Ukraine by ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia, comments that were seen by some as an appeal to American conservatives to block further involvement in the war.
Some European officials and foreign policy experts have said they are concerned that Russia could invade a NATO nation after its war with Ukraine concludes, fears that they say are heightened by the possibility of Mr. Trump returning to the presidency.
In a statement, a White House spokesman, Andrew Bates, called Mr. Trump’s comments “appalling and unhinged,” adding, “Rather than calling for wars and promoting deranged chaos, President Biden will continue to bolster American leadership and stand up for our national security interests — not against them.”
Retired Navy War College professor Tom Nichols responds at The Atlantic (“Trump Encourages Putin to Attack NATO Members“):
Not so long ago, many Americans—and especially most Republicans—would have considered anyone supporting such a view to be little more than a deranged and hateful anti-American fanatic.
Trump issued this unhinged threat while telling one of his “sir” stories, a rhetorical device in which some unnamed interlocutor shows Trump great deference while humbly seeking his advice. He described a meeting, ostensibly when he was in office, in which he responded to an ally about NATO funding.
One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” I said, “You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?” He said, “Yes, let’s say that happened.” “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”
Before we consider the sheer recklessness and immorality of this statement, let us first accept that this exchange almost certainly never happened.
Trump’s feelings about NATO are well-known. He is gripped by the stubbornly ignorant belief, even after four years in office, that NATO is some sort of protection racket, in which our European allies come to Washington like quivering shopkeepers and make an offering to the local mob boss from their weekly receipts. NATO funding doesn’t work that way, of course, and while European leaders no doubt had their arguments in private with Trump while he was president, it is highly unlikely that the leader of a major power “stood up”—as if in some sort of audience with Trump—to ask him if he’d stop a Russian invasion of a country “delinquent” in its accounts.
The fact that Trump apparently thinks all of this actually took place is bad enough, and it is evidence that his detachment from reality is getting worse by the day. (As the New Yorker writer Susan Glasser noted this evening, Trump is “getting even more brazen,” and his comments today, even by the usual standards of his incendiary speeches, were “breathtaking.”) In a country tangling itself in knots over questions of age and mental competence in the White House, Trump somehow keeps getting a pass for saying things that are orders of magnitude more worrisome than forgetting a name or a date.
But leave aside (if we must) Trump’s record as a serial liar who lives in a world of his own fantasies. Trump’s comments today are a lot more dangerous than most of his unsettling puffery, and Americans should refuse to let this statement pass as if it were just another distasteful lump in the rancid stew Trump regularly serves up to his faithful.
Instead, we should concentrate on the more terrifying problem, a reality that exists independent of Trump’s imaginary “sir” conversations: The leader of one of America’s two major political parties has just signaled to the Kremlin that if elected, he would not only refuse to defend Europe, but he would gladly support Vladimir Putin during World War III and even encourage him to do as he pleases to America’s allies.
Americans outside of Trump’s personality cult—at least those who have retained any ability to be shocked—should be stunned at his kind of betrayal of American principles and America’s allies. Here in the United States, we have become accustomed to treating Trump like an angry child, ignoring his outbursts the way parents ignore a toddler who shouts threats and claims to hate mommy and daddy during tantrums.
But other nations do not see an overaged juvenile; they see a man who once held the keys to the U.S. nuclear arsenal and could once again become the commander in chief of the American military. They are watching him because they believe—as they should—that he is telling them exactly what he’ll do if he returns to office.
I don’t have much to add to Nichols’ comments, which I endorse completely.
One of the biggest problems of the Trump era is that he says and does stupid and outrageous things with such stunning regularity that commenting on them quickly gets tiresome. While the fear early on was that the press and punditry were “normalizing” this behavior by refusing to treat each outrage in the way we would anyone else, the opposite has happened: everyone simply accepts that Trump isn’t normal and that it’s pointless to treat him as though he were.
Regardless, Trump’s craziness only makes front-page news when he says something so outrageous that it’s bizarre even by his standards. And, certainly, saying that he would encourage Russia to “do whatever they want” to American allies fits the bill.
But, as Nichols alludes, even if we dismiss this surely-made-up story as some weird puffery and not a true threat, it highlights that, nine years after announcing his first Presidential run and four years with control of the nuclear “button,” Trump still doesn’t understand the basics of how NATO works. Not only isn’t it a protection racket, it’s not a club into which people pay dues. Allies don’t pledge to pay 2 percent of their GDP to NATO in exchange for Article 5 protection. Rather, they pledge to spend that much on their own national defense, in order to have a capable force to contribute to mutual self-defense if the need should arise.
I guarantee you that Jim Mattis, the former CENTCOM chief who served as his first Secretary of Defense, John Kelly, the former SOUTHCOM chief who served as Trump’s first Secretary of Homeland Security and later as his Chief of Staff, and others explained this to him on more than one occasion. And yet he’s apparently incapable of understanding something so basic.