Donald Trump has made some news that is resonating around the world.
He wasn’t the one who said — after Kansas City’s stunning Super Bowl comeback — that he had signed a law boosting musicians’ profits, so Taylor Swift shouldn’t endorse Joe Biden (also “I love her boyfriend Travis”).
It wasn’t, “We’re going to get rid of the sick political class that hates our country, we’re going to defeat the fake news media, and we’re going to drain the swamp.”
Not that he told a rally in South Carolina that “Biden’s thugs are still trying to put me in prison on bogus charges for crimes they publicly admit Crooked Joe committed. He actually committed these crimes” — while adding, “I’m not looking.” “For anything to happen to this man.”
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No, it’s about NATO.
Trump recalled a conversation with the president of a “big country,” in which he said he asked him if they didn’t increase their defense contribution to NATO “and we get attacked by Russia, will you protect us?”
In response to the rally, Trump allegedly said: “You didn’t pay. You’re behind on your payments… No, I’m not going to protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
The idea that Vladimir Putin can do “whatever the hell he wants” has set off alarm bells, not just among foreign policy officials in Europe, but in much of the mainstream media here at home. One potential impact would be on Ukraine, where Trump has refused to endorse further military aid to the vulnerable country, which would allow Russia’s unprovoked invasion to succeed in either maintaining its territorial gains along the eastern border or seizing the entire sovereign country.
However, as if other evidence were needed, there is other evidence that suggests the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. Some of the biggest Republican hawks, who have strongly supported NATO in the past, say they have no problem with the former president’s comments.
As the Washington Post noted, Lindsey Graham said when he ran for president in 2016 that Trump’s comments made Putin “a very happy man.”
The senator said on Sunday that he was “not concerned” about Trump’s recent comments “at all.”
Tom Cotton, another prominent hawk, said in 2016 that America should “make sure we stand with NATO and we stand with countries like Ukraine and Georgia” that face “Russian aggression, and recognize Vladimir Putin as the adversary.”
The senator said Sunday that NATO countries that do not pay their full share are “already encouraging Russian aggression, and President Trump is simply ringing a warning bell.”
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Marco Rubio said in 2018 that Trump had gone too far by “questioning the value of the alliance,” and tweeted: “The end of NATO would be a dream come true for Putin.”
On Sunday, the senator said he had no concerns about Trump’s recent comments and suggested he didn’t mean them: “We’ve already been through this. You’d think people would have figured it out by now.”
Here’s the interesting thing: Rubio and Graham pushed a bill that would prevent any president from withdrawing from NATO. I wonder who they might have in mind?
Look, I get it. This is how Trump negotiates. During his first term, he regularly questioned the value of NATO as a means of getting some countries to meet their commitment to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense, with some success. It’s an approach he refined as a businessman when he would threaten to walk away from a deal unless certain conditions were met.
But when Trump took office with little foreign policy experience, he was shut out of any withdrawal by retired generals like Jim Mattis and John Kelly.
The New York Times reported this anecdote:
“Shortly after former President Donald J. Trump took office, his staff explained how NATO’s mutual defense commitments would work.
“Do you mean that if Russia attacks Lithuania, we will go to war with Russia?” “This is crazy,” he replied. Mr. Trump has never believed in the transatlantic alliance’s basic concept of “one for all and all for one.”
But Trump made it clear that in his second term, he will surround himself with loyalists who will not try to stop such decisions.
Senior adviser Jason Miller says Biden has mirrored Trump’s approach to NATO:
“Democrats and the media seem to have forgotten that we lived through four years of peace and prosperity under President Trump, but Europe saw death and destruction under Obama and Biden, and now more death and destruction under Biden.”
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Much of the media is leading the charge on NATO. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour described Trump’s recent comments as “crazy.”
It is also true that senior European officials are publicly quoted as criticizing Trump’s language. They would be irresponsible if they didn’t start planning a Plan B.
The crux of the argument is that the alliance created in the wake of World War II succeeded well in deterring war and does not need reform. I’m in this camp – and the only time the Mutual Defense Pact was triggered was when our allies helped us after the 9/11 attacks.
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However, it is also true that Trump is well-practiced at making seemingly exaggerated statements that give him more leverage.
margin: Trump now says on Truth Social that “no money should be given in foreign aid to any country unless it is done as a loan, not just a gift.”