The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump undercut key foreign policy commitments just before Pence pledged to uphold them

During his acceptance speech at the RNC on July 20, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence heralded Donald Trump's commitment to foreign policy. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/The Washington Post)

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican Party's nomination for vice president on Wednesday night. A robustly traditional politician, he gave a robustly traditional acceptance speech.

At one point, Pence addressed foreign policy.

"We cannot have four more years of apologizing to our enemies and abandoning our friends," he said. "America needs to be strong for the world to be safe. On the world stage, Donald Trump will lead from strength. Donald Trump will rebuild our military and stand with our allies."

Shortly beforehand, Donald Trump addressed the same topic in an interview with the New York Times. But the man at the top of the ticket offered a distinctly different understanding of America's foreign commitments.

[Trump] even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.
For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Article 5 of the NATO charter mandates that member nations come to the defense of allies if one is attacked. In response, the head of NATO described mutual defense and solidarity as a "key value" that is "good for European security and ... good for U.S. security." On Twitter, the president of one of the Baltic states, Estonia, pointed out that when NATO invoked Article 5 in Afghanistan, Estonian troops fought.

Why the unusual stance? Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had played an active role in softening language on the American commitment to Ukraine (a non-NATO member that has tried to join), which is still locked in a tense situation with Russia. Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, once worked as a lobbyist for the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was ousted in 2014. (Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd last year if he thought Ukraine should join NATO, Trump said that he didn’t really have a preference.)

What it looked like at the Republican National Convention on Day 3

CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 20: Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence addresses the crowd, during the third day of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

That said, Trump's antipathy to NATO isn't new. In an interview with The Post earlier this year he suggested that our role should be scaled back.

Turkey, a NATO member, got particular attention in the interview. Pence referred to the attempted coup in Turkey as evidence of "a world spinning apart." When the Times asked Trump if he would demand that Turkey not violate the civil liberties of its citizens — an effort that seems to be increasing in the wake of the coup — Trump waved the question away. "I don’t think we have a right to lecture," he told David Sanger and Maggie Haberman. "Look at what is happening in our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?"

On Sunday, Trump told CBS that when it came to stopping the Islamic State, "Turkey can do it by themselves." Pressed by the Times to explain how he would get Turkey to focus more on that fight than its conflict with its Kurdish minority, Trump had a succinct proposal: meetings.

Manafort, often called into service of late to clarify or clean up comments from Trump, told Mother Jones's David Corn that the Times had misquoted Trump in its reporting. Corn called for the Times to release recordings of the interview if any existed, which may be the only way to determine what Trump said. (Earlier on Wednesday, it's worth noting, Manafort and the Trump campaign tacitly admitted that they'd been lying about Melania Trump's having delivered a plagiarized convention speech on Monday.) Early Thursday morning, the Times provided a transcript.

The Times says Trump generally described his foreign policy through the lens of economic benefit, which sounds about right.

Just as his vice-presidential pick was preparing to present a robust defense of the traditional Republican way of addressing foreign policy, Trump was apparently telling the Times that he preferred a Trumpier way.