When it comes to President Trump, it’s difficult to pick his worst decision from the plethora he has provided.
His most recent — to brazenly insult our NATO allies — surely ranks among the top three in my book; the others being his romancing of Russia without commensurate leverage and, likewise, rushing to legitimize North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without substantive concessions.
The president’s topsy-turvy approach to foreign policy seems to be: Love thy enemies as thyself — and screw your pals. The result is that our enemies think us foolish and our allies find us both inscrutable and untrustworthy.
Contrary to what some Trump supporters might wish, this isn’t the work of a genius whose strategy is too sophisticated for the ordinary mind to grasp. It is the work of a man who thinks the tools of his former trade as a real estate developer can be as easily applied to complex, global, diplomatic challenges.
The differences are manifest. If a Trump hotel falls through, the wheeler-dealer moves on to the next, filing for bankruptcy if necessary to fund the next project. If a denuclearization agreement falls through, ka- boom! — the world tips on its axis at a precarious angle. In particular, NATO’s increasing fragility, thanks to Trump’s recent barking performance in Brussels, invites a range of potentially catastrophic repercussions, including, not least, a strengthened Russia with a bearish taste for empire expansion.
Watching and listening to the president deride NATO members last Thursday was akin to observing a small child building a sand castle in a minefield. Does Trump really not understand that NATO’s stability benefits the United States as well? Or does he consciously seek to destabilize the world, one relationship at a time? If so, to what end?
Notwithstanding his later comments expressing support for NATO, Trump spoke otherwise. It is likely the case that he’s performing for two audiences: Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he plans to meet privately in Helsinki on Monday; and his American base, which sets its clock by campaign promises kept. Trump repeatedly has pledged to bring NATO to heel and force the alliance to pay more so the United States could pay less.
Besides being false, the premise is ridiculous. First, “paying more” means that each country commits to allotting at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product to defense spending by 2024. This, all have agreed to. But the United States isn’t going to adjust its own military budget up or down based on what NATO nations do, nor is the United States going to save money if other countries dedicate more funds to their own militaries.
Yet, Trump, nevertheless, felt it necessary to chide fellow leaders, presumably to enhance his manly-tude. One tries to imagine any previous, modern president excoriating European leaders on the world stage, while also praising Putin periodically from the stump, when the Russian leader obviously represents the single greatest threat to European border countries. Certainly not Ronald Reagan, who is credited with bringing down the Berlin Wall; not Bill Clinton, who sought to expand NATO membership to include former Eastern European and Soviet states. Certainly not George W. Bush, who turned to NATO for military support after 9/11; nor Barack Obama, who was the biggest American rock star to hit Europe — ever.
The point of NATO’s formation, meanwhile, seems to have eluded Trump. It is to maintain and defend allied nations by treating an attack against one country as an attack on all. In an alliance of this sort, especially given Europe’s understanding of America’s overwhelming military contributions of the past, it isn’t necessary for the big dog to anoint NATO’s hydrant.
The trouble with Trump is that he’s a wise guy from Queens and apparently hasn’t yet managed to overcome childhood insecurities. Men who boast incessantly of their accomplishments are usually compensating for something else.
This has long been obvious to at least some Americans (and the rest of the world), who recognized the danger of Trump from the get-go. His impulsiveness, braggadocio, absence of conscience and his unburdened preference for dictators and tyrants — all serve our enemies well. As to what end the president’s childish strategies might serve? Quite possibly, Trump doesn’t even know. But chaos seeks fissures in stability — and order often follows at the heel of a boot.
For the past 69 years, NATO has been the world’s best defense against such instability — and Trump, ever the pompous pout, is cheering the offense.