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Here’s why President Trump so strangely disdains little Montenegro

President Trump at the NATO summit in Belgium earlier this month. The president has expressed a coolness to NATO's joint defense commitment, questioning why the United States should go to war over a little country such as Montenegro. | AP Photo/Olivier Matthys

Do you want your child fighting and dying for Montenegro? It’s something you should be thinking about.

That may seem like an odd question, given the more sobering ones about Russia, North Korea and China that face us every day. But our president tells us angrily that Montenegro is of great importance to us. In fact, it was, by my accounting, the first issue he dwelled on after his meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin.


Montenegro is a country of only 640,000 people tucked into the southern fjords of the Adriatic in what was once Yugoslavia. The question about the tiny, unforgettably beautiful land came up and then proceeded to dominate an interview between President Trump and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson right after Helsinki.

It was raised, frankly, because of Montenegro’s enthusiastic entry into NATO just a year ago, which irked President Trump, with his clear hatred of NATO and especially its Article 5, which says that an attack on one of the 28 members is an attack on all. Thus it was that Carlson asked Trump hypothetically if, say, Montenegro were attacked, why should his son go to defend it?

The president leapt at this opportunity to deflect attention from Putin.

He had “asked the same,” Trump said first, apparently referring to the unlikely circumstance that any Trump would serve in the military to defend the country. Then he added pointedly that, although Montenegro was small, it was full of “very strong people … very aggressive people … who may get aggressive and, congratulations, you’re in World War III!”

As tensions rose, I had a bad dream of a Montenegrin Uncle Sam pointing at me and saying: “Montenegro Wants You!” Meanwhile, Fox News’ Montenegro complex grew more intense. On one show, Carlson bloviated and his face grew so red that I feared for his health. But he went ahead and expanded his field of fear by imagining your kids dying for “Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Turkey” and “all the dumb people in nonprofits who are wrecking the world.”

The last I heard from Carlson was this sobering warning: “A consensus is forming in Washington that we must fight for Montenegro.”

Worriedly, I reached for my history books, my atlas and, belatedly, my common sense.

I found that, yes indeed, Montenegro did have a heroic warring tradition. During the long years of the Ottoman Empire (13th-20th centuries), Montenegro was a rare example of a state that had some success preserving its independence.

But in more recent years, it has been close to Russia. In fact, it is said that, in 1904, during the Russo-Japanese war, it was SO close that it declared war on Japan (that must have scared the devil out of Tokyo!) just to support Moscow. And Russia kept close watch on the little land, since its great Bay of Kotor completed Russia’s arc of control of the Adriatic coast.

But all that has dramatically changed. After the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia itself dissolved in the late 20th century, the little country enthusiastically went West. NATO, first. Now it awaits European Union membership. There are even Montenegrins fighting alongside Americans in Afghanistan, a fact both Carlson and Trump chose to make fun of.

Meanwhile, its relations with Russia are now so bad that in 2016 the Russians attempted to assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. So it should not be surprising that the suspicion in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, is that a deal was made in Helsinki between Trump and Putin to destabilize or turn around their country.

More important, it didn’t seem to occur to either Carlson or the president that we have a volunteer army. So supposing the virtually impossible happened and there was a war involving NATO, and thus Montenegro, their sons and daughters would not be part of an American army. Others’ children? Obviously not their concern.

In the end, like so much in this bizarre and fabulist administration, one has to stop, shake one’s head violently, jump up and down a dozen times in a circle, sing a stanza of “Amazing Grace,” and then ask, “WHAT was that? WHY was that? HOW was that?”

The answer would seem to be, as with all things Trumpian, that the Montenegro ploy was simply that: a device, a maneuver, a little sideshow to take our attention away from a bigger event — in this case, the disaster of the Helsinki meeting. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Stick with me, kid, and I’ll show you the world.

Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.

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