Any guess on how quickly he moves in for a bro hug?
Trump is turning American diplomacy upside down, repudiating our nation’s leadership in the world. He is snubbing one of history’s most successful alliances for freedom and peace, NATO, and playing into the hands of an expansionist Russia.
It is hard to imagine Putin could have written a better script for Trump, from a Russian strongman’s point of view, than the words that came out of our president’s mouth on Wednesday.
No sooner did Trump land in Brussels than he picked a fight with friends, mocking Germany as a “captive of Russia” and complaining that the United States spends too much on NATO and European defense. Pay up, said the New York landlord, “immediately.”
If Trump had any thought of standing tall for the alliance, which time and again has deterred anti-democratic aggression, he left those musings back on Air Force One.
Our issue, for once, is less with Trump’s false facts, though of course he threw in a few, than with his priorities — and his need to bully.
It is entirely fair to say that the other 28 NATO nations should increase their spending on the common defense, though even the United States does not kick in the 4 percent of gross domestic product Trump is demanding. It’s also a legitimate security concern that Germany is relying on an increasing amount of natural gas from Russia.
But longtime allies don’t throw verbal bombs at each other. When Trump belittles and antagonizes traditional allies, while having not a hard word to say about Russia, he undermines a security arrangement that has been the main force for peace in Europe since World War II.
NATO has been a strong American ally around the world, as well. Days after the 9-11 attacks that shook our nation, NATO invoked Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty for the first and only time to come to our nation’s defense. Article 5, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all, obligated members to fight alongside the United States.
Germany, for one — that country our president is so keen to mock — readily answered the call. It sent more than 2,000 troops to Afghanistan and suffered 54 casualties.
Republican and Democratic presidents have worked to build the NATO alliance. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. George Bush and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon and Barack Obama.
When Trump sneered that Germany is “totally controlled” by Russia because it pipes in Russian natural gas, the insult cut deep with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel, who grew up in Soviet-dominated East Germany, knows a thing or two about what Russian control really looks like. So, in her own diplomatic way, she shot back at Trump.
“I want to say that, because of current events, I have witnessed this myself, that a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she said in her first remarks at the NATO summit. “And I am very happy that we are today unified in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany.”
What did real Russian control look like? It looked like a wall.
“The first political event from my childhood that I remember distinctly is the building of the Berlin Wall 50 years ago,” Merkel continued. “I was 7 years old at the time. Seeing grown-ups, even my parents, so stunned that they broke out in tears, shook me to the core.”
After sowing dissent this week and weakening time-tested European alliances, Trump will sit down for a private meeting next week with Putin. There will be no aides in attendance.
It’s entirely fair to worry that our president, always so eager for Putin’s praise, will reveal national security secrets, just as he did last year when he met with Russian officials in the White House. Trump has a way of developing crushes on autocrats.
In Chicago, a man who stands by his friends is a “stand-up guy.”
In Europe this week, Donald Trump is Donald Trump.
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