While an eager nation awaits confirmation on whether the Senate will allow Brett Kavanaugh to accept The Final Rose from Donald Trump, American president, there are matters of international diplomacy at hand. Specifically, the Artful Dealmaker is jetting off to Europe Tuesday for meetings with our NATO allies, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Which rendezvous do you think our president is most excited about?
Trump says that between NATO, Theresa May, and Putin that his meeting with Putin “may be the easiest of them all.” (via FOX) pic.twitter.com/Uf8e0yDQU5
Ah, yes: an “easy” meeting with the authoritarian leader of our number one geopolitical adversary, who attacked American democracy on a fundamental level in the last election and who very likely has designs on repeating the feat this November. You could dismiss this as a Trumpian joke—the work of a man who fails to grasp the consequences of anything that does not immediately impact himself, his family, or his money—if it was not part of a sustained public posture of friendliness towards Putin’s Russia.
Trump has praised Putin constantly, even though journalists and political opponents who criticize the Russian leader often end up jailed or dead. Putin also has a nasty habit of invading neighboring countries under false pretenses. Trump has angrily resisted imposing sanctions on Russia, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election, and has dragged his feet on implementing sanctions mandated by law after they passed by a veto-proof majority in Congress.
Most of all, he has doubted or outright rejected the idea Russia interfered in the election, as well as the general premise that Russia is a bad actor in any kind of extraordinary capacity. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said when confronted with Putin’s record. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?”
(And no, the United States’ egregious historical record—particularly in the Middle East and parts of South America and Southeast Asia—does not make this statement any more comforting, or any less a capitulation to the kind of moral relativism on which authoritarian regimes thrive. That’s all assuming you believe Donald Trump is genuinely concerned about American human rights violations in Cambodia.)
Meanwhile, in a deftly terrifying Twitter thread Monday, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro laid out the worst possible scenario for Trump’s trip this week:
1. I don’t think we are fully grappling with the possibility that we could be on the on the cusp of a completely new era, a fundamental reshaping of the international order. And I don’t mean over the course of the Trump Administration. I mean by next week.
3. Trump clearly wants to pull the US out of NATO. He doesn’t believe in the alliance (or any alliances); he thinks our allies take advantage of us; he complains that NATO is worse than NAFTA(whatever that means); he seeks purely transactional relations with our closest partners.
4. Should other NATO members meet their 2% of GDP defense spending targets? Absolutely. Trump is on solid ground to push for it. But to consistently trash allies, undervalue their contributions to our security, threaten to withdraw US troops — that’s him wanting out.
The question seems to be whether Trump is banging on about other NATO members’ payments because he genuinely wants them to pay their fair share, or whether he wants to blow up the current agenda—and set his own—like he did with the G7, or whether he is establishing a pretext to leave NATO. It could also be a combination of some or all.
But this seems particularly dangerous in an environment where Trump has constantly questioned the value of American alliances. (He reportedly sought to persuade France to leave the European Union.) All of these are unprecedented positions and tactics for a United States president to adopt. They also back outcomes—the dismantling of NATO and the EU—which are among Vladimir Putin’s top geopolitical priorities.
As Shapiro demonstrated—his whole thread is worth your time—when this is combined with Trump’s Putin-love, it makes a very scary cocktail indeed:
6. What’s more, his passionate desire for friendship with Putin is emboldening Russia & risks doing further damage to European security. If he recognizes Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, if he seeks to tone down sanctions on Russia over its aggression vs Ukraine, watch out.
7. This could play out in the next 2 weeks. If he sabotages the NATO summit the way he did the G-7, don’t be surprised if he actually makes a move toward exiting NATO. Think he won’t? On what basis? Because his staff restrains him? Because of his strategic understanding? Please.
8. If we get there, the implications are innumerable & terrifying: Russia pawing at Baltics &other E & C European states; breakdown of joint defense structures; withdrawal of US troops from Euro bases; less restrained German foreign policy; weaker US power projection to Eurasia.
I have been to Latvia, a tiny Baltic State and NATO member that borders Russia. The people there were terrified of a Russian invasion before Trump was elected, citing Putin’s rhetoric about how ethnic Russians—who make up a significant share of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian populations—were supposedly being mistreated in the Baltic States. This closely mirrored what he once said about Crimea. You have to wonder what the Latvians are thinking now.
Trump also said off-handedly Tuesday that Britain “is in somewhat—turmoil.” That would be because of the Tory government’s near-collapse over its inability to agree on a plan to implement Brexit. Coincidentally, it increasingly appears the original campaign for Britain to leave the EU may have had substantial support or influence from Russia. More and more, the best scenario seems to be that President Trump just doesn’t have a clue about all this. The alternative—an American president’s purposeful detonation of the current world order—is a nightmare.