As we all know by now, it’s difficult to trust nearly anything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. The good news is, at least part of the time, that proves to be a major relief, which seems to be the case with his recent flip-flop on NATO. Throughout his campaign, Trump has expressed his concerns about NATO, calling it “obsolete” and threatening to pull the United States out of the organization if it remains unchanged.
He repeatedly criticized the alliance as being out of date, and expressed his concern that other NATO members were not holding up their ends of the bargain, leaving the U.S. to foot the bill. His remarks on the matter left many shocked at home and abroad, especially his suggestion that America only defend treaty allies if they had met their financial obligations.
“NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved,” he told the “Washington Post.”
While the dealmaker-in-chief hasn’t yet come off of the financial aspect of the matter, bringing it up at nearly every meeting with NATO partners since, he doesn’t appear to be dismantling the alliance just yet. At a recent news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump praised allied members for their part in last week’s decision to launch fifty-nine cruise missiles into Syria as retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians.
“The Secretary General and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”
So there it is.
Donald Trump, according to Donald Trump, not only fixed NATO within one hundred days in office, but also contributed to its glorious reconstruction long before he entered office. In reality, that wasn’t really the case. While Trump did criticize NATO for not doing enough to fight terrorism on the campaign trail, the alliance had troops fighting terrorists on the ground in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks and has deployed soldiers to help aid Iraq’s fight against ISIS.
As General Jens Stoltenberg quickly pointed out to Mr. Trump after his statement, “Allies set Awacs surveillance planes to help patrol American skies, and we launched NATO’s biggest military operation ever in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Canadian soldiers have served shoulder to shoulder with American troops. More than 1,000 have paid the ultimate price. Our mission in Afghanistan is a major contribution to the fight against international terrorism.”
Despite his “America First” campaign rhetoric of American un-involvement in foreign affairs, it appears that Mr. Trump has grasped the importance of honoring our alliances around the globe and is now singing a slightly different tune. He has expressed hopes of increased NATO support in Iraq, and, just this week, signed ratification papers that will clear the way for Montenegro to join NATO as its newest member, against Vladimir Putin’s wishes.
While this all will surely be seen as triumph to our NATO allies and those holding a more pro-establishment view of global affairs, it will work against Trump’s campaign pledge to quell tensions with Russia. This, thrown into the mix with the political pressure cooker that is the current conflict in Syria, could mean increased conflict with Russia. “Right now we are not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all time low in terms of our relationship with Russia,” Trump said in a recent White House news conference.
All of this comes amidst Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Moscow where he had a reportedly tense discussion with Putin. But, if the Trump administration has been in a standoff with Russia, they have been comparably gushy with China, much to the pleasure of NATO and the rest of the free world.
Following their summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort last week, Trump sang the praises of Chinese President Xi Jinping. “I don’t know Putin, but I do know this gentleman—I’ve spent a lot of time with him over the last two days, and he is the President of China,” Trump said at a recent press conference. “President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea. We talked trade, we talked a lot of things.”
Apparently, the couple talked about North Korea, where NATO allies are counting on Trump to diplomatically prevent a nuclear attack, and while there’s no evidence that China will cooperate with the U.S. over the North Korea issue, Trump seems to have at least changed his adversarial tone with the Chinese.
Throughout his campaign, Trump accused China of artificially suppressing the value of the yuan, labeling them a “currency manipulator” and vowing to penalize Beijing. However, in a recent interview with the “Wall Street Journal,” he turned 180 degrees on the issue, saying, “They’re not currency manipulators.” He also backtracked on another bedrock of his campaign by nodding to the possibility of showing more flexibility with his demands from China to reverse the trade imbalance.
While it’s still difficult to know exactly where this guy’s head is at, it appears that NATO will remain intact, at least for now.