Disbanding NATO: Why Vlad loves Donnie

Nobody’s sure exactly what Trump sees in Putin. But in the other direction, the allure is obvious.

Last week I characterized the idea that Vladimir Putin hacked the Democratic National Committee to help Donald Trump become president as “mostly a conspiracy theory” and “pretty speculative”. That theory got quite a bit more believable this week.

Trump even called for Russian hackers to try to find the emails deleted from Clinton’s server, though he later backed off and called the request “sarcastic“. (No doubt Trump would be equally amused if Clinton called on Chinese hackers to find the tax returns he refuses to reveal.)

Then he got caught in a tangle of his own previous lies. In the past he has exaggerated his connection to Putin, because that’s what hucksters do: namedrop to make themselves seem more important than they really are. But now that he’s accused of having an improper relationship with the Russian dictator, he says “I never met Putin.

In The Atlantic, David Frum lists the various ways Trump has deferred to Putin.

  • When asked whether he would tell Putin to stay out of U.S. elections, Trump said that he would not tell Putin what to do.
  • He has called NATO “obsolete”, and told the NYT he would not necessarily defend NATO countries if Russia attacked them.
  • He weakened a pro-Ukrainian plank in the Republican platform. (As Rachel Maddow points out, he showed little interest in the rest of the platform.) (Sunday, he appeared confused about Ukraine, saying that Russia was “not going to go into Ukraine” under a Trump presidency, when in fact it has occupied parts of Ukraine for two years.)
  • He replied “Yes, we would be looking at that” when asked whether he might drop the sanctions that were imposed on Russia after its takeover of Crimea. (Again, though, Trump may just be a victim of his own bluster. In TrumpSpeak “We will be looking at that” usually means “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He says it fairly often.)

Various people have proposed reasons he might be so pro-Putin. Maybe he admires Putin’s strong-man style of leadership. Or his investments are entangled with Russian oligarchs. Or he wants to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. So far, though, that’s still the speculative part of the theory.

But regardless of why Trump loves Putin so much, it’s obvious why Putin would want to help Trump: The best thing that could happen to Russia is for NATO to disband, and a President Trump might well make that happen.

NATO has not been a partisan issue in the U.S. since the alliance was formed during the Truman administration. But now it is. In an interview with the NYT’s David Sange and Maggie Haberman, Trump was explicitly asked whether he would defend the Baltic republics from Russian attack, as the NATO treaty obligates us to do. And Trump did what Trump does with any contractual obligation: He looked for a loophole.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

At the time, I thought he was referring to a longstanding American complaint that the other NATO allies don’t spend enough on defense, leaving us to shoulder the burden. NATO guidelines call for members to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense, but only  the U.S., Greece, United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland currently do. Getting tougher with the other members about their defense spending would be consistent with Trump’s “America First” slogan. (Even so, one member-nation failing to meet a guideline is hardly legal justification for another member to violate the treaty. To make an analogy: I retain my constitutional rights as an American even if I’m behind on paying my taxes.)

But in subsequent statements, Trump made a very disturbing word choice: He talked about NATO countries paying “us”. Not fulfilling their obligations to spend money on their own defense, but paying us for defending them.

Trump offered an even more explicit ultimatum to NATO allies.

“I want them to pay,” he said. “They don’t pay us what they should be paying! We lose on everything. Folks, we lose on everything.”

He went on to criticize former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record: “She makes it impossible to negotiate. She’s not a negotiator. She’s a fool.”

“We have to walk,” Trump added. “Within two days they’re calling back! Get back over here, we’ll pay you whatever the hell you want.”

“They will pay us if the right person asks,” he said. “That’s the way it works, folks. That’s the way it works.”

Trump’s view of NATO, in other words, is not an alliance; it makes Europe an American protectorate, which it has never been before. Currently, member countries may pay the cost of the bases on their soil and then invite our troops to use them, but no NATO country pays us for defense.

If you know your classical history, this should ring bells: After the wars with Persia, Athens led the Delian League, an alliance of city-states that contributed ships, soldiers, and money to the common defense. Eventually, though, Athens moved the League’s treasury from Delos to Athens and told the other members of the league to just send money. In other words, Athens now collected tribute from its former allies, who became subjects in an Athenian empire.

Unless he just doesn’t understand what his words mean — another distinct possibility — that’s what Trump is proposing to do with NATO: We threaten to “walk”, leaving European countries to face Putin alone, and offer the alternative that they start paying us tribute and become provinces in an American Empire.

I strongly suspect that Germany, France, Britain, and Italy have no interest in being American tributaries, and so NATO would cease to exist in anything like its current form.

If I were Vladimir Putin, and I could get that result for the price of a few computer hacks, I’d consider it a very good deal.

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  • Michael Wiseley  On August 1, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Excellent article about Trump, Thd no longer justifiable NATO alliance, and The Delian league. The idea of leaving NATO should be in the table for discussion. Cold War over.

    • Leo  On August 1, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Obviously, it’s not.

  • reymohammed  On August 1, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Wayall, he wants to be Putin’s puta for the same reason Melania wanted to be his. It pays real good.

  • patriciaje  On August 1, 2016 at 10:13 pm

    I’m guessing Trump doesn’t understand what his words mean.

  • Gina Robertson  On August 2, 2016 at 8:24 am

    This is an interesting thought experiment:


    What if Democrats nominated a populist wack-a-doo like Donald Trump (example given is Sean Penn), and voters were left to choose between the wacky, unhinged celebrity disaster on the left and someone loathsome on the right, say Ted Cruz. This writer proposes that we would do the same thing that Republicans are doing with Trump because they can’t stomach Hillary. We’d vote for the crazy wack and Dem leaders would endorse him because the alternative is abhorrent.

    I think the flaw in his premise is his assumption that it is Trump’s *craziness* that makes liberals amazed that Republicans are behind him. The narcissism, the reality shows, the three marriages, the porn star wife, the bragging, the temper tantrums, the name-calling, the bizarre remarks about dating his daughter. This writer believes that a liberal celebrity wack like Sean Penn would be just as crazy and bizarre but we’d support him. Speaking for myself and most liberals I know, it isn’t Trump’s eccentricity that makes it unfathomable that Republicans are backing him, it’s his ridiculous policy positions. Sure, I could see the left getting behind a crazy, unpredictable, narcissistic celebrity if the choice is that or elect Ted Cruz but not if the man’s policies were as bad as Trump’s. I think liberals can be tribal, sure, but they do care about policy, while conservatives are just tribal. They aren’t bothered by Trump’s policies, and that’s what makes us liberals go “huh?”

    I think Democrats would have found a way to prevent the nomination in the first place, but if a crazy wack with bad policies got nominated somehow, I think Democrats would not support him and would ultimately let Ted Cruz win a term if that’s the only other choice. After all, if you have to elect someone bad, better it be a Republican and let it reflect badly on the GOP.

    What do you think?

    • 1mime  On August 2, 2016 at 9:31 am

      My rejection of Donald Trump as a presidential (or any political office, really) candidate is based upon: his lack of judgement, lack of willingness or interest to study and understand issues, temperament, self-absorption. He is simply unfit to be POTUS.

    • weeklysift  On August 2, 2016 at 11:24 am

      I read the same article and had a similar reaction: I don’t think the Sean Penn example really captures the Trump Problem. The article offers no parallel to the potentially violent white supremacist groups who feel encouraged by Trump.

  • ccyager  On October 7, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I strongly doubt Donald Trump knows anything about classic ancient history much less about Delian League. It’s far more likely that he just doesn’t understand what he’s saying, and even more, that he uses words without understanding their meanings or consequences.


  • By Resolve over Fear | The Weekly Sift on August 1, 2016 at 11:09 am

    […] This week’s featured posts are “Why Bernie Backed Hillary” and “Disbanding NATO: Why Vlad Loves Donnie“. […]

  • By Exhaustive Methods | The Weekly Sift on December 19, 2016 at 10:49 am

    […] no mystery why Putin would favor Trump. I was describing that motive already back in August. Steve Benen gives the story a broader perspective by reviewing Trump and […]

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