Trump do­ing Putin’s dirty work at NATO sum­mit

The Norwalk Hour - - OPINION - Trudy Ru­bin is a colum­nist and ed­i­to­rial-board mem­ber for the Philadel­phia In­quirer. Email: tru­

No sooner did Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ar­rive at the NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels than he launched a tirade at one of our clos­est al­lies, declar­ing, “Ger­many is to­tally con­trolled by Rus­sia.”

That lu­di­crous charge is based on a usual Trump stew of fake facts mixed with dem­a­goguery. But it raises an unavoid­able ques­tion prior to Trump’s meet­ing with Vladimir Putin on Mon­day.

Is the U.S. pres­i­dent to­tally con­trolled by Rus­sia? Is he a “Manchurian can­di­date,” brain­washed or black­mailed by Putin into help­ing the Krem­lin weaken Amer­ica?

So far I’ve avoided con­spir­acy the­o­ries and still be­lieve the pres­i­dent is brain­wash­ing him­self with a mind­set that prefers dic­ta­tors to democrats and views al­liances as bur­dens.

Yet ei­ther way, the re­sult is the same. Don­ald Trump is do­ing Putin’s dirty work, and no one has been will­ing or able to make him stop.

So let us count the ways in which Trump is gift­ing Putin when it comes to NATO.

1. Un­der­mines sup­port for NATO in U.S. First, in spew­ing false facts about NATO (while in­sist­ing “Putin is fine”), Trump un­der­mines sup­port for the al­liance on the home front. A re­cent Econ­o­mist sur­vey found just 40 per­cent of Repub­li­cans think the United States should stay in NATO, while 56 per­cent of Repub­li­cans con­sider Trump’s re­la­tion­ship with Putin good for Amer­ica.

2. Hurts U.S. al­liance with Ger­many

Those same fake facts cre­ate cracks in the al­liance and smiles in the Krem­lin. Let’s start with the claim that Ger­many is “to­tally con­trolled by Rus­sia” based on an­other false Trump “fact” — that Ber­lin gets 70 per­cent of its en­ergy from Rus­sia.

Yes, Ger­many gets more than half its nat­u­ral gas from Rus­sia, but only 20 per­cent of its en­ergy sup­plies come from gas. And it is nuts to claim Ger­many is un­der Rus­sia’s thumb when Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has been the most out­spo­ken Euro­pean leader in stand­ing up to Putin.

The pres­i­dent’s real pique with Ger­many is that it won’t buy ex­pen­sive liq­ue­fied gas from the U.S. but sup­ports the build­ing of a new com­mer­cial gas pipe­line from Rus­sia.

3. Weak­ens NATO sol­i­dar­ity

Trump’s claim that the U.S. pays for “90 per­cent of NATO spend­ing ” is false and de­struc­tive. The U.S. pays only 22 per­cent of the com­mon NATO bud­get, ac­cord­ing to a for­mula based on na­tional in­come. No NATO mem­ber is in ar­rears.

The pres­i­dent’s mixes up “NATO spend­ing” with a NATO goal that each of the 29 mem­bers spend at least 2 per­cent of GDP on its own de­fense by 2024 (eight will do so in 2018).

Wash­ing­ton spends 3.57 per­cent of its GDP on its own de­fense, but most of that money goes for U.S. se­cu­rity in Asia.

Yet Trump uses that fig­ure to falsely al­lege that NATO mem­bers owe Wash­ing­ton bil­lions.

In the fi­nal ab­sur­dity, the pres­i­dent de­manded in Brus­sels that mem­bers dou­ble their de­fense spend­ing to 4 per­cent of GDP, a greater per­cent­age than the U.S. su­per­power spends. Trump knows well this is an im­pos­si­ble tar­get.

He might as well tell NATO: Drop dead.

Had he been look­ing for a win, Trump could have taken credit for a steady in­crease in NATO mem­bers’ de­fense spend­ing since he took of­fice.

Trump “could eas­ily be pro­claim­ing vic­tory and talk­ing about how he him­self, he alone, had trans- formed the al­liance,” says Stephen Ses­tanovich, a long­time Rus­sia ex­pert at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. “In­stead he seems in­tent on be­ing the dis­rupter.”

James Goldgeier, a fel­low at the coun­cil and for­mer dean of the School of In­ter­na­tional Ser­vice at Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity, adds a key point: “Whereas pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents have com­plained about lag­ging spend­ing, they didn’t make it their sin­gu­lar ob­ses­sion.”

4. Threat­ens the fu­ture of NATO

In his big­gest gift to Putin, Trump sees Amer­ica’s key se­cu­rity al­liance only in terms of dol­lars. This is light years from the way Ronald Rea­gan viewed NATO in 1982, when he said in Ger­many: “What unites us is much more mean­ing­ful and deeper than any dif­fer­ences that might ex­ist.” Yes, times have changed and Rus­sia is no longer the same kind of threat.

Yet Putin has made clear over and over his de­ter­mi­na­tion to un­der­mine West­ern democ­ra­cies.

That’s why a uni­fied stand at this sum­mit — against Rus­sian cy­ber-hack­ing, in­va­sions of neigh­bors, poi­son­ings abroad, and Krem­lin threats to NATO mem­bers — was so im­por­tant. (Even the U.S. Se­nate, so dis­uni­fied on every­thing, voted by 97-2 for a mo­tion of sup­port for NATO on Tues­day.)

No uni­fied NATO stand is pos­si­ble, how­ever, with Trump.

In­stead, in the words of Ger­man com­men­ta­tor and Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion fel­low Con­stanze Stelzen­muller, we get the pres­i­dent’s “open con­tempt for rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy . and his ad­mi­ra­tion for au­to­crats and dic­ta­tors.

This, not de­fense spend­ing or pipe­lines, is the new fault line in the al­liance to­day and the great­est in its his­tory.”

Trump’s is the pricey gift to the Krem­lin that keeps on giv­ing.

The fu­ture of NATO is at stake.

In his big­gest gift to Putin, Trump sees Amer­ica’s key se­cu­rity al­liance only in terms of dol­lars.

Evan Vucci / As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump meets with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin last year.

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