Alt. Fact of the Week

Pres­i­dent Trump froths, blus­ters and blovi­ates at NATO al­lies and then, in­dif­fer­ent to the ob­vi­ous irony, com­plains they aren’t tough enough on Rus­sia

Baltimore Sun - - NATION -

Our view:

For those who may have missed the last two days in Brus­sels, here’s a brief sum­mary: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ap­proached his NATO al­lies with all the diplo­macy and tact of a slum­lord who thinks he’s been stiffed by ten­ants but lacks both peo­ple and ac­count­ing skills. Hour af­ter hour, he bad­gered and be­rated the lead­ers of Euro­pean na­tions, badly over­stated the mat­ters of de­fense spend­ing and even made the claim that Ger­many is cap­tive to Rus­sia — which was a clas­sic pot calling the ket­tle black (or maybe “topf” calling the “kes­sel” “sch­warz”).

Even by the stan­dards of a man who prefers to judge Amer­ica’s clos­est al­lies far more harshly than its en­e­mies, it was a bull (“stier”) in the china shop (“china-shop” — oh, those Ger­mans) mo­ment. And to what end? Mr. Trump’s own con­clu­sion: “I think NATOis much stronger now than it was two days ago,” he told re­porters at a fi­nal news con­fer­ence on Thurs­day. While it may take a while for ex­actly what hap­pened in Brus­sels to be­come clear, we feel safe in say­ing that had to come as quite a sur­prise to the other NATO lead­ers who had just been whip­sawed by two days of re­al­ity TV-style drama.

That’s not to sug­gest Pres­i­dent Trump spouted 100 per­cent false­hoods dur­ing his trip. Mr. Trump in Bel­gium was much like Mr. Trump in the U.S. — he took a thread of truth in twisted it be­yond recog­ni­tion. His main point, that many Euro­pean coun­tries, Ger­many in­cluded, spend less on their own de­fense needs then they ought to (for their own sake as well as that of the al­liance) is a valid one. Past U.S. pres­i­dents have made the same point. They’ve just felt less of a need to act so petu­lantly, com­pro­mise NATO in­tegrity, or mis­rep­re­sent the facts while do­ing so. Some ex­am­ples:

Mr. Trump said Euro­pean coun­tries “owe us a tremen­dous amount of money” and are “delin­quent.” NATO fund­ing doesn’t work like that. What aides later ex­plained is that he meant cer­tain coun­tries were not yet spend­ing 2 per­cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense as they com­mit­ted four years ago to do by 2024. No­body owes any money to the U.S., which spends far more on its mil­i­tary than its al­lies but spreads it around the globe, a far more costly cir­cum­stance (which helps ex­plain its much greater spend­ing).

The pres­i­dent fur­ther sug­gested that the U.S. is “ex­pected to de­fend” NATO mem­bers, and that’s mis­lead­ing, too. It’s an al­liance in which all mem­bers look out for each other. The last time it hap­pened? It wasn’t in Europe at all. Mem­bers rushed in to help the U.S. af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks in 2001 with hun­dreds of Cana­dian and Euro­pean sol­diers dy­ing in Afghanistan. That wasn’t just the last time that hap­pened, by the way, it’s the only Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ad­dresses a news con­fer­ence af­ter a sum­mit of NATO heads of state. time in the al­liance’s 69-year his­tory.

Pres­i­dent Trump was par­tic­u­larly harsh on Ger­many, sug­gest­ing that the coun­try had be­come a “cap­tive of Rus­sia,” sin­gling out the coun­try’s de­pen­dence on Rus­sian oil and gas. But, again, he over­stated the cir­cum­stances. “Ger­many will have al­most 70 per­cent of their coun­try con­trolled by Rus­sia with nat­u­ral gas,” the pres­i­dent told NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg at one point. Ex­perts say Ger­many gets about half its nat­u­ral gas from Rus­sia, not 70 per­cent, but how “cap­tive” is it? Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, a sur­vivor of Sovi­et­con­trolled East Ger­many, has been far more crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Putin and Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea than Mr. Trump, who re­cently lob­bied for Rus­sian read­mis­sion to the G-7.

Again, is Ger­many too closely eco­nom­i­cally al­lied with Rus­sia? That’s a fair ques­tion. Should Ger­many and other Euro­pean na­tions spend more on their own de­fense? Ab­so­lutely. But Mr. Trump has gone full “al­ter­na­tive fact” on both these is­sues, and while that might en­dear him to his base (be­ing dis­trust­ful of Europe is a thing among con­ser­va­tives), it’s lu­nacy to think he’s strength­en­ing an al­liance that’s still vi­tal to U.S. se­cu­rity and global pros­per­ity. Small won­der that quite a few Euro­pean lead­ers and per­haps even Canada’s Justin Trudeau are treat­ing him like a rel­a­tive who thinks he’s a chicken. They don’t make a fuss be­cause they “need the eggs,” as that old joke goes. If NATO mirac­u­lously does be­come stronger, it won’t be be­cause of U.S. lead­er­ship, it will be be­cause our al­lies chicken-danced around it.

MARKUS SCHREIBER/AP

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