After the sugar rush hangover of sweet sweet Taylor Swift and her boo Travis Kelce celebrating the Chiefs repeat as Super Bowl champs (where was the Biden endorsement?), we must remember that this is an election year, where two elderly men are set to engage in rhetorical combat. One of them needs a nanny, and the other–well Donald J. Trump has his own issues.
In a campaign speech in Conway, South Carolina last Saturday, Trump told rally goers that he’d withhold protection for NATO members who were “delinquent.”
“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you.”
Trump then added: “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
Source: USA Today
Well, there’s some problems with that statement, and I have questions.
First, NATO doesn’t work that way. There’s no “dues,” only a target obligation for nations to try to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense (against Russia!). Russia spends 4.1% of its GDP on its military—that’s a bigger chunk than either the U.S. or China. The Russians intend to spend $160 billion on their military somewhere between 2023 and 2024—they stopped publishing budget numbers in mid-2023.
A couple of other things that don’t work the way Trump says (and he was POTUS for four years, so he should know). NATO doesn’t really exist without the United States. Russia has nuclear weapons, lots and lots of them. The U.S. is the only nation on earth (not even China) that can mount a reasonable deterrent against Russia should a war not go Putin’s way. Russia possesses thousands of low-yield battlefield nukes. If the U.S. wasn’t backstopping NATO as an Article 5 partner, very little could stop Putin from exercising nuclear blackmail and hegemony.
Also, America is the only nation on earth that possesses long-range logistics to project power anywhere in the world, and quickly. There is literally no hot spot we can’t reach. Without America, NATO is an empty shell. Oh, it can fight without us, but without America, it’s reduced to a one-front-at-a-time army.
What would Trump, if he wins in November, expect Europe to do to protect itself from Russia? Does he really want Poland building nuclear weapons? Is it a good idea to, as J. Robert Oppenheimer suggested in 1945, to let everyone have nukes? Does Trump think that there will be less of a chance of nuclear war in Europe if all the European states had them? Or does Trump prefer the Russians eating Europe one oblast at a time?
The backdrop for this conversation is Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin, or rather Carlson’s sitting by while Putin monologues. Many Trump supporters think Putin is sincere, and that he loves his country. They are wrong. He doesn’t love it; he doesn’t even like it a little bit. What Putin loves is the USSR, and he has made it his life’s mission to recreate the former superpower that created him.
For 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has been at war to reconstruct its former empire. Russia takes a small bite, occupying one or more so-called “breakaway” republics. Then, using those as a base of operations (and after replacing the local population with loyal Russians), it swallows the whole. Concepts like international laws governing warfare, avoiding civilian casualties, or not laying complete waste to population centers are cast aside as polite niceties unsuited for Russian warfare.
But Russia cannot attack a NATO country, as long as the U.S. is standing with NATO.
Does Trump really believe that NATO can exist without the United States? Does he really believe that Putin would stop with Ukraine, when he can also have the Baltic states, and then, Poland?
Should Trump get in to power and act on his threat, to “encourage them to do whatever the hell they want,” that would essentially mean NATO is dissolved. Once dissolved, the ties that bind nations like Turkey to the U.K., or Germany to Estonia will not be restored. Putin could roll right in to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. He could cut off Poland from the Baltics and Belarus from the Russian stronghold of Kaliningrad. And there would be no Article 5 to stop him.
Before even that happens, Putin might win (ahead of schedule) a ceasefire or treaty in Ukraine, due to the lack of American support that our Congress—specifically Republicans in the House of Representatives—refuse to provide. This would free up an enormous amount of Russian equipment and troops from that front, allowing them to deploy elsewhere. Even Poland may not be able to survive a renewed Russian army, if NATO was not there to support them.
So when Putin speaks his lies about Russian history, and the unification of Slavic people under the Russian flag, and a large number of American people believe it, or at least believe he’s being sincere (a KGB officer is never sincere), that creates an incredibly dangerous situation for Europe. You may not think you care about Europe’s fate, but you should. Putin, or whoever succeeds him, with access to the breadbasket of Ukraine, and free navigation in the Black Sea, buttressed by friendly relations with Turkey, which identifies more with Putin than the West, is nothing less than the recreation of the halcyon days of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik glory.
And if you think Russian dominance of Europe is a good thing, then the ghosts of Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald W. Reagan will haunt your life. (Jimmy Carter still lives or he’d join them.) The consequences of America’s pull-out will be world-altering and terrible.
Germany will have to make its own deal. Poland will be threatened. And the nuclear armed resurgent superpower will be a threat to our nation—a threat we spent decades defeating. Thirty years of Russian war tells us exactly what will come.
Or you can believe Putin that he loves his country; that Ukraine, Lithuania, and Poland have no history independent of Russia, a historical lie that is easily refuted. You can believe that Europe doesn’t need an American umbrella of protection, because everyone should make their own nuclear weapons, and that will make the world safer. Or you can, like Trump, say “do whatever the hell they want.”
We may find out exactly how badly that turns out for us.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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Author: Steve Berman