Trump’s remarks on NATO set off freakout – Politico

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Donald Trump has long questioned whether other NATO states were carrying their share of the financial and military burdens that come with the alliance. | Getty

The Republican nominee suggests the U.S. should only defend NATO allies if they’ve paid their bills.

07/21/16 07:56 AM EDT

Updated 07/21/16 10:56 AM EDT

Donald Trump’s suggestion that the United States shouldn’t automatically come to the defense of its NATO allies if they are attacked brought swift and sharp rebukes from longstanding American allies — and some fellow Republicans — on Thursday, all while feeding the perception that he is in the tank for U.S. rival Russia.

“Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO,” the military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in a statement. “We defend one another. We have seen this in Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of European, Canadian, and partner nation troops have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. soldiers. Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States.”

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Trump’s comment on NATO, delivered in a lengthy interview with The New York Times, was just his latest bombshell on the foreign policy front. The Republican presidential nominee has offered a radically different view of U.S. engagement with the world than many in his own party hold — one that is defined primarily in economic terms and does not hold treaties sacrosanct.

The real estate mogul has long questioned whether other NATO states were carrying their share of the financial and military burdens that come with the alliance. In his interview with the Times, which came ahead of his speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention, Trump suggested that if he became president the U.S. would only come to the assistance of a member state under attack if it “has fulfilled their obligations to us.”

That approach flies in the face of one of NATO’s bedrock principles, Article 5, which lays out that an attack on one member amounts to an attack on all members, and that fellow NATO states must help the one that was struck. The alliance, established in 1949, has 28 members. The first time it invoked Article 5 was after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and America’s NATO allies have helped fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

By Thursday morning, Trump aides were trying to contain the fallout from his remarks. His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, insisted that Trump simply wants NATO to adjust to new security realities, where threats are often from non-state actors.

“What Mr. Trump has said consistently is that he thinks NATO needs to be modernized and brought into the world of the 21st century where terrorism and [the Islamic State] which didn’t exist when NATO was created are taken into account in the way they deal with things,” he said.

But such explanations are unlikely to satisfy NATO members, especially smaller countries, such as the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, who in recent years have begun to fear Russia’s military aims.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the president of Estonia, tweeted his dismay early Thursday, saying, “Estonia is 1 of 5 NATO allies in Europe to meet its 2% def expenditures commitment. Fought, with no caveats, in NATO’s sole Art 5 op. in Afg.”

He added, “We are equally committed to a l l our NATO allies, regardless of who they may be. That’s what makes them allies.”

Some fellow Republicans also blasted Trump, underscoring how divisive his candidacy has been, even as the party has sought project unity during its national convention this week.

“Statements like these make the world more dangerous and the United States less safe,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and frequent Trump critic, said in a statement. “If Mr. Trump is serious about wanting to be commander-in-chief he needs to better understand the job which is to provide leadership for the United States and the free world.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and leading member of the “Never Trump” faction in the GOP, also pounced. “Our friends should draw strength and our adversaries should take pause from this simple fact: Americans keep our word,” he said.

Trump’s NATO comments were a gift to Democrats seeking to portray him as a threat to the world order.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign put out a statement invoking Republican darling Ronald Reagan to blast Trump.

“Ronald Reagan would be ashamed. Harry Truman would be ashamed. Republicans, Democrats and Independents who help build NATO into the most successful military alliance in history would all come to the same conclusion: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our commander in chief,” Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in the statement.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, meanwhile, tried to reassure America’s partners. “There should be no mistake or miscalculation made about this country’s commitment to our trans-Atlantic alliance,” he said.

A number of Trump’s critics, including Graham and Sasse, pointed out that Trump’s statements appear to be exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin would want to hear. Putin has long felt somewhat threatened by NATO’s presence, especially as former Soviet states have sought to join the alliance.

Trump has been highly complimentary toward Putin. The Republican’s team was said to have pressured the party’s platform-writing committee to remove references about the U.S. coming to the aid of Ukraine, a former Soviet country that Russia invaded in 2014 and has been locked in a battle over territory with since.

“I’m 100 percent certain how Russian President Putin feels – he’s a very happy man,” Graham said of the Trump comments’ fallout.

Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also sought to defend him Thursday as word spread of his NATO remarks.

“I have every confidence that Donald Trump will see to it that the United States of America stands by our allies and lives up to our treaty obligations,” Pence told “Fox and Friends.” “That being said, I think he makes an enormously important point that I think resonates with millions of Americans that at a time where we have $19 trillion in national debt, that we need to begin to look to our allies around the world to step up and pay their fair share.”

But the Clinton team was all too happy to point out the daylight between Trump and Pence, as the former secretary of state gears up to announce her own choice of running mate. Sullivan’s statement noted that Pence also had spoken of the importance of America’s allies in his speech at the convention on Wednesday.

“Tonight, Mike Pence said Donald Trump would stand with our allies. Tonight, Donald Trump flatly contradicted him,” Sullivan said.

Giulia Paravicini, Michael Schwab, Louis Nelson and Bianca Padro Ocasio contributed to this report.

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