Trump Encourages Putin to Attack NATO Members

Source: The Atlantic | February 10, 2024 | Tom Nichols

At a rally on Saturday, the former president announced he would tell the Russians “to do whatever the hell they want” to states delinquent in their bills.

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States and the presumptive Republican nominee, said earlier today that he would side with Russia against NATO and encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to brutalize our allies. Not so long ago, many Americans—and especially most Republicans—would have considered anyone supporting such a view to be little more than a deranged and hateful anti-American fanatic.

Trump issued this unhinged threat while telling one of his “sir” stories, a rhetorical device in which some unnamed interlocutor shows Trump great deference while humbly seeking his advice. He described a meeting, ostensibly when he was in office, in which he responded to an ally about NATO funding.

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. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”

Before we consider the sheer recklessness and immorality of this statement, let us first accept that this exchange almost certainly never happened.

Trump’s feelings about NATO are well-known. He is gripped by the stubbornly ignorant belief, even after four years in office, that NATO is some sort of protection racket, in which our European allies come to Washington like quivering shopkeepers and make an offering to the local mob boss from their weekly receipts. NATO funding doesn’t work that way, of course, and while European leaders no doubt had their arguments in private with Trump while he was president, it is highly unlikely that the leader of a major power “stood up”—as if in some sort of audience with Trump—to ask him if he’d stop a Russian invasion of a country “delinquent” in its accounts.

The fact that Trump apparently thinks all of this actually took place is bad enough, and it is evidence that his  detachment from reality is getting worse by the day. (As the New Yorker writer Susan Glasser noted this evening, Trump is “getting even more brazen,” and his comments today, even by the usual standards of his incendiary speeches, were “breathtaking.”) In a country tangling itself in knots over questions of age and mental competence in the White House, Trump somehow keeps getting a pass for saying things that are orders of magnitude more worrisome than forgetting a name or a date.

But leave aside (if we must) Trump’s record as a serial liar who lives in a world of his own fantasies. Trump’s comments today are a lot more dangerous than most of his unsettling puffery, and Americans should refuse to let this statement pass as if it were just another distasteful lump in the rancid stew Trump regularly serves up to his faithful.

Instead, we should concentrate on the more terrifying problem, a reality that exists independent of Trump’s imaginary “sir” conversations: The leader of one of America’s two major political parties has just signaled to the Kremlin that if elected, he would not only refuse to defend Europe, but he would gladly support Vladimir Putin during World War III and even encourage him to do as he pleases to America’s allies.

Americans outside of Trump’s personality cult—at least those who have retained any ability to be shocked—should be stunned at his kind of betrayal of American principles and America’s allies. Here in the United States, we have become accustomed to treating Trump like an angry child, ignoring his outbursts the way parents ignore a toddler who shouts threats and claims to hate mommy and daddy during tantrums.

But other nations do not see an overaged juvenile; they see a man who once held the keys to the U.S. nuclear arsenal and could once again become the commander in chief of the American military. They are watching him because they believe—as they should—that he is telling them exactly what he’ll do if he returns to office.

Trump’s spokespeople will likely try to clean up his remarks by saying he was merely playing hardball with recalcitrant European freeloaders. But anyone who’s watched Trump and his servile fascination with Putin long enough knows the truth: Donald Trump would make the United States a friend to the Kremlin and an enemy to NATO. Putin knows it, and after today, so should every American.

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