Thursday, July 21, 2016

Did Trump Just Give Putin Carte Blanche to Invade Eastern Europe?

In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech to the National Press Club in which he articulated the United States’ defense perimeter in Asia. However, when Acheson described the defense perimeter, he excluded South Korea. Several months later, North Korea (backed by the USSR) invaded South Korea. Most historians cite Acheson’s exclusion of South Korea from the defense perimeter as one of the important factors that led the decision by North Korea and the USSR to invade the South, operating under the perception that the United States would not intervene militarily because South Korea was outside the Asian defense perimeter.

In July 1990, April Glaspie, the United States Ambassador to Iraq, told her Iraqi counterpart that the United States did not have an opinion on Iraq’s escalating dispute with Kuwait (over oil) and that the United States would not start an economic war against Iraq. Most historians cite Glaspie’s comments as one of the important factors that led Saddam Hussein to conclude that the United States would not intervene in an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Why do I cite these two historical examples of comments that led to war? Consider what Donald Trump told The New York Times yesterday:

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.

SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

HABERMAN: And if not?

TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.

How do you think Vladimir Putin will view those comments by Trump? How do you think our NATO and other treaty allies will view those comments?

From my perspective, Trump just told our allies that they may not be able to rely upon the United States and essentially gave our adversaries (or potential enemies) carte blanche to take aggressive actions without fear of intervention by the United States. Trump’s statement is even more dangerous than the statements of Acheson or Glaspie because in those instances, the United States wasn’t suggesting that it would ignore treaty obligations. Moreover, those statements dealt with Korea and Kuwait, not Europe and not America’s most important defense alliance.

Perhaps Trump isn’t aware that Article 5 of the NATO treaty provides that an attack on one NATO member is deemed to be an attack on all NATO members and obligates the other NATO members to assist the country that was attacked. And perhaps Trump doesn’t understand that a treaty has the force of law; complying with treaty obligations isn’t optional. But if he isn’t aware of such a cornerstone element of our national defense structure, then he certainly isn’t qualified to be the Commander-in-Chief. And if he is aware of what Article 5 means and he is still willing to suggest that it might be ignored, then he is … well … dangerous isn’t quite a strong enough word. Perhaps his machismo is spoiling for an armed confrontation with Vladimir Putin and the Russian bear. I just hope America is ready to pay the bill of blood and treasure when Trump’s statements or inaction lead to the armed conflict.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t make efforts to have our NATO allies fulfill their treaty obligations. They should and we should try to hold them to the terms of the treaty. But to suggest that failure to pay a bill is reason enough to abandon that country to a Russian invasion is lunacy. Dangerous lunacy. (Of course, Trump’s business modus operandi appears to be to leave bills unpaid, so this is something he should be quite familiar with…)

When Donald Trump opens his mouth, what we hear is hate, bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and a complete lack of understanding of the complex issues facing our nation and the world. He’s already suggested that nuclear proliferation to South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, might be a good idea. These statements about NATO are just the most recent example. And you can bet that Vladimir Putin and the people of Europe heard Trump loud and clear. I just wonder how far into Europe Russian tanks will be permitted to drive during a Trump presidency.

And I wonder whether any country would ever trust America again.

Is that what Trump means when he talks about making American great again?

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