Tuesday, October 4, 2016

NATO: Trump's America-First Mercenaries vs. Eisenhower's "Strength Through Unity"

by Nomad

Trump NATO

Trump's past comments on NATO suggest that he would like to radically restructure the organization into something like a private security business. His critics say this is the worst time for such a dangerous power-play. On the other hand, nothing could make Russian president happier.

Back in 2013, Donald J.Trump -the tireless tweeter- appropriated Eisenhower's quote for his own obscure purposes.

It was, of course, before his announcement to run for president. Back before, he began to win primary after primary and, with the soul of Republican Party on the auction block, before the nomination of his party.

The Trump of 2013 wasn't much different than the Trump we see today. This tweet can, therefore, be written off as yet another pathetic example of Trump's absolute lack of circumspection.

After all, what person could better represent the arrogance of privilege than the billionaire business who can tell an audience (with a straight face) that a paternal loan of a million dollars was a "small loan?"
Is there a better man to represent the privilege of white male culture than Trump? And has there ever been a presidential candidate who so openly and so blithely put his business interests above all other principles?

As we reach the end of what has been a bizarre election, (to say the least) it's hard to point to any principles that Trump values. He has defiantly trashed any pretense that he is a principled type the moment he stepped onto the national stage.

The Power to Discern Right From Wrong

Quoting a respected Republican president like Eisenhower is actually a dangerous thing for Trump to do. It naturally invites comparison.

In fact, the quote comes from Eisenhower's First Inaugural Address on 20 January 1953. As the Washington Post reported at that time, Eisenhower's inaugural represented an "irresistible swing of the political pendulum," returning a Republican to the White House after a gap of two decades.


The newly-sworn-in president began his speech by asking the crowd for permission to say "a little private prayer" of his own.
He asked God to give him and all Americans..
the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race, or calling.
Eisenhower prayed that God might grant the nation  cooperation and unity with all those who  "under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory." 

One idea that Eisenhower hammered home in his first speech as president was that of strength through unity.  He said that "the strength of all free peoples lies in unity; their danger, in discord."

Nothing, by his estimation, could be more important that keeping a unified front, as a nation and as a world power. Following the devastating World War, destiny, he said, had given the United States the responsibility of free world's leadership. This responsibility was not something Americans should never take lightly.

Eisenhower Cemetery

Eisenhower stressed the word "responsibility" rather than "opportunity." 
He told the crowd that America must reassure its friends around the world that, in the discharge of this responsibility we know and we observe the difference "between world leadership and imperialism; between firmness and truculence; between a thoughtfully calculated goal and spasmodic reaction to the stimulus of emergencies." 
And he added:
We wish our friends the world over to know this above all: we face the threat--not with dread and confusion--but with confidence and conviction.

Dread and Confusion

When it comes to Republican dread and confusion, nothing can possibly top what we have seen in this election year.

The discord that Trump has stirred in the US elections hasn't been confined to American shores. In an interview with The New York Times in July, Trump's comments on NATO drew deep concern from long-standing allies. Trump suggested that NATO should be operated something along the lines of a hired security service. 

Trump Speech
Only a direct quote can capture Trump's incoherent style (a la Sarah Palin).
If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, and in many cases the countries I’m talking about are extremely rich. Then if we cannot make a deal, which I believe we will be able to, and which I would prefer being able to, but if we cannot make a deal, I would like you to say, I would prefer being able to, some people, the one thing they took out of your last story, you know, some people, the fools and the haters, they said, “Oh, Trump doesn’t want to protect you.” I would prefer that we be able to continue, but if we are not going to be reasonably reimbursed for the tremendous cost of protecting these massive nations with tremendous wealth.
NATO is based on the principle of collective defense: an attack against one or several of its members is considered as an attack against all.

NATO AssemblyAccording to NATO's official guidelines, member states should spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. It is- nor has it ever been a requirement for membership. Certainly nowhere in any of the 14 articles of the NATO charter is there any mention of 2% GDP expenditure.
It is more of a suggested goal for charter members.

Nevertheless, a lot of countries haven't taken the hint.
As CNN noted:
Of the 28 countries in the alliance, only five -- the US, Greece, Poland, Estonia and the UK -- meet the target. Many European members -- including big economies like France and Germany -- lag behind. Germany spent 1.19% of its GDP on defense last year and France forked out 1.78%.
What Trump has said is not untrue. He has a good point. The situation is unfair. The world's richest nation is being exploited. (Whether the alliance is actually worth the financial burden Americans unfairly have to pay is a different question.)

In fact, the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has also urged member nations to do more as well. Before that, Mitt Romney also made similar suggestions in 2012 but in a much more respectful and delicate way.
One thing neither of them did was to suggest that the enforcement of NATO's mutual defense agreements might be conditional on increased military spending by any member nation. 
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Like so many ideas Trump has put forth, what sounds like America being strong is an illusion. And a very dangerous illusion too. 
Compare that to Eisenhower's definition of leadership 
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
That means diplomacy and applying the principle of "enlightened self-interest."
Not by bullying, by publicly shaming or by implied threats.

Erdogan Putin

NATO and Trump's Dangerous Bluff

Trump's foreign policy posturing comes with some calculable risks.
What happens if the NATO members call Trump's bluff and decide to abandon the alliance?  Most NATO members are not in a position to enlarge their military expenditures. When push comes to shove, it would be much easier to opt-out and play nice to Russia.
Case in point.
Turkey - NATO's only Islamic majority member- could do exactly that on the day Trump is sworn in. And it would have every justification to turn its back on the West, given Trump's position on Muslims.
If that all sound quite theoretical, then note that in August, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced that his country would establish "a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism with Russia."

Without Turkey as a member, the alliance looks very different. The next country might be Greece, a nation crippled by economic problems, or Italy, which hasn't paid its NATO membership share.

With the alliance in disarray, former member nations would be as vulnerable as lost lambs in the woods. A domino effect- a term Eisenhower himself applied- is very likely to follow. Here's how Eisenhower described the concept.
When, each standing alone, one falls, it has the effect on the next, and finally the whole row is down. You are trying, through a unifying influence, to build that row of dominoes so they can stand the fall of one, if necessary."
On the other hand, nothing Trump could have said would have pleased Vladimir Putin more than those dangerous comments. The dissolution of NATO is certainly on his "to-do" list as witnessed by his courting of Greece (and more recently Turkey). 
Wrecking NATO was, in fact, one of the long-term goal of the Soviet Union and there's no reason why that goal should have changed.

There's one other point that has escaped Trump. Deterring Russian aggression is only one of NATO's purposes.  Through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration, NATO has helped reduce the chances for a revival of nationalist militarism in Europe. 
With the rise of right-wing extremist groups in Europe at the moment, Trump's mercenary attitude about the organization is a disaster in the making. 

Happy Putin

Conservatives Apologizing for Putin

Conservative columnist and dinosaur Patrick Buchanan rushed to Donald Trump's defense.
Trump is challenging the mindset of a foreign policy elite whose thinking is frozen in a world that disappeared around 1991.
Buchanan's code is easy to read. "Elites" is a pejorative label aimed at any dissenting expert. It's a strange thing too, coming from a senior advisor to U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.
According to the "non-elite" Buchanan, if Russia has taken an adversarial pose, the West is largely to blame. 
Here's how Buchanan depicts the situation.
The Russian people, having extended a hand in friendship and seen it slapped away, cheered the ouster of the accommodating Boris Yeltsin and the arrival of an autocratic strong man who would make Russia respected again. We ourselves prepared the path for Vladimir Putin.
Surprisingly, it has of late become fashionable for conservatives to apologize for Putin by blaming America. What Russia does, according to this thinking, is our fault.

Putin's Record is a Call for Western Unity

What Buchanan fails to mention is that Putin has, in order to strengthen his power repeatedly ignored- some would say betrayed- the mandates of the 1993 Russian constitution. That document was proof positive that Russia was on the way to greater reforms, a radical break from its Soviet past. That irrevocable document had, we were told by Republican conservatives, marked the end of the Soviet Empire.

But what has become of those reforms under Putin?
The right to free speech and freedom of the press, respect for minorities are only a few of the constitutional provisions that the Putin government has cast off. He has invaded his neighbors in the name of security. He apparently has ordered the assassination of problematic dissidents and journalists on his own streets and on the streets of Western nations

Putin Russia Military
Putin has even reportedly dared to tamper with the US elections through state-sponsored hacking.
To top off all that, Putin has thrown his full military and political support in favor of Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad, who has demonstrated no hesitation to bomb his own unarmed civilians

Last year, it was reported that the Russian government, when its economy is in dire straits, plans to increase military spending, rather than investing in infrastructure and long-term development projects. Just like in the days of the Soviet Union, Putin’s version of a stimulus is only increasing military spending.
As Putin said at a military forum on June 16.
“It’s clear that the efficiency of the military-industrial complex is the most important source of economic growth.”
According to Bloomberg, defense, national security, and law enforcement now eat up 34 percent of the Russian budget, more than double the share in 2010. In other words, Putin is making exactly the same mistakes that the Soviet leaders made in the past. 

All of these things cannot be attributed to Western misjudgments. Presumably, as President of Russia, Putin must take some responsibility for his actions at some point.

Overall, Buchanan- like Trump- seems to be blind to the realities of Putin's Russia. To turn the argument back on Buchanan, it is true to say that the Russia of 1991 is certainly not the Russia of 2016 and in many ways, the Cold War has been revived. And Western powers had very little to do with it.
Why on earth would any American president consider abandoning this successful defensive structure- no matter what its flaws?

Twin Echos of the Past

Just the other day, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times,
It is beyond foolish.Davıd E. Sanger pointed out:
The behavior of Russia .. has echoes of some of the uglier moments of the Cold War, an era of proxy battles that ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As Sanger writes:
Mr. Putin has reveled in his new role as the great disrupter of American plans around the globe.
With no other defensive system n place to counter Putin's tactics, this is the worst time of all to threaten allies. The alliance has never quite recovered from the last Republican president's cynical abuse of American leadership in the invasion of Iraq. 

The "America-First" isolationism proposed by Trump along with his remarks on NATO are perfect for sowing confusion. As Susan Dunn, a professor of Humanities at Williams College, wrote in April 
Poster America First
"It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech .. outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan "America First," the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler."
America's isolationism played right into Hitler's hands. With it, he was able to consolidate his position, build up a formidable military machine and later, to pick off nations one at a time without facing any significant or unified resistance.  

Igor Sutyagin, senior research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said:
President Putin’s use of force and propaganda are not so different from the Cold War, Russia watchers say. “The difference is there is no ideology. It is a return to the imperial competition of the 19th century.
Historians understand that the ultimate outcome of imperial competition of that time led to the First World War. It began a day in June 1914 when all of the bluffs that foolish leaders had used as hold the alliances together were suddenly called on the bloody streets of Sarajevo. 

All of the lessons of history are there if we bother to study them. Sadly, Donald Trump is not the kind of person that thinks he needs to prepare or study for anything He wants to rely solely on his own good judgment.
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We can only imagine what Eisenhower would have thought of nominee Donald Trump. Fortunately, the 34th president gave Americans wise advice for this year's election. 
"Some politician some years ago said that bad officials are elected by good voters who do not vote."
These words should ring in every American voter's ears until November. This will be the only way to answer the challenge Republican Trump represents to the once-proud American Republic.