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Recently NPR featured retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges who was the commanding general of NATO’s Allied Land Command in 2014. He remarked how he “was disappointed to see President Trump bring a wrecking ball to Brussels” after “publicly [humiliating] our most important allies.” He went on to explain, and I believe correctly that Trump “either doesn’t understand the concept of an alliance and allies or he doesn’t care” with the latter being the most accurate.
I set out to understand the reasons for Trump’s insistence that NATO is just another extension of corruption and an institutional burden for the United States, while in the background continuing with the same old same old United States foreign policy. Professor Noam Chomsky pointed me in the direction of some recent NYT reporting by Steven Erlanger, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Katie Rogers that summarized Trump and his NATO antics rather well. They write:
“The drama in Brussels on Thursday was all about Mr. Trump’s desire to make noise for his political base, Ms. Sloat said. “Some say there was some victory for Trump, that he achieved what he wanted, but it’s not true,” she said. “In the end I think the meeting was less divisive than feared,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary general. “I think it’s the reality show that the president loves. There wasn’t enough drama, so Trump has a tantrum, knocks over the table, and allies are used as props in his reality show.”
In observing Trump overseas I also thought of how to appropriately forecast the European reaction to Trump’s running commentary of NATO and how it impacts key portions of US foreign affairs.
Chomsky offered that “[Europe and allies will mostly] try to ignore him as much as possible, and move on exactly as before” although interestingly enough, alliances are beginning to forge together in an effort to isolate the pariah United States.In some ways it must be a test of resolve for other heads of state and the Europeans — still trying at the elite level to pretend that Trump isn’t a buffoon, knowing he is, and as they proceed on course, bracing and waiting for the creature to “go off to the next tantrum” as mentioned by Chomsky.
It is true that in the past the US has led and authorized disastrous NATO bombings. These are criticized rather easily and justifiably from the left, but potentially there is a danger of the Trump mentality to foster a disregard for global order from the reactionary right wing. Resistance to Trump cynicism puts NATO skeptics on the left in a difficult position. Or does it?
Chomsky maintains that there shouldn’t be any difficulty. “Support what’s right” says Chomsky while it’s “impossible to ignore the antics of a nasty little creature enjoying every moment of his tantrums, [it’s also] important to carry out what’s important and saner people will probably act as I expect the Europeans will.”
Trump was elected partly because of what amounts to his “Me First” Doctrine as well as his “Make America Great Again” slogan. Both “liberals” and “conservatives” should notice Trump’s intentions however, to utilize NATO in the background while appeasing his rabid anti-institution base. But this is a ruse when you analyze his cabinet and actual policy formation, mostly set at the outset, and without any “deep state” influence.
Recall that Trump selected Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential candidate and once elected sent him about to reassure the US’s “unwavering” relationship with NATO. Trump also appointed Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador, again without so called, “deep state pressure.” She is a committed NATO supporter and “slams Russia,” to highlight her own commitments to the foreign policy orthodoxy. Another of Trump’s prized selections is Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a hawk and open critic of Russia; so much so that it’s news when he doesn’t mention Russia in his briefings and policy statements. Finally, Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only cabinet member with any redeeming promise of détente with Russia and a NATO skeptic or at least selective proponent.
The Trump Doctrine and ideology is quite simple: Me! And according to Chomsky “that requires putting on a show for his worshipful base while he quietly shafts them in every possible way.” (In terms of both domestic and foreign policy) It is doubtful that Trump has a plan other than this and after each Trump bombastic effort “Mattis will continue to strengthen NATO and intensify the dangerous posturing at the Russian border” remarked Chomsky.
It might be true that Trump likes to portray himself as a populist alternative to the Bushes and Clintons and their reckless foreign policies of neo-conservatism and liberal interventionism while questioning our “exceptionalism” but in reality we have broadened and expanded our presence around the world under Trump.
Trump’s helping to lead a dangerous mentality for nihilists that if the world goes to hell in a handbasket, who cares? While offering nothing coherent, and to the extent that there is a policy, Chomsky points out how it was proudly described by one Trump official: “We’re America, bitch!” with Chomsky adding more accurately, ‘We’re the 1% of America, bitch,’ those who count.”