Donald Trump looks like he’s trying to blow up NATO before his meeting with Vladimir Putin

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg is going one way; president Donald Trump is going another.
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg is going one way; president Donald Trump is going another.
Image: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
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Donald Trump arrived at the NATO summit in Brussels in an ornery mood.

He immediately insulted Germany, falsely claimed that “many” NATO members owed the US money, and demanded that these countries double their existing defense spending commitment to 4% of GDP. In response to Trump’s previous criticisms of the organization, European nations have already bumped up defense spending. But today, when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg teed up Trump to take credit for the increases, Trump kept complaining.

The transcript of the Trump arguing against Stoltenberg’s call for unity is startling, with the US president fixated on Germany’s use of Russian natural gas:

STOLTENBERG: I think that two World Wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart.

TRUMP: But how can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against or from the group that you want protection?

STOLTENBERG: Because we understand that when we stand together, also in dealing with Russia, we are stronger.  I think what we have seen is that —

TRUMP: No, you’re just making Russia richer.  You’re not dealing with Russia.  You’re making Russia richer.

The Nord pipeline with Russia has long been a geopolitical bugaboo in Europe. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s work for Russia’s state-owned oil company is seen in the same light as the foreign conflicts of interest that have led many of Trump’s inner circle to be indicted or plead guilty to financial crimes. Past US leaders have attempted to offer Germany a better partnership in private, rather than publicly amping up the conflict. But demanding Germany spend more on defense and embroiling it an expensive in a trade war is likely to make them more, not less, dependent on Russia.

“The President is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.”

With Trump preparing for a rare one-on-one summit with Putin next week, analysts of all stripes can read the writing on the wall, if only because the letters are so large.

Trump is trying to tear down NATO, said Republican senator Bob Corker said. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement that said “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment. His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the President is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.”

“In normal times, a president of the United States would rally the allies, develop a unified approach, and go with a strengthened hand to negotiations with the president of Russia, rather than reducing his own leverage,” Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO official, told the New York Times this week. “A bad summit that focuses only on his grievances and complaints is a gift to Putin.”

The right-wing Heritage foundation even felt that it had to issue a position paper ahead of the summit reminding Republicans, contra the president, that “the real reason for our nation’s poor relationship is Russia and its continual transgressions, which include meddling in U.S. elections; illegally annexing Crimea; invading eastern Ukraine and parts of northern Georgia; and launching vicious cyberattacks on international entities, to name a few.”

Trump, meanwhile, has attempted to justify the invasion of Crimea and called for Russia to return to the summit of the world’s largest economies, while insisting, against the view of the US intelligence community, that Russia did not interfere in US elections. Given a second chance today to demonstrate that the US and Western Europe are united, even in terms that flattered him, he declined.