Donald Trump doesn’t know if he’d defend US allies in a war with Russia

Making US-Russia relations great again.
Making US-Russia relations great again.
Image: AFP/Petras Malukas/Getty Images
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Republicans in Cleveland all seem to know one thing about president Barack Obama: He’s not a national security leader, and US allies don’t trust America anymore. Donald Trump will change that.

“Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s foreign-policy of leading from behind, moving red lines, feigning resets with Russia,” Trump’s VP nominee Mike Pence told the audience. “We cannot have four more years apologizing to her enemies and abandoning our friends. America needs to be strong for the world to be safe, and on the world stage, Donald Trump will lead from strength.”

As Reagan said, trust, but verify.

Trump himself did not seem to get the message. In an interview with the New York Times that occurred minutes before Pence’s remarks, he told reporters that he would not immediately aid come to the aid of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization if they were attacked by Russia, instead waiting to see if “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Of course, that is not how treaties work, and US commitment to aid NATO allies has been the cornerstone of global security since the end of World War II. National security leaders were aghast at his comments, as were leaders like the president of Estonia, one of the small Baltic countries in question.

The only time NATO’s mutual-defense provision was invoked was after the 9/11 attacks, when European nations rallied to the US.

Trump’s eagerness to blame America’s problems on others—immigrants, competitive rivals—extends to allies, who he argues are driving up US defense spending. In the past, that had extended to merely promising to review defense agreements, but this is the first time Trump has said he would not follow treaty obligations in the event of an invasion. That obsession may play well with the base, but it doesn’t gibe with his arguments that Obama has weakened the US military.

The move also does nothing to dispel Trump’s coziness with Russia. Trump has repeatedly praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin. His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is a long-time confidant of Russian-backed strongmen. Last week, the Republican platform was altered at Trump’s behest to remove strong language defending Ukraine, which is facing a civil war against Russian-backed separatists.

“Ronald Reagan would be ashamed,” Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s national security adviser, told reporters. “Harry Truman would be ashamed. Republicans, Democrats and Independents who help build NATO into the most successful military alliance in history would all come to the same conclusion: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our Commander in Chief.”