Everyone who cares about foreign policy was stunned by David Sanger and Maggie Haberman’s NYTimes piece yesterday, in her interview with Donald Trump about foreign policy. The biggest revelation was that he wouldn’t automatically extend support to NATO allies if they were attacked, in particular the Baltics. And the only country that would attack them is Russia, unless Sweeden gets ornery. This caused a lot of gasps, from right and left, because it undercuts the basis of security after WWII, not to mention being in line with Trump’s (and Manafort’s) love of Putin.
For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”
He added, “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
The Trump camp, led by Manafort, is disputing this and saying that she’s lying, but honestly, who do you believe? Even if the reporters didn’t have Haberman and Sanger’s reputation, is it possible to believe anything the Trump camp says?
While I was writing this, Haberman and David Sanger released the transcript:
“You can’t forget the bills,” Trump said. “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.”
“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—” Sanger asked.
“Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes,” Trump said.
“And if not?” the Times’ Maggie Haberman asked.
“Well, I’m not saying if not,” Trump replied.
To me, this is even more damning, and more to the point. There’s actually a strong case to be made out NATO, and our role in interventions, and how much we pay. And Trump knows that, sort of. But only a little, and only on the surface. Only enough to say things like “you can’t forget the bills”. He can claim he didn’t say not, because “I’m not saying if not”, but that’s bullshit. It’ a dodge, but not one to try to soften the blow. It’s a dodge because he has no idea what he’s talking about.
There’s a vague principle of “I’ll screw you over if you try to screw me over”, but it’s not the thinking of a man who has ever thought about foreign policy in any broad way, in any way that wasn’t part of his narrow worldview. He literally has no idea what he’s talking about. That’s the scary part. He knows absolutely nothing about the world, except for his “instincts”, which are invariably dumb and ill-considered.
Mr. Trump said he was convinced that he could persuade Mr. Erdogan to put more effort into fighting the Islamic State. But the Obama administration has run up, daily, against the reality that the Kurds — among the most effective forces the United States is supporting against the Islamic State — are being attacked by Turkey, which fears they will create a breakaway nation.
Asked how he would solve that problem, Mr. Trump paused, then said: “Meetings.”
He talked of funding a major military buildup, starting with a modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal. “We have a lot of obsolete weapons,” he said. “We have nuclear that we don’t even know if it works.”
“We have nuclear” are the words of a man who was told something in passing and assumed he is an expert. It’s like Paul Ryan’s “well, there are fighting seasons in Afghanistan” line, except more shallow.
I mean, he isn’t disqualified because his policies are bad. Twitter was alive with his NATO nonsense as being “disqualifying”, as if someone would say “this line has finally been crossed.” That’s not the case. The statements are “disqualifying” because they reveal, again, how manifestly unqualified he is. The man knows literally nothing about foreign policy save for what he reads on the back of cereal boxes. You could fit his knowledge in a matchbox and still never have a want for matches. It’s a terrifying prospect.
But, at least, he cleared up that his “America First” slogan isn’t like Lindbergh’s.
“To me, ‘America First’ is a brand-new, modern term,” he said. “I never related it to the past.”
He paused a moment when asked what it meant to him.
“We are going to take care of this country first,” he said, “before we worry about everyone else in the world.”