During an interview with the New York Times yesterday, Donald Trump made two controversial statements about foreign policy. First, in response to the question whether he would come to the aid of NATO allies in the Baltic, Trump said: “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
Second, Trump said he would not pressure Turkey or other authoritarian allies not to conduct purges of their political adversaries or crack down on civil liberties. The United States has to “fix our own mess” before trying to alter the behavior of other nations; I don’t think we have a right to lecture,” Trump stated.
Both statements trouble me. Together, they make me less inclined to vote for the tycoon.
In the first statement, Trump offers a qualified “yes” to the question of honoring our NATO commitment to aide nations that come under attack. The qualification is that the nation under attack must have fulfilled its “obligations to us.”
What does Trump mean by “obligations.” Does he mean formal obligations? Or does he mean these nations must be fulfilling what Trump considers their fair share of the defense burden?
If Trump means the latter, then he’s giving himself a ready made excuse for turning his back on our allies. Worse, he’s signaling to Putin that he would turn his back.
But even if Trump means formal obligations, Trump is sending a terrible signal. Would the U.S. really turn a blind eye to Russian aggression if Estonia, say, has come up a few tanks short in providing for the common defense?
Barring a clarification of Trump’s comment, tt looks to me like Hillary Clinton, reset button and all, has a better line than Trump (from my point of view) on defending Europe against Russian aggression and on minimizing the likelihood of such aggression by preserving the cohesion of NATO.
Trump’s statement on Turkey doesn’t bother me as it pertains to Turkey. However, his broader remarks are highly problematic, in my view.
Like Trump, I don’t see the point of lecturing Erodgan about how he should respond to the attempt to overthrow him. An authoritarian is always going to crack down following a coup. We look ridiculous when we urge “restraint.” Even President Obama seems content, just this once, not to lecture.
But Trump’s view that we don’t have “the right to lecture” because we have problems of our own is quite troubling. “How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood,” Trump intoned
This is a non sequitur. We are not barred from trying to influence world affairs just because criminality, including cop killing, exists in America. If Trump believes otherwise, then why isn’t Hillary Clinton a better potential commander-in-chief by default?
Trump’s statements about Erdogan remind us of the pronouncements he made last December about Putin. First, he told Joe Scarborough: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Then, after Scarborough reminded Trump about Putin’s killing of journalists, Trump added, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe.”
Trump insists that he loves America, but does he respect our country? When he equates our conduct with that of vicious authoritarians and/or claims that our troubles deprive us of moral authority on the world stage, it makes me wonder.