Thursday, July 21, 2016

Today Is Probably An Eerie Day In Latvia, Estonia And Lithuania


Could be nerve-wracking for the former Eastern bloc countries that joined NATO in 1999-- the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland-- as well and crazy for the non-Baltic states that also joined in 2004: Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, maybe even Melania's tiny little Slovenia. And in 2009, Albania and Croatia became members and I'm betting they're nervous about The Trump Doctrine as well, a doctrine that The Ballad of Abu Ghraib author Phil Gourevitc defined today by tweeting that "to Trump international relations is just a gangland protection racket-- pay me to protect you or swing in the wind-- & USA stands for nothing."

Today's chaotic blunder into foreign policy-- the shredding of NATO-- by the Republican nominee is probably far more of a deal-killer for many in the establishment-oriented Republicans than anything he said to insult women, Latinos, the handicapped, minorities or anyone else. Unlike Trump, many Republicans take foreign policy seriously. Trump made it clear he approves of-- or at least doesn't care about-- Erdogan's brutal transformation of Turkey into an authoritarian state. Green light!

A good friend of mine is spending a couple of weeks at the Bohemian Grove, Yesterday he told me it's roughly half Republican up there and half Democratic. But there are no Trumpists. The Republicans especially loath him. Far more shattering to Bohemian Grove bipartisan foreign policy sensibilities than Trump's hands-off attitude towards Erdogan, was an apparent decision to eviscerate NATO, whose viability allied defense against perceived and historic Russian aggression towards Europe is based.
During a 45-minute conversation, he explicitly raised new questions about his commitment to automatically defend NATO allies if they are attacked, saying he would first look at their contributions to the alliance. Mr. Trump re-emphasized the hard-line nationalist approach that has marked his improbable candidacy, describing how he would force allies to shoulder defense costs that the United States has borne for decades, cancel longstanding treaties he views as unfavorable, and redefine what it means to be a partner of the United States.

He said the rest of the world would learn to adjust to his approach. “I would prefer to be able to continue” existing agreements, he said, but only if allies stopped taking advantage of what he called an era of American largess that was no longer affordable.

Giving a preview of his address to the convention on Thursday night, he said that he would press the theme of “America First,” his rallying cry for the past four months, and that he was prepared to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada if he could not negotiate radically better terms.

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

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.”

...Trump conceded that his approach to dealing with the United States’ allies and adversaries was radically different from the traditions of the Republican Party-- whose candidates, since the end of World War II, have almost all pressed for an internationalist approach in which the United States is the keeper of the peace, the “indispensable nation.”

“This is not 40 years ago,” Mr. Trump said, rejecting comparisons of his approaches to law-and-order issues and global affairs to Richard Nixon’s. Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around the world, he said, “We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion,” citing what he called America’s trade losses. “That doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human rights and as a guarantor of allies’ borders were each quickly reduced to questions of economic benefit to the United States.

No presidential candidate in modern times has ordered American priorities that way, and even here, several speakers have called for a far more interventionist policy, more reminiscent of George W. Bush’s party than of Mr. Trump’s.

But Mr. Trump gave no ground, whether the subject was countering North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats or dealing with China in the South China Sea. The forward deployment of American troops abroad, he said, while preferable, was not necessary.

“If we decide we have to defend the United States, we can always deploy” from American soil, Mr. Trump said, “and it will be a lot less expensive.”

Many military experts dispute that view, saying the best place to keep missile defenses against North Korea is in Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Maintaining such bases only in the United States can be more expensive because of the financial support provided by Asian nations.

Mr. Trump’s discussion of the crisis in Turkey was telling, because it unfolded at a moment in which he could plainly imagine himself in the White House, handling an uprising that could threaten a crucial ally in the Middle East. The United States has a major air base at Incirlik in Turkey, where it carries out attacks on the Islamic State and keeps a force of drones and about 50 nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump had nothing but praise for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s increasingly authoritarian but democratically elected leader. “I give great credit to him for being able to turn that around,” Mr. Trump said of the coup attempt on Friday night. “Some people say that it was staged, you know that,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

Asked if Mr. Erdogan was exploiting the coup attempt to purge his political enemies, Mr. Trump did not call for the Turkish leader to observe the rule of law, or Western standards of justice. “When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger,” he said.

The Obama administration has refrained from any concrete measures to pressure Turkey, fearing for the stability of a crucial ally in a volatile region. But Secretary of State John F. Kerry has issued several statements urging Mr. Erdogan to follow the rule of law.

Mr. Trump offered no such caution for restraint to Turkey and nations like it. However, his argument about America’s moral authority is not a new one: Russia, China, North Korea and other autocratic nations frequently cite violence and disorder on American streets to justify their own practices, and to make the case that the United States has no standing to criticize them.
Jeffrey Goldberg noted in The Atlantic this morning, in regard to the Trump-Putin long-distance bromance that fulfilling what might be the Russian autocrat’s dearest wish, Trump has openly questioned whether the U.S. should keep its commitments to NATO, referring to the clownish Trump as "a de facto agent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a KGB-trained dictator who seeks to rebuild the Soviet empire by undermining the free nations of Europe, marginalizing NATO, and ending America’s reign as the world’s sole superpower."

Goldberg reassured his readers that he's "not suggesting that Donald Trump is employed by Putin-- though his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was for many years on the payroll of the Putin-backed former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych." Instead he was arguing that "Trump’s understanding of America’s role in the world aligns with Russia’s geostrategic interests; that his critique of American democracy is in accord with the Kremlin’s critique of American democracy; and that he shares numerous ideological and dispositional proclivities with Putin-- for one thing, an obsession with the sort of “strength” often associated with dictators. Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East. His election would immediately trigger a wave of global instability-- much worse than anything we are seeing today-- because America’s allies understand that Trump would likely dismantle the post-World War II U.S.-created international order. Many of these countries, feeling abandoned, would likely pursue nuclear weapons programs on their own, leading to a nightmare of proliferation."
Trump’s sympathy for Putin has not been a secret. Trump said he would “get along very well” with Putin, and he has pleased Putin by expressing a comprehensive lack of interest in the future of Ukraine, the domination of which is a core Putinist principle. The Trump movement also agrees with Putin that U.S. democracy is fatally flawed. A Trump adviser, Carter Page, recently denounced-- to a Moscow audience-- America’s “often-hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.” Earlier this week, Trump’s operatives watered down the Republican Party’s national-security platform position on Ukraine, removing a promise to help the Ukrainians receive lethal aid in their battle to remain free of Russian control.

Now, in an interview with Maggie Haberman and David Sanger of the New York Times, Trump has gone much further, suggesting that he and Putin share a disdain for NATO. Fulfilling what might be Putin’s dearest wish, Trump, in this interview, openly questioned whether the U.S., under his leadership, would keep its commitments to the alliance. According to Haberman and Sanger, Trump “even called into question, whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.” Trump told the Times that, should Russia attack a NATO ally, he would first assess whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.” If they have, he said, he would then come to their defense.

These sorts of equivocating, mercenary statements—unprecedented in the history of Republican foreign policymaking—represent an invitation to Putin to intervene more destructively in non-NATO countries such as Ukraine and Moldova, and also represent an invitation to intervene directly in NATO countries—the Baltic states, first and foremost. This is why the Estonian president tweeted in a cold panic immediately after Trump’s interview appeared online: “Estonia is 1 of 5 NATO allies in Europe to meet its 2% def[ense] expenditures commitment.” The president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, also noted that Estonia fought “with no caveats” with NATO in Afghanistan.

Unlike Trump, leaders of such countries as Estonia believe that the United States still represents the best hope for freedom. In his interview with Haberman and Sanger, Trump argued, in essence, that there is nothing exceptional about the U.S., and that therefore its leaders have no right to criticize the behavior of other countries: “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”

...Donald Trump, should he be elected president, would bring an end to the postwar international order, and liberate dictators, first and foremost his ally Vladimir Putin, to advance their own interests. The moral arc of the universe is long, and, if Trump is elected, it will bend in the direction of despotism and darkness.
I suspect this isn't going to hurt Trump with voters in Iowa or Montana. I'm eager to see what impact it has, though, on swing voters in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, even Georgia and Utah. It sure seemed to scare the shit out of Mike Pence and Tom Cotton (R-AR), who immediately tried to ameliorate Trump's assertions by claiming he'd understand better after he's briefed by the CIA. Wishful thinking? Lindsey Graham, who has no reason to blinker himself like that, said Trump's remarks were making Putin "a very happy man."

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At 3:51 PM, Blogger Bob In Portland said...

The Democratic Party is now the war party. The neoliberals have been preparing for new bloodbaths. Trump is so disreputable that you never know if he's lying, he knows what he's talking about, or whatever. But that doesn't mean that NATO isn't a malign entity in world politics.

The Russians have no use for the countries in Eastern Europe except as customers for their natural gas and as corridor separating Russia from the Germans and the US. The neoliberals' strategy is to cut off Russia and its gas from Europe. With the failed coup in Turkey that strategy may be about to fail.

At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(H)istoric Russian aggression towards Europe (wa)s based" on Germany attacking Russia in WWII and killing some 30 million people - most civilians.

John Puma

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always made queasy by these articles that exhibit blind, mindless Putin hate.

Gaius P., on this blog, and elsewhere (, have identified, if more eloquently than Herr Hair, the total fraud of NATO: a mechanism the US cynically and hypocritically uses to do much worse to Russia than anything Russia has managed to cause with its alleged "threatening activities," even IF true.

NATO is another trade deal that Herr Hair is at least consistent about non-condoning: NATO exists to wrest away Europe trade with Russia and direct it to the US --- starting with all manner of weapons of war.

Herr Hair ball is saying MUCH on foreign policy more to "the Bernie supporters" than the Generalisssima ever will.

And now Herr Hair is complaining about the ridiculously high cost of maintaining our military empire!

What's next, some "hair-brained" comment about how a policy of perpetual war costs too much simply to make refugees, more enemies and insure the wasting more money?

John Puma


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