First, the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes to block a plank of the Republican platform calling for providing weapons to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian rebels. And then Trump gave an interview to The New York Times in which he suggested that he would not automatically defend NATO allies under attack, leaving Eastern Europe, particularly the Baltic states, open to Russian incursions.
In the interview with the Times, Trump adopted criticisms of the United States frequently voiced by China, Russia, and North Korea. Trump told the Times we have to “fix our own mess” before attending to others. “I don’t think we have a right to lecture,” he said. “Look at what is happening in our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?”
Trump has routinely praised dictators throughout his career, from Putin to Saddam Hussein to Muammar Gaddafi, throughout the campaign, and in the Times interview he suggested that the United States was not even in a position to even criticize abuses of human rights. Asked about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s post-coup crackdown, Trump said, “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.”
There was, if you haven’t caught it already, an argument for America’s unexceptionalism in Trump’s comments. (Let’s just say Barack Obama would have gotten hell from the GOP if he even came close to Trump’s position.) But, for the United States’s allies and much of its foreign policy establishment, Trump’s comments about NATO were the most troubling. Per the Times:
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.”
Trump has repeatedly argued that NATO is a bad deal for America, but he has never been quite this specific before. It’s possible that Trump, the supposed master negotiator, is simply trying to extort the small countries of Eastern Europe and reduce America’s financial commitment to NATO. But Trump has made no secret of his admiration for Putin, which suggests that his NATO position is about more than just money: Trump believes the world is better off if in the hands of despots, strongmen, and dictators.