Foreign Policy

Trump Downplays American Leadership, Won’t Say He’ll Defend NATO Allies

Written by SK Ashby

For the past seven and a half years Republicans have said President Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. They say America has withdrawn from the world. They say the president isn't interested in leading. Some have even said President Obama intentionally helps America's enemies.

None of that is true, of course, and it's easier to find a clip of President Obama talking about American exceptionalism and leadership than your average Republican.

The Republican nominee, however, doesn't believe in American leadership or America's obligations to our allies.

Donald Trump spoke to the New York Times outside the Republican convention where he downplayed America's moral leadership and refused to clearly state that he would defend NATO allies from Russian aggression.

“I don’t think we have a right to lecture,” Mr. Trump said in a wide-ranging interview in his suite in a downtown hotel here while keeping an eye on television broadcasts from the Republican National Convention. “Look at what is happening in our country,” he said. “How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?” [...]

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.”

I'm not going to defend the idea of "American exceptionalism" to the extent that Republicans generally define it as a unique moral righteousness that shields us from all criticism. It's possible to believe, as I do, that there are no perfect countries and while America has its flaws, the alternatives (Russia, China) are much worse.

But that's not the point here. The point is the Republican presidential nominee has denounced America's moral leadership in ways President Obama never has and never would.

If President Obama said the United States has no right to lecture Putin's Russia, he would be savaged by Republicans, the media, and even Democrats.

If President Obama threatened to abandon NATO countries who face Russian invasion, he could be impeached.

The party of Ronald Reagan has nominated a Russian fanboy who does not believe America has an indispensable responsibility to defend western Democracy.

To be absolutely clear, here's a transcript of the relevant portion of Trump's interview.

SANGER: I was just in the Baltic States. They are very concerned obviously about this new Russian activism, they are seeing submarines off their coasts, they are seeing airplanes they haven’t seen since the Cold War coming, bombers doing test runs. If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don’t think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?

TRUMP: I don’t want to tell you what I’d do because I don’t want Putin to know what I’d do. I have a serious chance of becoming president and I’m not like Obama, that every time they send some troops into Iraq or anyplace else, he has a news conference to announce it.

SANGER: They are NATO members, and we are treaty-obligated ——

TRUMP: We have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.

SANGER: That’s true, but we are treaty-obligated under NATO, forget the bills part.

TRUMP: You can’t forget the bills. 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.

SANGER: 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 ——

TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.

The rest of the interview is equally batty.