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Martin Dyckman: Donald Trump, Valdamir Putin and NATO – willful ignorance, or dangerous isolationism?

in 2017/Top Headlines by

“Vlad, Vlad, is that you?”


“Donald here. We need to deal. I make great deals. I’ll send you a copy of my book, The Art of the Stea … uh, I mean, Deal.”

“I’m sure you do, Donald. What do you want?”

“Vlad, I need you to help me beat Hillary Clinton.”

“I might be able to do that Donald, but what’s in it for us?”

“When I’m president, you can have those little loser countries next door… What do you call them?”

“Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania.”

“OK. They mean nothing to me. Like I said, they’re losers. But what can you do for me?”

“Remember your man Nixon and Watergate? What did they call it? A third-rate burglary? Well, we did better than that. Our guys are first-rate. We have all the secrets from your Democratic National Committee. They won’t look good when they leak, if you know what I mean.”

“Good to do business with you, Vlad. Let’s plan on getting together sometime. I have great golf resorts.”

“I don’t golf. I swim.”

“That too, Vlad. We stock our pools with hot women. And you can bring any friend you like.”

“Even Bashar Assad?”

“Yeah, Vlad. I might need some tips from him on how to stay in power.”

Now, of course, this conversation may not have happened. But it could have. As Donald Trump would say, how do we know that it didn’t?

What we do know is that Russian fingerprints are all over the leaked emails that convulsed the Democratic Party on the eve of its convention, forcing the resignation of Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

And it is a fact that this closely followed Trump’s threat — or was it a promise? — to destroy NATO by abrogating our treaty commitments to defend any and all of its members against any — read Russian — attack.

It wasn’t the first time he has questioned NATO’s value, so his Republican apologists shouldn’t be surprised that he has now made his disdain so explicit.

NATO is one of the two reasons, the European Union being the other, why there has been no major European war since 1945. That’s without precedent in that continent’s history. Peaceful durations were often measured in months rather than years.

It was under NATO’s aegis that the United States and its allies succeeded in ending Serbia’s aggression against Bosnia. It is only NATO that presents any effective obstacle to the transparent neocolonial ambitions of Russia’s new Stalin, Vladimir Putin.

There has been nothing as rash as Trump’s undermining of NATO since the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin gave Hitler everything he wanted at the Munich conference and declared that he had purchased “peace in our time.”

That turned out to be a very short time. Hitler invaded Poland, precipitating World War II and the loss of 60-million lives, merely 11 months later.

It’s not hard to imagine the terror that Trump’s words have struck into the Baltic lands that had struggled for centuries to escape Russian rule, losing their liberty in 1940 and regaining it only a half-century later, with the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

My wife and I paid a brief, enjoyable visit to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, during a Baltic cruise in May. It seemed to be a very pleasant country, inhabited by hospitable people. But as our tour guide made plain to us, everyone senses that the Russian hegemony is not yet dead.

There are only 1.2-million Estonians, which would be to the Russian bear as a field mouse is to a grizzly. Ethnic Russians comprise 24.8 percent of the population and nearly 30 percent speak Russian as their first language. Estonians with relatives in Russia have the option of holding Russian passports, as our guide said his wife does.

It was the presence of sizable ethnic German minorities in Czechoslovakia and Poland that Hitler claimed as pretexts for his aggression. It’s the same rationalization that Putin applies to his poorly disguised war-making in Ukraine.

Trump’s couched his irresponsibility in the form of a threat to base our national honor—the fulfillment of a treaty commitment—on his opinion on whether member countries are paying enough for their own defense.

Estonia’s president replied promptly, saying that his country has been spending what NATO requires and also sent troops to the war in Afghanistan.

“Estonia’s commitment to our NATO obligations is beyond doubt, and so should be the commitments by others,” his spokesman said.

“Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States,” said NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg.

Mitch McConnell, who is plainly uncomfortable with his new role as a Trump stooge, was quick to repudiate him on this issue.

“NATO is the most important military alliance in world history. I want to reassure our NATO allies that if any of them get attacked, we’ll be there to defend them,” said the Senate majority leader.

But that’s an assurance he would be powerless to keep if a president chose to ignore it. It’s the president, not the Congress, who has the power and duty to act in such an event.

In speaking as he did to The New York Times last week, Trump either forgot or chose to ignore two telephone interviews with the newspaper’s reports barely four months earlier. Asked whether he would defend Estonia in particular against Russian aggression, here is what he said:

“Yeah, I would. It’s a treaty, it’s there. I mean, we defend everybody. (Laughs.) We defend everybody. No matter who it is, we defend everybody. We’re defending the world. But we owe, soon, it’s soon to be $21 trillion. You know, it’s 19 now but it’s soon to be 21 trillion. But we defend everybody. When in doubt, come to the United States. We’ll defend you.”

Is this episode yet another example of Trump’s colossal and willful ignorance? Does it mean that at heart he’s a throwback to the American isolationism of the 1930s that encouraged Axis aggression? Or does it owe not to any ideology, however ill-informed, but only to his instinct for saying what he thinks his kind of voter wants to hear?

No matter. Any of those explanations proves that he is, as The Washington Post declared last week, uniquely unqualified for the presidency.

And uniquely undeserving.


Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the newspaper now known as the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in suburban Asheville, North Carolina.

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