Trump is right on NATO, wrong on Putin

Reno Gazette Journal July 22, 2018

Last week the President came under harsh criticism from the media for asking our NATO allies to increase their defense spending. “Trump is gonna fly into NATO like a seagull and defecate all over everything” boomed Fox News’ Chris Stirewalt. “Trump alienates allies!” claimed an NBC headline. ABC was concerned about the President “Blowing up NATO”.

Let us start with the basics. NATO was signed into effect in 1949 between US, Canada and Western European countries with the primary goal to counter any aggression from the then Soviet Union. It allows all military personnel and equipment to be used if an enemy were to attack any one of the now 29 member countries. In 2006, all members of NATO agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on military. However, while the United States is currently spending 3.7% of the GDP, only 4 other countries have met the 2% target. In dollar terms, for 2016, U.S. spent $664 Billion, and the rest of NATO combined spent $238 Billion. Germany, which is so offended by the President’s remarks, spent a paltry $42 Billion while Canada spent $18 Billion.

To be sure, America is the most generous country in the history of this planet. Our generosity extends far beyond military spending. We spend more money in foreign aid than anyone else. We are the country that rebuilt Europe twice in the 20th century. Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance responds to an average of 65 disasters in more than 50 countries every year, providing life-saving assistance to tens of millions of people. Our private charitable contributions far exceed our foreign aid. Bill Gates is single-handedly trying to abolish malaria in Africa.

Our generosity, government and private, has limits. While we will continue to spend more than any other nation on defense, we cannot do this alone. Russia’s proximity makes it a much bigger existential threat to Europe than it is to our country and it is time our allies stepped it up and showed some initiative. Other NATO countries should spend at least 2% of their GDP. That is not an unreasonable request.

One final point: While I agree with the President on NATO, I strongly disagree with him on Putin. Putin may be a cheap thug, but he is no dummy. Putin has proven himself adept at leveraging guerilla tactics to sow political discord throughout the western world. American administrations have been fooled by Putin several times over the past twenty years.  President Bush was wrong when he claimed, “I looked the man (Putin) in the eye and saw his soul”. It was not until Putin attempted to invade Georgia that President Bush saw the error in his views. President Obama was wrong when he told Mitt Romney during the Presidential debate that Russia is not a threat and “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back”. Secretary Clinton was wrong when she walked around with the Reset button.

President Trump needs to be clear-eyed about Putin. Not only should we put in place strong defense mechanisms to ensure that Putin never meddles with our election, we should have electronic countermeasures ready to go at a moment’s notice to remind Putin not to mess with us.