By Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, USA, ret
Breaking with decades of tradition, President Trump rashly dressed down NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. Standing next to Putin in Helsinki, Trump ill advisedly takes the word of the Russian leader over his own intelligence chief. Contravening existing protocol in Washington, Trump now threatens to revoke security clearances of former Obama White House officials. While the president’s unconventional and injudicious acts are often negative, in some cases the status-quo needs to be broken for the good of the country.
Defense of the status quo, however, seems to be a full-time job for many in Washington’s foreign policy circles. Writing on CNN.com, Massachusetts Professor Susan Dunn warned that Trump’s actions in Brussels and Helsinki undermined “the stability of long-standing alliances and allowing dictatorships to thrive unchallenged in around the world.”
While I am in full agreement that Trump’s public behavior and statements at the two events were at times unprofessional and reckless, it doesn’t take much examination of his policies to realize that those who make such charges against Trump miss the bigger picture.
Since the end of the Cold War, our NATO allies have all dramatically reduced their defense spending, choosing instead to rely on American military power for their protection. Even after Russia annexed Crimea and assisted rebels in eastern Ukraine in 2014, major states like Italy spend just over 1 percent of their GDP on defense, while the continent’s economic powerhouse Germany limps in with 1.2 percent. If maintaining “long standing alliances” means allowing our partners to continue basing their security on American money and troops, then we have to reconsider whether such maintenance is in our national interests.
The idea that Trump is allowing dictatorships to “thrive unchallenged,” is also absurd on the surface. The president met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for the purpose of reducing the threat of nuclear attack against the United States and preventing war in the region.
To do that, he spent the first year in office making strong—and sometimes threatening—statements to Kim and ordering military demonstrations on and around the peninsula. Trump led by imposing punishing sanctions on North Korea, including deftly getting both China and Russia to vote in support at the UN Security Council.
Regarding alleged coddling of Putin, in just the past year, Trump has removed scores of Russian diplomats, launched military strikes into Syria against Putin’s wishes, and provided lethal arms to Ukraine—all of which were questionable in their utility to American interests, but definitely viewed with antagonism in Moscow. Moreover, he has increased sanctions against Russian oligarchs, and upon his return from Helsinki, directed U.S. Marines to conduct military training exercises in Romania and Bulgaria along the border of the Black Sea, further angering the Kremlin.
Today’s world is vastly different than that of the post-WWII or post-Cold War eras, yet our policies and military posture have remained largely unchanged. Trump is right in re-examining long held assumptions regarding what is best for our country. In terms of actions he’s taken thus far, the president remains—appropriately—focused on policies that will benefit America.
Dunn quoted George Washington’s Farewell Address in which he warned against the “insidious wiles of foreign influence” in American politics. Certainly, that is an accurate and fair warning, but Dunn might have done well to read the remainder of that document, in which Washington warned against an even greater potential threat.
“It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” Washington wrote. “Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.”
Alliances that don’t adjust when the conditions that led to their creation change dramatically do not serve American interests. We should hope that Trump does not hesitate to reform the status quo, especially when it’s working against our best interests.
Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.
This piece was originally published by The Daily Caller on July 25, 2018. Read more HERE.