We live in a time when picking sides in our bifurcated political narratives is more important than dealing with realities. There are times, however, when that ancient curse “a plague on both houses” seems more apt. That is the situation with the current dialogue regarding NATO that flowed out of an interview with President Trump conducted by FOX News’ Tucker Carlson.
Carlson posed a loaded and biased leading question to the President. I say biased, because it clearly suggested that Carlson is no fan of Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which, when triggered, requires all member nations to come to the aid, potentially meaning sending in soldiers, in support of any member nation attacked by an aggressive foreign power.
To understand that commitment, we first need to explain the previous paragraph in greater detail. The words “when triggered” was used to better understand that Article 5 is not an automatic commitment as too many pundits suggest. Depending on the situation, the members of NATO can decide that a certain action does not warrant an Article 5 reaction. For example, it is quite clear that Russia attacked Great Britain with the two poison attacks. Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election – and for years prior – has been frequently described as an “act of war,” and yet an Article 5 response was not even contemplated.
While the public debate is skewed by the false impression – too often intentional — that Article 5 is only about sending in troops. That is far from the case. It can mean many things, such as providing weaponry, fielding only military advisors, placing sanctions on the aggressor or sharing intelligence. In addition, the response of individual NATO nations can vary to some degree.
When Article 5 was drafted, the assumption was that an attack would be in the form of a traditional military action by a hostile nation. Espionage, even sabotage, was not an action that would trigger Article 5 as it was first conceived. The new aggression of cyber attacks was not even on the table for consideration. That, however, is something that now must be dealt with — and that dialogue is currently going on in every NATO capital.
Some have hypothecated on the question of Turkey getting into a conflict with Israel. As a NATO nation are we obligated to come to the aid of Turkey? Of course not, because Article 5 does not address a NATO nation being the attacker.
There are currently 29 NATO member nations, up from the original 12 founding nations in 1949. The largest expansion occurred after 1999, when an additional 13 nations joined NATO – including 10 that had been part of the Russian-controlled Warsaw Pact. You can understand Putin’s displeasure with an alliance that moved a lot closer to the border of Mother Russia and his longing to get them back.
To make his point in a ridicules fashion, Carlson used as his example an unlikely attack on NATO’s smallest and newest member, Montenegro. Montenegro is a unique situation since they are very much in the amorous eye of Putin. Before becoming a member of NATO, Montenegro defeated a Russian-sponsored attempted coup. Putin is still meddling in an effort to destabilize the tiny nation as a wedge into destabilizing NATO, itself.
Carlson asked Trump why his son, Carlson’s, should have to fight to protect Montenegro. He even went so far as to question protecting such east Europe nations as Estonia and Latvia. As Trump is want to do, he took the lead from Carlson and said he wondered the same thing himself. It was a biased question that led to a bad answer.
Apart from any other issues the United States has with the European Union collectively or individual European nations individually, NATO has been an unequivocal success. Maybe we pay too much of the fare – and that is a fair issue to discuss as Trump has – the central purpose of the alliance to maintain peace in Europe AND around the world has been fulfilled for 69 years.
NATO has not only kept the Russian Bear in its cave, it has prevented skirmishes between member nations for the most part – except for the Bosnian conflict. And even then, Article 5 was not relevant since it does not deal with intra-NATO aggression. To understand that the success of NATO in maintaining peace among the member nations, one needs to study history. For centuries, Europe has been in almost constant conflict between nations that now are harmonious.
Later, on his own FOX show, Carlson spent most of his airtime arguing against defending the smaller nations of NATO. Why should the United States risk blood and treasury be defending them? Of course, Carlson did not question why we should defend France, Germany or England against a Russian attack. That would be too obvious.
Contrary to Carlson’s opinion, the strength of an alliance is solidarity. It is in America’s interest to stop the bad actors on the international stage from successful aggression. We saw the horror of that as authoritarian communism spread in Asia and Europe – and even into the Western Hemisphere with Cuba. And we saw the benefits to America when President Reagan decided that containing communism was not enough. We had to push it back. NATO was a major … saying it again … a MAJOR factor in the fall of the Soviet Union. It was THE reason that Putin’s Russia could not re-invade the old Warsaw Pact nations. It should be noted that no NATO nation has ever been conquered or subverted by communism.
As with many things, Trump’s words and actions often appear disconnected. It is true that his recent language regarding NATO is unsettling. His should be a full-throated endorsement even as he grouses about the budget. He has stated his support for NATO and Article 5 even as he makes offhand statements that seem to weaken his commitment to the Alliance. In terms of policy, however, he has been totally supportive. He supported the admission of Montenegro. He wants more money in the NATO military budget. He wants Germany’s Angela Merkel to stop buying natural gas from Putin.
Now for the plague on the other house.
In response to Trump’s propensity for imprecise or conflicting statements, the #NeverTrump resistance movement has – as usual – gone off the rails. In fact, they may have even lost sight of the rails on Election Day 2016.
They have accused Trump of endangering U.S. security to the point of treason. Of course, they constantly resurrect the idea of impeachment – something the Democrats would pursue if they ever got control of the House.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy – the almost daily guest on MSNBC and CNN for obvious reasons – has claimed that Trump has made NATO “temporarily obsolete.” Not sure what that even means. Obsolescence is not usually temporary. The silliness of the term aside, Murphy’s contention that NATO is any less functional today than it was in the past is simply political bs. Nothing Trump has said – or even misstated – has in any way, shape or form diminished the power and purpose of NATO.
So, there you have it. On one side, you have Tucker Carlson wanting to diminish NATO and on the other side, you have Chris Murphy falsely claiming it has been diminished just to get at Trump. So, I say … a plague on both their houses.