Lead image via the White House Flickr Account
“I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government… I said… not knowing much about NATO — now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete.” ~ Donald Trump, April 23, 2017
Donald Trump didn’t run on foreign policy. Well, he did, but only in the sense that he built crowds of his supporters into ecstatic rages through the sacred — to Republicans — invocation of fear of anything foreign and aversion to any sort of policy that couldn’t be shouted in three word bursts: Built That Wall, Lock Her Up, etc. For a while, his lack of foreign policy was interpreted even by the mainstream press as being just another bulldog manifestation of his “America First” ideology. But soon enough, Trump found himself the frontrunner, and no topic was avoidable for long.
It should surprise no one that this is where the bizarre claims began, with NATO having to seek clarification immediately after the election regarding campaign statements Trump had made along the lines that the U.S. shouldn’t defend NATO members against Russian aggression unless they “pay up.” This outrageous claim can, and should, be looked at in a different light now that Trump is engaged in the constant denial of ties to Russian corruption.
Before long, Trump was making his now-famous claim to Wolf Blitzer that NATO was obsolete. He even took credit for progress at the organization and blasted them for not giving him his due after they made a move he found to be tough on terrorism. As president, Trump’s maligning of the organization continued when, after a visit to the White House by German chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump tweeted that NATO members weren’t pulling their weight. Trump apparently did eventually have NATO’s purpose explained to him, because by February his bitching and moaning had at least softened: “We strongly support NATO, we only ask that all NATO members make their full and proper financial contribution to the NATO alliance, which many of them have not been doing.”
During his visit to Riyadh this past week, Trump proposed an “Arab NATO” as a peacekeeping force to make sure the likes of ISIS and other terrorist groups do not take power in the region. “We all have the same enemy and we all want the same thing,” a White House official told The Washington Post. “What this trip hopefully will do is just change the environment.” So if NATO is such a deeply flawed organization and one that causes Donald Trump so much angst, why would he want to create a mirror organization in the Middle East, doubling down our ties to the corrupt Saudi monarchy, and further alienating Iranians and other Shia muslims in a region where sectarianism is already a deadly menace?
In reality, the plan would be an alliance of US-friendly, Sunni-dominated states subjugating Shia minorities at home and instigating yet more animosity from Iran. As Rashid Khalidi put it in an op-ed for The Guardian: “Such a plan is music to the ears of the absolute Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, to the arms producers who will sell them hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weapon systems… and to Israel, which would like nothing more than to distract them and the rest of the world from its atrocities in Palestine by playing on their fears of Iran.” In other words, by creating the “Arab NATO,” the US would essentially be throwing our lot into one of the oldest sectarian fights in the world, but for what?
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One look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s ever-expanding Hate Map illustrates we’ve got more than enough of that at home to merit sitting out an alliance-building expedition in yet another war for oil. An Arab NATO funded by Saudi money and otherwise sponsored by the US would inspire more contempt for America and possibly even spark more ISIS-style activity. As a candidate, Trump consistently belittled NATO and made it clear that he barely understands how it works. Not only should his proposal for creating a new one in the Middle East raise eyebrows and underscore his inclination towards hypocritical bullshit, it should strike Americans and our allies as a classic case of being pissed on and told it’s drizzling outside.