When it comes to NATO, Trump has it half right
President Trump swept into Brussels this week like some rich, nutty uncle who had to be invited to the wedding, despite flaming all his relatives on the family Facebook page, because he’s paying for the caterer and the band. Even before the food came out, Trump again blasted America’s staunchest allies as a bunch of worthless sponges and accused Germany of being under Russian control. That’s quite a toast. How reviled is Trump in Europe? Put it this way: When you’re searching the crowd for someone to sit with and are super-relieved to see the Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan waving you over, you’ve got some work to do. Just because you’re boorish, though, doesn’t mean you’re completely wrong. Heckle me for saying so, but I happen to think Trump has a serious point when it comes to modernizing the decades-old arrangement between the United States and its European allies. And I’m willing to grant that sometimes diplomacy requires a less-than-diplomatic approach. The question is to what end. Because if you’re going to make the case that America is wasting too much money to defend foreign borders, then it seems to me you also ought to have a pretty good argument for how reversing that policy can help us here at home. To be clear, nobody sane should be talking about disbanding NATO. The threat of Russian expansionism, as ever, remains, and America’s interest in the security of Europe is vital still. But the balance of responsibility for that security could probably stand to be updated. For those of you too young to remember Boris Yeltsin standing on the tank (he was known to be a drinker, but this was a different kind of disorderly conduct), the mutual defense pact among free countries in Europe and North America goes back almost 70 years, to the dawn of the Cold War, when our European allies were still rising slowly from the dust of the Second World War. For several decades afterward, the United States bore the necessary burden, to use President Kennedy’s phrase, of defending Europe — and much of the world — from Soviet aggression.