Donald Trump’s recent threat that he would allow Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” with NATO countries if he’s elected president undermined a key argument Republicans have made for his re-election.
During a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump told a rambling story in which he said he was inclined to give Russia carte blanche to attack NATO allies if they fail to “pay [their] bills.”
President Joe Biden denounced the remarks on Sunday. “Donald Trump’s admission that he intends to give [Russian President Vladimir] Putin a green light for more war and violence, to continue his brutal assault against a free Ukraine, and to expand his aggression to the people of Poland and the Baltic states are appalling and dangerous,” Biden said.
“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said. “I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election the U.S. will remain a strong and committed NATO ally,” he said.
As Trump was threatening to throw NATO allies to the wolves, I couldn’t help but think: Whatever happened to the so-called “peace president”?
Since Trump was voted out in 2020, he and his allies have staked out a reputation as a “peace president” on the basis of his claim of having started “no new wars” as president. In reality, of course, Trump continued and escalated multiple foreign fights involving the U.S.
Giving Russia free rein to do “whatever the hell they want” to other countries obviously isn’t “anti-war.” It’s permissive of war and encouraging of conflict.
And despite not currently being president, Trump may have done damage as it is. As former Trump foreign policy adviser Fiona Hill told Politico in December, the mere perception among U.S. allies that the U.S. may not defend them could be enough to spur these countries to arm themselves more heavily, including, potentially, with nuclear weapons.
As an example, Hill described what would happen if the U.S. is viewed as unreliable, using the potential abandonment of Ukraine as an example:
[I]n terms of nuclear weapons, we could face proliferation issues with Japan, South Korea, other countries — even NATO countries who currently see themselves covered under the U.S. nuclear umbrella. They will start to worry about how much we would actually support them when they needed it, and how vulnerable they are to pressure or attack by another nuclear power. Think about the dynamics between India and Pakistan, for example, or China and India, or China and South Korea and Japan; and the predicament of leaders in other countries who will be thinking right now that, “I’m going to be extremely vulnerable — so perhaps I should be getting my own nuclear weapon.” You’re hearing talk about this in Germany, for example. You hear it all the time in places like Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, we know that they have nuclear aspirations. So this opens up a whole set of different discussions.
Trump isn’t an anti-war president; “anti-war” presidents invest in preventing conflict. Trump, on the other hand, is a chaos agent. His threat to NATO allies isn’t a method of avoiding conflict, it’s a way for him to use conflict — or the threat of it — for his personal or political benefit.