Donald Trump’s statement that he wouldn’t necessarily come to the aid of a NATO ally attacked by Russia shows the Republican isn’t ready for the Oval Office, said its current occupant, President Barack Obama.
Obama said Sunday that Trump’s recent comments to the New York Times, wavering on the potential to help a NATO ally that he determines hasn’t spent enough on its own defense, violate “the central tenet” of an alliance that is “a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy.”
After the Obama interview with CBS News’s “Face the Nation” was taped, Trump challenged another institution regarded as central to the international order, saying he would consider pulling the U.S. out of the 163-member World Trade Organization, which governs rules for global trade.
Asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about WTO rules that would be violated by his threats to slap tariffs on U.S. companies that move operations overseas, Trump said he may leave the organization rather than back down.
“We’re going to renegotiate or we’re going to pull out,” Trump responded. “You know, the World Trade Organization is a disaster.”
Under the NATO treaty, allies pledge to treat an attack on any member as if they had themselves been attacked. The treaty originally had been a way of binding together the U.S. and Western Europe to deter aggression by the Soviet Union. More recently it expanded to include countries on the periphery of Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states, which are now unnerved by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Trump’s willingness to cast doubt on the U.S.’s “solemn commitment” while allies are anxious over Putin’s posture “is an indication of the lack of preparedness that he has been displaying when it comes to foreign policy,” Obama said in the CBS interview.
In the New York Times piece, published on July 20, Trump criticized NATO members who haven’t met a goal the alliance set to invest the 2 percent of gross domestic product in defense spending. He said the U.S. should only defend member states attacked by Russia, for example, if those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”
Some Republicans criticized Trump’s comments as well. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was a “rookie mistake” that proves Trump needs “people like us to help steer him in the right direction.” Trump told NBC that McConnell was “100 percent wrong. OK? He’s 100 percent wrong if he said that.”
Obama has stood by the U.S. commitment to the alliance while expressing frustration that most members don’t meet the goal. In an interview published earlier this year in The Atlantic magazine, Obama called such countries “free riders.”
NATO, in a report released this month, estimated that just five of the alliance’s 28 members — the U.S., Poland, the U.K., Greece and Estonia — would meet the 2 percent threshold in 2016.
Obama also said to CBS: “There is a big difference between challenging our European allies to keep up their defense spending, particularly at a time when Russia’s been more aggressive, and saying to them, ‘You know what? We might not abide by the central tenet of the most important alliance in the history of the world.”’
On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, where he will deliver a prime-time speech on July 27, Obama also urged voters to look for a candidate who embodies qualities such as discipline, knowledge of government and historical context, and genuine caring for the American people.
Without that grounding, he said, “you will be buffeted and — and blown back and forth” by polls, interest groups and conflicting advice, “and you will lose your center of gravity. You will lose your moral compass.”