An “Invitation To War”: Media Call Out Trump’s “Dangerous” NATO Comments

Media figures roundly criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s comments that the U.S. would assist NATO allies only if he determines they have “fulfilled their obligation to us,” slamming the remarks as “dangerous,” “deadly” and an “invitation to war.”  

Trump Tells NY Times His Support To NATO Countries Would Not Be Guaranteed

NY Times: “Donald Trump Sets Conditions For Defending NATO Allies Against Attack.” During a 45-minute interview with The New York Times, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump doubled down on his “hard-line nationalist approach,” stating that he wouldn’t immediately offer U.S. support to NATO allies if they were attacked. Citing the Baltic States as an example, Trump said he would defend the NATO countries from a Russian attack only after determining they had “fulfilled their obligation to us.” From the July 20 New York Times article:

Donald J. Trump, on the eve of accepting the Republican nomination for president, said Wednesday that if he were elected, he would not pressure Turkey or other authoritarian allies about conducting purges of their political adversaries or cracking down on civil liberties. The United States, he said, has to “fix our own mess” before trying to alter the behavior of other nations.


During a 45-minute conversation, he explicitly raised new questions about his commitment to automatically defend NATO allies if they are attacked, saying he would first look at their contributions to the alliance. Mr. Trump re-emphasized the hard-line nationalist approach that has marked his improbable candidacy, describing how he would force allies to shoulder defense costs that the United States has borne for decades, cancel longstanding treaties he views as unfavorable, and redefine what it means to be a partner of the United States.

He said the rest of the world would learn to adjust to his approach. “I would prefer to be able to continue” existing agreements, he said, but only if allies stopped taking advantage of what he called an era of American largess that was no longer affordable.


He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

He added, “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.” [The New York Times, 7/20/16]

Media Figures Criticize Trump’s “Deadly” NATO Remarks

NBC’s Mike Murphy: Trump’s “Fly By The Seat Of His Pants” NATO Proposal “Can Be Deadly.” In response to Trump’s comments, NBC’s Mike Murphy said the U.S. cannot “have a casual commitment to the NATO security alliance,” adding, “Eventually, Donald Trump’s going to have to say something serious. The whole fly by the seat of pants thing -- it’s showing up in policy now and that can be deadly.”From the July 21 edition of NBC’s Today:

MATT LAUER (CO-HOST): In an interview with The New York Times, when asked what he wants people to take away from this convention, Donald Trump said, and I'm quoting, “The fact that I'm very well liked.” Now, generally speaking, isn't it true that a candidate wants people to take away that “I have the vision, I have the policies to take this country forward for the next four or eight years”? What do you make of that comment?

NICOLLE WALLACE: Well, that was an extraordinary interview. And I'm sure we'll be talking about it more in the days to come. He also laid out some really outside the mainstream ideas on foreign policy. I'm told this morning that the candidate will not double down on any of those ideas tonight. Tonight will be about sort of the themes that got him here. But this idea of being liked is what animates his entire candidacy. That's why we heard the first 10 months of his campaign, he'd start by reading out all of the polls, our polls and others. So the problem with the analysis and the problem with that as a strategy is you need to leave being liked by more people than liked you when you got here. And I'm not sure yet if he accomplished that.

MIKE MURPHY: Yeah no, I agree with that. The “me, me, me” school of presidential campaigning has got to end or he's not going to get out of where he's at now. And this NATO thing is equally big. You can't have a casual commitment to the NATO security alliance. Eventually, Donald Trump's going to have to say something serious [inaudible]. The whole fly by the seat of pants thing - it’s showing up in policy now and that can be deadly. [NBC, Today, 7/21/16, via Media Matters]

CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “Does [Trump] Understand That NATO Is Europe?” CNN host Chris Cuomo questioned whether Trump understands that the NATO security alliance is made up of European countries, and if he understands the message his latest comments are sending. Guest Christine Quinn said Trump’s comments show a “fundamental misunderstanding about international affairs,” which is “dangerous” in a presidential candidate. From the July 21 edition of CNN’s New Day:

CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Corey, let me come to the man in the middle. Trump gives this interview, let’s put up this excerpt, from The New York Times, OK. Here’s what’s got the eyebrows up -- it is about if Russia attacks, right. That’s always been about the formation of what NATO was meant to do. And he says, if Russia were to attack them, meaning the NATO allies, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations have lived up to their commitment to us, to the United States, their obligations. He added, if they do, then the answer is yes. Does he understand that NATO is Europe? That it’s not just the Benelux countries [inaudible] and that you're sending a message that is, I don't know Europe, if it goes south, maybe we're there, maybe we're not. What is he doing?

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Once again, what Mr. Trump is doing is questioning the conventional wisdom of the way our country has operated over the last 30 years. And it's something that no one else has been willing to do. And he said this time and time again: Let's review every single policy that we have had in place for a long time, and if he's elected president of the United States and serves as the commander in chief of our services, before we make a decision and we commit our troops and we commit our resources, we're going to make sure that first and foremost the interest of the American people are put forth. And this is a very different mindset. What has happened for the last 30 years in Washington is we've lived and abided by these treaties that have been written many years ago that don't actually benefit the United States anymore and have blanketly said we're going to go and we’re going to support NATO or we’re going to go and do this or we’re going to go and do that. Those days are gone. Fundamental and wholesale change will come to Washington, D.C., when Donald Trump is elected president.


CHRISTINE QUINN: But NATO, and -- the United States' relationship with NATO -- is fundamental to keeping peace in the world. He may or may not be able to negotiate good business deals, but that's not the same thing as trying to keep the world as peaceful as it can be. He sent a message not long after he stood on that golf course and said this breakup, the Brexit vote was good for him because more people would come to his golf course and he would make money. Following that, he sent a message to Europe, we don't have your back anymore. What happens then if, God forbid, he is president and he calls some of the NATO countries and asks for help and they say, well, let's see how good you've been to us. It shows a fundamental lack of appreciation of the role of the United States as the leader of the world and a fundamental misunderstanding about international affairs and it is dangerous to have somebody running for president who has so little knowledge and who will flip and flop and contradict himself. [CNN, New Day, 7/21/16]

The Atlantic’s David Frum: Trump’s Ambiguous Comments About NATO Are “An Invitation To War.” The Atlantic’s David Frum slammed the ambiguity of Trump’s comments and stated that expressing any uncertainty about America’s treaties, as Trump had done, “is an invitation to war.” He continued to explain that at a time when “Russia is on the rampage,” Trump’s comments are even more “dangerous.” From the July 21 edition of CNN’s New Day:

ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): Of course, you're referring to the New York Times interview that Donald Trump sat down for yesterday. Once again, eclipsing some of his own convention, because there were so many headlines out of this, David, as you say, because he said that “I don't know if we're going to be able to support the allies at NATO. It depends on if they pay their dues. It depends how they feel about us.”

DAVID FRUM: He's counterprogramming his own convention and he’s counterprogramming it with derp.

CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Except that this is a big selling point for him, which is America is involved in all these treaties and things that may not put it first. That was the theme last night, putting America first again. Doesn't that play into it? He didn't say, “I won't stick with NATO.” It was, “it's got to work for us.”

FRUM: He just created ambiguity. History-minded viewers will remember that Dean Acheson, who was secretary of state in the 1950s, gave a speech creating some ambiguity about whether the United States would defend Korea. And that triggered the aggressive Soviet Union, the aggressive North Koreans, to think, “Hmm, maybe we can get away with this.” It is an invitation to war, to open any uncertainty about the validity of America's treaties. If the next president, let's hope it's not Donald Trump, but if any president ever has some question about whether NATO has outlived its usefulness, you do that from -- first you renegotiate NATO, then you express the doubt. I hope that would never happen, but the idea you express the doubt first at a time when Russia is on the rampage, that is so dangerous. And it is right for Ted Cruz -- he didn't know that at the time he spoke, but he knew enough else to say, you know, this man cannot be conscientiously supported. [CNN, New Day, 7/21/16]

The Federalist’s Mary Katharine Ham: Trump Isn’t Someone “Who Has Thought Through These Foreign Policy Issues.” The Federalist’s Mary Katharine Ham criticized Trump for reaching conclusions about NATO without actually thinking through the issue, stating, “He’s not a man who has thought through these foreign policy issues and come to these conclusions.” Ham added that Trump has to “have something to back it up,” and that “it does not feel like” he does. From the July 21 edition of CNN’s New Day:

MARY KATHARINE HAM: He's not a man who has thought through these foreign policy issues and come to these conclusions, which I would have some more respect for. That is not what's going on. Obama had a bit of this, he was like I'm just going to be the man I am, and it’s going to change the world. Well that's not how it works, as we’ve seen over the last eight years. Donald Trump thinks he looks strong in his suit and that will change the world. People don't just listen to that. You actually have to have something to back it up, and you have to have thought through those issues, and it does not feel like he has. [CNN, New Day, 7/21/16]

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour:Trump’s “Frightening” NATO Position Makes America “Less Safe.” CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said Trump went “into the isolationist mode” with his comments about NATO, and added that “to say we're not coming to our allies' defense unless they pay us the money ...retrenches America into a less safe America.” From the July 21 edition of CNN’s New Day:

ALISYN CAMEROTA (CO-HOST): Christiane, the Trump Doctrine, as he outlined in this New York Times speech, seems to be there are conditions, now, he would put for NATO and for whether or not the U.S. is going to defend the NATO allies. Basically, whether or not they pay up and carry their fair share.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, basically in that 45-minute interview, he upturned decades and generations of American, particularly Republican, foreign policy. He went into the isolationist mode, he talked about trade protection, things that people like -- he says his mentors are Henry Kissinger and James Baker -- have said mustn't happen. But the most, most frightening thing was what he said about NATO. And he used the NATO alliance almost as a transactional business alliance, saying, "If you don't pay up, you x number of NATO members, then we're not going to come to your support. So that is a complete break with American policy, because NATO is an American-led alliance, a security alliance, the transatlantic security alliance, that was never about a marriage of equals. America is the biggest, most powerful economy and military in the world. And to think that the Baltics, or even Czechoslovakia or whatever, could pay up that kind of money for protection is simply, never was in the cards. Why does America want NATO to exist? Because, since World War II, it has stopped a war in Europe. Why does America want those alliances in Asia, Japan, Korea? To stop any further war on that continent. So this is in America's interest, in the world's interest, and it's not about a business deal.


AMANPOUR: If I might be so bold, Nigel Farage is espousing a certain policy that Donald Trump agrees with as well, which is that it's -- I do believe that you believe that there are spheres of interests, that Russia should have its way in its “traditional sphere of interest,” and that certainly Donald Trump views leaders like President Putin, even President Erdogan in Turkey, as strong and doing their thing, and we should not interfere in what they do, right? So it's this sort of authoritarian, autocratic bent towards letting other countries do what they think is best in their interest, and America should stay out of it while America, quote-unquote, “cleans up its own house.” America is the leader of the free world. The leader of the free world, which wants to bring democracy, which wants to aid freedom, obviously, which wants to aid morality and values, all the kinds of things that we've grown up with and we believe are the right way. America first cannot be America first, if America is absent. And that, I think, is the takeaway from this.


AMANPOUR: Let's pick that apart. NATO is a defensive and, if necessary -- an attack on one is an attack on all.

CHRIS CUOMO (CO-HOST): Article 51.

AMANPOUR: Article 5 of NATO. So NATO was created, and let's be very clear, because this is important for American foreign policy going forward, that this is the American-led security guarantee for all of Europe. And anything that messes with that and treats that as a purely dollars and cents transactional deal, which it was never envisaged as, and you're right, some countries have started to come forth with paying up the 2 percent of their GDP, but to break up NATO is -- and to say we're not coming to our allies' defense unless they pay us the money is a complete break. And it retrenches America into a less safe America. So America is going to retrench, what, behind fortress Atlantic and watch the rest of the world go to hell? It's not possible for American security. [CNN, New Day, 7/21/16]

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: “Given Trump’s Views On NATO … His Election Would Trigger An Immediate Global Crisis.”

[Twitter, 7/21/16]

Vox’s Zach Beauchamp: Trump’s NATO Comments “Literally Make World War III More Likely.”

[Twitter, 7/21/16]

Council On Foreign Relation’s Max Boot: “Entire Trump GOP Lining Up To Sell Out NATO Allies. Disgraceful!!”

[Twitter, 7/21/16