Trump wanted to pull the US out of NATO. He is more likely to try in a second term

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

Trump wanted to pull the US out of NATO. He is more likely to try in a second term

Doyle McManus

February 19, 2024

Former President Trump has not yet officially won the Republican presidential nomination. But he’s already focused on foreign policy, and Republicans in Congress are lining up.

At a campaign rally

this month

in South Carolina

this month


Feb. 10

Trump said he would encourage Russia to attack US allies


don’t spend enough on defense.

No, I wouldn’t protect you, the former president told European leaders. In fact, I would encourage it [Russia] to do whatever they want.

It was an extraordinary statement for a presidential candidate, and it drew rebukes from President Biden, who called it “shameful,” “un-American” and European leaders. German Chancellor Olaf S.


Holz said any suggestion that the United States would not defend its allies was “dangerous” and “only in Russia’s interest.”

But most Republicans in Congress excused it as just another example of Trump being Trump.

I’m not worried, said Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician, and we’ve already seen this. You’d think people would have figured it out by now.

That wasn’t Trump’s only foreign policy intervention this month. He also lobbied Republican senators to block a bill providing $60 billion in aid to Ukraine, saying future aid should be limited to loans rather than grants.

Most Republicans rolled over for that


at. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, once a staunch supporter of Ukraine, said Trump’s opposition convinced him to switch sides.

Trump’s positions were not entirely new, except for the innovation of encouraging Russia to attack American allies. During his four years as president, he regularly charged that Germany and other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization owed the United States billions of dollars for holding up their defense, as if they owed nonexistent “unpaid dues” or that the alliance had a protection racket. Ultimately, he focused on the more reasonable complaint that some NATO members were not meeting the alliance’s defense spending goals, but he still told aides that he wanted to pull the United States out of NATO entirely.

He repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and continues to do so; earlier this month he praised

Russian President Putin

like very smart, very sharp.” As of Sunday, Trump


remained silent on the death in an Arctic prison colony of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, except for a cryptic social media post suggesting he was being persecuted by Biden, just as Navalny was persecuted by Putin. And he has repeatedly expressed hostility toward Ukraine.

Here’s what’s different this time: During Trump’s first term, Republicans in Congress and his own foreign policy aides prevented him from acting on most of those impulses. If he wins a second term, those limiting forces will largely disappear.

The former president has said he plans to fill a second Trump administration with MAGA loyalists rather than establishment figures like Defense Secretary James.


Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was serving his first term.

When I went there [to the White House], I didn’t know many people; I had to rely on RINOs in some cases, Trump said last year, referring to Republicans in Name Only. But I know them all now. I know the good ones. I know the bad ones.

The conference will also be different. Since Trump was elected

the first time

In 2016, dozens of Republican incumbents in the House of Representatives and the Senate retired or lost their seats to pro-Trump candidates. Others will leave at the end of their current terms.



Mitt Romney of Utah, a frequent critic of Trump, will give up his seat at the end of the year. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has been derided by Trump, says he plans to stay in the Senate but will likely face a challenge for his leadership post.

Others, like Graham and Rubio, both of whom once criticized Trump, have lowered their sails to avoid a clash with him. Last year, Rubio co-authored a law that would prohibit a president from withdrawing the United States from NATO without congressional approval, but would not stop Trump from undermining the alliance by saying he would not want to terminate its members will defend.

The cumulative result is the unleashing of Trump and a major shift in Republican foreign policy. For


For years, from 1952 to 2012, the Republican Party was led by largely aggressive internationalists, from Dwight Eisenhower to Richard


Nixon to Ronald Reagan and Romney.

Trump’s foreign policy instincts represent a different strain of xenophobe, distrustful of alliances, unilateralist on some issues and isolationist on others, that has taken root among Republican voters.

Last year, a survey sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported that most Republicans want the United States to stay out of world affairs rather than be actively involved. That was a striking turnaround from previous decades. As recently as 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency, 70% of Republicans said they were in favor of an assertive US foreign policy. Last year that number had dropped to 47%.

In the same poll, only 40% of Republicans supported military aid to Ukraine, compared to 76% of Democrats. Not surprisingly, opposition was strongest among voters most attached to Trump.

Old-school internationalists in both parties warned that the consequences of a second, less controlled Trump term would be dire.

If Trump is re-elected, opponents will be emboldened and allies will be frightened, said Kori Schake of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who worked in the George W. Bush administration. The allies are likely to compromise with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea because they do not want to trust us.

We spend hundreds of billions of dollars [on defense] to establish the credibility of our extended deterrent, said Joseph S. Nye Jr., former dean of Harvard


Kennedy School who worked in the


Clinton administration. Trump creates doubts that undermine these investments.

Or take it from someone who worked alongside Trump during the first term: his

former initially

National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The damage he did in his first term was repairable, Bolton said recently. The damage in the second term would be irreparable.



Biden won the 2020 election, he sought to reassure US allies that the four-year Trump era was a temporary anomaly.

America is back

Biden hey


If Trump wins a second term, the message will be: No, it doesn’t.


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