Commentary: President Trump, NATO, and ‘Swamp Talk’

Donald Trump in South Carolina
by Bart Marcois


The hysteria in response to President Trump’s comment about NATO offers a great insight into Swamp Talk™. It’s how swamp creatures use their media dominance to gaslight Americans into voting for Democrats in spite of always disastrous results. They frighten voters into opposing candidates like President Trump, who want to make America stronger, safer, more prosperous, and free.

How do they make Swamp Talk™? As syndicated talk show host Chris Plante likes to say, they take what you say, turn it into something you didn’t say, and then condemn you for saying something you never said. Watch how it works.

What He Said

At a rally on South Carolina, Trump told an anecdote — probably more illustrative than actual — about NATO from his first term as president. Here is the text of his statement. While boasting about his negotiation skills, he recounted a conversation with the “president of a big country.”

“Well, sir, if we don’t pay [our NATO defense obligations] and we’re attacked by Russia — will you protect us?” Trump quoted the unnamed leader as saying.

“I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said: ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ I told him, “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them (Russia) to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay!” Trump said.

What He Didn’t Say

That’s what President Trump said. Now look at how it has been reported. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, the media, Liz Cheney, and the GOP establishment all report that he said “he would encourage Russia to invade any NATO country that doesn’t pay its bills.” The White House immediately condemned Trump as a dangerous Russian asset, and the leaders of NATO countries scrambled to update contingency plans.

But that isn’t what Trump said, and it wasn’t the point of his story. Trump was illustrating his priorities in international affairs. He was showing that he puts America first. He has asked from the beginning why American taxpayers are subsidizing socialist economies in Europe by paying for their defense. He was offended that many NATO countries wouldn’t meet even the low threshold they set for themselves 20 years ago.

What’s NATO About, Anyway?

The most important part of the NATO charter is Article V, which commits every NATO member to consider an attack on any member as an attack on all members. Article V has been the linchpin of global stability since 1949. It was what kept the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe all during the Cold War — and kept them from picking off free countries one at a time. It was also the great equalizer among European states. The joke among diplomats was that it was designed to “keep Russia out, America in, and Germany down.”

During the Cold War, when there was a constant, imminent threat of a Soviet invasion, all NATO members were serious about their defense spending. After President Reagan defeated the Soviet Union and Russia was left bankrupt, European nations spent more on social programs and less on defense. It was the ‘peace dividend.’

Commitment: 2 Percent of GDP

To counter that decline, NATO countries in 2006 imposed on themselves a commitment to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. They have renewed that commitment repeatedly as part of burden sharing for mutual defense. Two percent was seen as a minimum level. It was easy, and it was fair. Even the smallest nations could do it. In fact, ‘military spending’ was defined so loosely as to include catering, uniforms, pensions for retired military and defense civilian personnel, and other soft costs.

But despite adopting that commitment, most NATO members have ignored it. When Trump became president, only three NATO members met the commitment. The U.S. exceeded it, spending over 4 percent of a GDP that was many multiples of any other. Most NATO members didn’t even spend one percent. And some of the larger members were among the worst offenders.

Strengthening NATO By Putting America First

One of Trump’s first priorities as president was to change that. He was determined to force them to meet their commitment. That was the whole point of his story. He was telling a large NATO member that they had to meet their spending commitment and that their inattention to their own defense was weakening NATO.

The best part about it is that it worked. Nearly every NATO member increased their spending during the Trump presidency. He was boasting that he strengthened NATO by putting America first. But you would never know that from listening to Swamp Talk™. Because they take what you say, change it to something you didn’t say, and then condemn you for something you never said.

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Bart Marcois (@bmarcois on X) is a former career U.S. diplomat, and was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Affairs. He is a frequent commentator on diplomatic and national security affairs.
Photo “Donald Trump in South Carolina” by Dan Scavino.



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