Anti-Trump Hysteria on NATO
Donald Trump’s formal nomination as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate appears to have induced mass hysteria among neoconservative Republicans and their liberal-interventionist allies in the Democratic Party. Some, like Robert Kagan and Max Boot, publicly declared their intent to vote for Hillary Clinton were the GOP to select Trump—something it has now done. Others, like Jamie Kirchick, have called for a military coup to oust him if the American people elect him president. Most recently, Jeffrey Goldberg has declared Trump to be a “de facto agent” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. As is often the case, writing like Goldberg’s says more about the author than the target of his or her attacks.
Indeed, attentive readers may already know enough about Goldberg; in 2009, Glenn Greenwald detailed his “rank guilt by association technique” after Goldberg wrote that “the Buchananites have even recruited Jews to do their Israel-bashing for them” to condemn a Greenwald article in the American Conservative. Goldberg is attempting the same strategy with Trump, arguing that “Trump’s understanding of America’s role in the world aligns with Russia’s geostrategic interests” and that Trump’s victory would thus somehow advance Putin’s aims. This is both pathetic and offensive.
It is pathetic because Goldberg’s argument makes no sense. Trump has called for a strong U.S. military and for greater defense spending by NATO allies who are not meeting the alliance’s two-percent guideline. The combination of those two things would be worse for Russia, not better—NATO could more effectively deter Moscow. Likewise, since when has Washington been an international opposite-land, where U.S. officials determine key policies by selecting the reverse of whatever we think Russia might want? Should we avoid attacking ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra because it might help Moscow? Or perhaps we should withdraw from all bilateral U.S.-Russian agreements because Russia gets something out of them? Maybe Goldberg would rather try to drive oil prices down to $10 or $15 per barrel—the Kremlin surely wouldn’t like that—and wreck America’s unconventional oil producers in the process? For someone who is trying to attack Trump as reckless on foreign policy, Goldberg is stunningly incoherent.
Goldberg is offensive because his return to guilt by association goes well beyond McCarthyism. After all, when Senator Joe McCarthy launched his anti-Communist witch-hunt in the 1950s, there were at least a few actual Communists trying to undermine the United States. Does Goldberg really think that Trump or his campaign manager Paul Manafort—who worked for an elected president of Ukraine who attempted to bring Ukraine into an association agreement with the European Union, not for Putin or the Russian government—are Russian agents? His cute use of “de facto” may keep lawyers at bay but should not shield Goldberg from the public opprobrium he deserves.
Moreover, McCarthy’s extremism came in the context of a real Cold War threat from the Soviet Union, which was occupying a large part of Europe and attempting to subvert the rest with socialist and Communist parties loyal to Moscow. Communism was on the march in Asia too, where the new Communist China was supporting North Korea in a war against the United States and its allies. Moscow’s sympathy for some right-wing European nationalists today is hardly the same—their loyalties are to their own nations, not anyone else. That’s the whole point of nationalism, after all. If Goldberg thinks that today’s Russia poses threats anywhere near comparable to those of the McCarthy-era USSR, he needs a history lesson and probably an economics lesson as well, since America’s economy today is eight times Russia’s. The EU’s economy is eight times Russia’s too, and even a post-Brexit EU economy would be many times larger than Russia’s economy. For that matter, an independent Britain’s economy is bigger as well.
The core of Goldberg’s complaint—that Trump “openly questioned whether the U.S., under his leadership, would keep its commitments to the [NATO] alliance”—also happens to be blatantly false. Examining the transcript of Trump’s widely cited but apparently narrowly read comments makes clear that the GOP nominee did no such thing. This is the full passage:
SANGER: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations ——
TRUMP: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.
HABERMAN: And if not?
TRUMP: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.