Editorials

NATO summit: Trump trashes our allies, and Republicans offer a peep of protest

Donald Trump at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday.
Donald Trump at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. Associated Press

The U.S. Senate passed an important foreign policy measure this week, except for the fact that you probably didn't hear about it.

The motion, passed late Tuesday, expressed the Senate's support for NATO and called on U.S. negotiators to reaffirm our country's commitment to it. It came as Donald Trump was leaving for Brussels to meet with world leaders at the NATO summit. Trump has been trashing NATO in tweets — much the same as he's savaged many of our allies. Senators are clearly worried about this president's middle-schooler approach to world issues.

How worried? The motion passed 97-2.

Yet afterward, senators were quiet about what they'd just done. They didn't hold news conferences urging the president to be presidential in Brussels. They didn't find their way onto news shows to warn Trump of the consequences of threatening relationships with key allies.

Instead, the 97-2 Senate vote was little more than a peep — a parent meekly pleading with the troublemaking teenager to make good choices as he strutted out the door.

Already, Trump is not making good choices. On the summit's first day, he has launched a blistering attack on Germany — a favorite target — for buying natural gas from Russia. He unloaded on NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg for not spending enough on defense.

The latter is one of Trump's favorite complaints — that our allies are not spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense, as NATO leaders have agreed to do. U.S. presidents have long been critical of allies not pulling their weight on defense spending, but Trump is taking those complaints to new — and inaccurate — levels. He suggests wrongly that countries falling short on defense spending and funding NATO's budget need to reimburse the U.S., which is not how NATO funding works. He also neglects to mention that NATO countries have improved on defense spending — and that they have until 2024 to reach their 2 percent goal.

All of which has prompted worries that Trump might pull the U.S. out of NATO, which would serve virtually no one's interests. One country, however, would be very pleased: Russia, which would benefit from fractured alliances between NATO countries. U.S. lawmakers know this, which is why they not only have pleaded with Trump on NATO, but fretted about steep tariffs he has levied on key allies and China.

But Republicans in Congress need to do more than offer a meek protest for political cover. They need to speak up loudly about the benefits of NATO, including the advancement of democratic governance worldwide along with a stronger international economy. They need to remind Trump and Americans of NATO's original and still important purpose — presenting a united front that deters aggression from adversaries, including Moscow, on our allies.

More importantly, Republicans need to publicly question why Trump doesn't value that purpose, and why he so readily trashes other countries but not the one nation that meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It's become a familiar choice for lawmakers with this president. Will they risk political peril and speak up for our nation's interests? Will they choose our country over their next race? We hope so. Donald Trump is upending the international order. A peep is not enough.

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