I say this with all sincerity and no mockery, despite my #NeverTrump pedigree: Trump fans, you have my sympathy on these many, many, many reversals. It’s natural for politicians to evolve in office. It’s not so natural for them to evolve, especially on so many different policies, in 75 days.
A lefty friend joked to me that at the rate we’re going with this “evolution,” Trump’s going to end up performing abortions in the White House. Yeah, I said, and they’ll be covered by single-payer TrumpCare. Coming soon to Twitter hashtags: #UncuckTrump.
Pres. Trump says after he complained about how NATO could fight terrorism more “they made a change…it's no longer obsolete." pic.twitter.com/VaDyRyxPnn
— ABC News (@ABC) April 12, 2017
He’s reading straight off a script there but there’s no way the the “obsolete” line made it in without him knowing in advance. David Drucker translates: “I said America First. It’s no longer America First.”
What spurred this conspicuous reversal? Remember, his previous shots at NATO’s obsolescence weren’t distant offhand remarks from early in his candidacy. He repeated the charge a week before he was inaugurated in January, to a German paper no less. He frames his change of heart here as a reaction to NATO’s increased willingness to fight terrorism, but NATO’s been side by side with the U.S. in Afghanistan since day one. Perhaps … there are other factors?
President Trump: “We may be at an all-time low” in relationship with Russia https://t.co/llWkaKSsZY
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 12, 2017
Russia’s been talking tough since Trump’s attack on Assad, vowing to improve Syria’s air defenses, temporarily suspending “deconflicting” communications with the U.S., and just today vetoing a proposed UN investigation into the chemical attack in Idlib. So here’s Trump expressing some newfound warmth for Moscow’s nemesis. And it’s not just rhetorical. There’s some policy meat on the bone:
Mr. Trump on Tuesday signed the paperwork allowing Montenegro to enter NATO, two weeks after the Senate approved the move in a March 28 vote. Its admission, White House officials said in a statement, should signal to other nations aspiring to join the alliance that “the door to membership in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations remains open and that countries in the Western Balkans are free to choose their own future and select their own partners without outside interference or intimidation.”
But the official said Russia’s meddling in Montenegro and Ukraine, as well as its actions in Syria, would be a strong theme in Mr. Trump’s NATO discussions, most likely highlighting the president’s commitment to a mutual defense alliance that he questioned before taking office. During the meetings, the administration said, Mr. Trump and Mr. Stoltenberg will talk about the need for Russia to cease its interference in eastern Ukraine and support peace efforts there.
Hearing what Trump said today about NATO, Mindy Finn (a.k.a. Evan McMullin’s VP nominee) tweeted that the fact that Trump seems easily persuaded on policy is both good news and bad news. Right — if you’re a hawk who’s heartened by Trump abandoning his “NATO is obsolete” talk, keep in mind that all it would take to get him to return to it, in all likelihood, is an offer of a “great deal” from Putin. The Trump presidency may be a long series of reversals, retrenchments, and tangential contortions fueled not just by the pace of events but by whichever advisors around him are in ascendance at a given moment. (We are, very clearly, in a “Jared moment” right now.) NATO may yet end up as “obsolete” again in the White House’s eyes. But not today.