Trump somehow still doesn’t understand NATO

Just a week after rattling NATO countriesin Europe, President Donald Trump once again put America’s commitment to the alliance in doubt on Tuesday night.

In an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Trump equivocated on whether the US would come to a NATO ally’s defense if attacked, called the people from Montenegro “very aggressive,” and worried aloud that protecting Montenegro might unleash a third world war.

There were two key parts of the exchange. Here’s the first:

CARLSON: NATO was created chiefly to prevent the Russians from invading Western Europe. I don’t think you believe Western Europe’s at risk of being invaded by Russia right now, so what is the purpose of NATO right now?

TRUMP: Well, that was the purpose, and it’s okay. It’s fine, but they have to pay.

And here’s the second:

CARLSON: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member who has been attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?

TRUMP: I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yeah, I’m not against it — or Albania.

TRUMP: No, by the way, they have very strong people — they have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. Now I understand that — but that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago. But I took over the conversation three or four days ago and said, “You have to pay.”

Carlson’s questions were entirely fair ones to ask (more on that in a minute). But Trump’s responses were deeply disturbing. Here’s why.

Trump didn’t steadfastly commit to NATO’s collective defense — again

At the heart of the NATO military alliance is a provision known as Article 5. That says that an attack on one NATO country is to be considered an attack on all the countries — and therefore that all the member countries are obligated to come to the defense of whoever is attacked.

This is why NATO allies — yes, including Montenegro — are fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan to this day. The US invoked Article 5 after 9/11, and NATO countries kept their promise and came to America’s aid.

And, to use Tucker Carlson’s example, if a country were to attack Montenegro — which became a NATO ally in June 2017under Trump’s watch — the US would be treaty-bound to defend it.

But Trump made it pretty clear that he’s not wild about that fact, and only begrudgingly said he’d go along with it as long as they pay their fair share of defense spending — an issue he brought up over and over again at the NATO summit in Brussels last week.

This isn’t the first time Trump has done this, either. In May 2017, he refused to commit the US to Article 5 during a meeting with NATO allies. But two weeks later, he reversed course, saying in impromptu remarks that the US would abide by the provision.

Trump did seem to endorse NATO as a whole during Carlson’s interview when he said the alliance’s original purpose is still “okay.” Still, Trump’s outward skepticism about NATO worries many.

“His rhetoric has unsettled allies, empowered Russia, and undermined Alliance solidarity,” Amanda Sloat, a European security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told me.

Trump still doesn’t get how NATO works

Trump said that if Montenegro got aggressive with another country, presumably Russia, then World War III would break out because the US would be obligated to defend it, thus dragging the US into a major war with Russia.

What Trump misses is that the US doesn’t have to defend Montenegro if that country starts a fight, only if it’s attacked. NATO is a defensive treaty. If you start an unprovoked war, that’s your decision, and no one in NATO has to help you at all.

So even if Montenegrins were, as Trump said, “very aggressive people” — whatever the hell that means — the US wouldn’t have to lift a finger to help them.

The fact that Trump doesn’t seem to understand that is beyond disturbing. If this were his first day in office, maybe it would be understandable. But it’s not. Trump has been in office for a year and a half. He’s met with NATO allies as a group not once but twice — including spending two days straight talking to them just a week ago.

There is no reason why he shouldn’t have that down pat at this point.

Carlson’s line of questioning was totally fair. It’s Trump’s responses that are the problem.

Debates about NATO’s usefulness have raged for decades, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, as have concerns about NATO’s expansion over the years to include more and more countries. (Here’s a really smart Twitter thread on that if you’re interested.)

It’s certainly reasonable to ask the sitting US president to explain why America’s sons and daughters should be obligated to fight to protect Montenegro, or why the US should risk a potential nuclear war with Russia to defend Estonia.

It’s Trump’s responses to this question that are concerning here. Instead of laying out the case for NATO being in America’s national security interest (and there is a case to be made on that), Trump makes it clear that he doesn’t actually get why the hell NATO matters at all.

If you’re a NATO ally wondering whether the US president will have your back if shit goes down, that’s not the most reassuring thing to hear.

[Vox]

Trump on Whether He’ll Ask Putin to Extradite Indicted Russians: ‘I Might, I Hadn’t Thought of That’

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor and previewed his big summit with Vladimir Putin.

And given the indictments handed down Friday against 12 Russian officers for hacking the Clinton campaign and the DNC, there have been many calls for Trump to call off the summit. Senator John McCain said it shouldn’t happen if Trump’s “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.”

Trump told Glor he believes in meetings, saying having meetings with Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Xi Jinping are good.

Of the Putin summit in particular, the President said, “Nothing bad’s going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out. But I go in with low expectations, I’m not going in with high expectations. I don’t really––I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can tell you what I’ll be asking for and we’ll see if something comes of it.”

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump Kicks Off NATO Summit With Breakfast Rant: ‘Germany Is A Captive Of Russia’

President Donald Trump on Wednesday kicked off what is shaping up to be a contentious NATO summit by lashing out at Germany, saying the country is “captive to Russia” because of a gas pipeline deal.

In a bilateral breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in front of reporters, Trump immediately launched into a tirade about the pipeline.

“It’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” he said.

“If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia, because they supply ― they got rid of their coal plants, got rid of their nuclear, they’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia,” he added. “I think it’s something NATO has to look at.”

“Germany is totally controlled by Russia, cause they are getting 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” he said.

Trump’s comments referred to Berlin’s support for the construction of the $12 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline to bring gas across the Baltic Sea into the European continent. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the project is merely commercial, but the U.S. and other European Union members believe the pipeline could be a geopolitical incursion by Russia.

Stoltenberg responded by emphasizing NATO’s unity.

“NATO is an an alliance of 29 nations and sometimes there are differences and different views and also some disagreements, and the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is one issue where allies disagree,” said Stoltenberg.

Trump is in Brussels for the NATO summit on Wednesday and Thursday, then will spend Friday and the weekend on a working visit to the UK, then will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

There are concerns that Trump will alienate NATO members ― traditional allies of the U.S. ― while cozying up to Putin.

Ahead of the NATO summit, Trump sent letters to allies Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium blasting them for not spending enough on defense ― an oft-repeated criticism of the alliance. Meanwhile, he told reporters on Tuesday that his meeting with Putin “may be the easiest of them all.”

Trump’s continued downplaying of Russian election interference has also deviated from broader international attitudes.

“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!,” he tweeted last month before tearing into the FBI and its former director James Comey. The U.S. intelligence community, backed by a Republican-led Senate panel, has definitively concluded that Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump win.

Trump also called Putin “fine” in a fiery speech last week in which he also attacked European allies.

Back in the U.S., the Senate on Tuesday voted 97-2 on a motion of support for NATO.

“Unfortunately, this motion has become necessary because some of our closest allies have come to question the US commitment to collective self-defense. President Trump has at times called the alliance ‘obsolete.’ Our allies are starting to wonder whether they can rely on the United States to come to their defense in a crisis,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who authored the nonbinding motion.

[Huffington Post]

Media

Dutch Prime Minister Tells Trump “No!” and That He Is Wrong on Trade

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has dispensed with diplomatic niceties during a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The routine White House discussion with reporters took a slightly passive-aggressive turn as Trump extolled the virtues of his plan to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into the U.S. from the European Union.

Trump said he would discuss the dispute with EU officials before saying: “If we do work it out, that’ll be positive, and if we don’t, it’ll be positive also because…” before Rutte interjected by saying “No!”

“Well, just think about those cars that pour in here, and we’ll do something, right?” Trump replied.

But Rutte was not having it and said through gritted teeth: “It’s not positive,” adding, “We have to work something out.”

Trump then moved to shake the prime minister’s hand and the awkward interaction was over.

It showed the level of discontent among European leaders at Trump’s trade move,which he is threatening to apply to cars.The EU has threatened to retaliate  with tariffs worth $294 billion on a number of U.S. exports.

In a paper released this week, the European Commission said Trump’s tariffs would be “self-defeating and would weaken the U.S. economy.

“The European Union would therefore caution the United States against pursuing a process which could result in yet another disregard of international law, which would damage further the reputation of the United States and which the international community cannot and will not accept,” the EU report said.

There is domestic concern, too, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticizing how Trump handled global disputes. It said that the tariffs he wants to impose could hurt the American economy. Trump is also threatening to impose tariffs on vehicles.

[Newsweek]

Trump threatens Harley-Davidson: If it moves operations overseas, ‘they will be taxed like never before!’

President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday that Harley-Davidsonwill be “taxed like never before” if the motorcycle maker moves production overseas. He claimed that the iconic U.S. company was using increased trade tensions as an excuse to justify planned changes in manufacturing.

“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” Trump said in a tweet.

Harley said Monday it was moving some production overseas due to increased costs from the EU’s retaliatory tariffs against the Trump administration’s duties on steel and aluminum. No production will be moving to Europe as a result of the tariffs, according to the company. Harley’s overseas manufacturing plants are in Brazil, India, Australia and Thailand.

[CNBC]

Trump loses temper over border wall funding

President Donald Trump is getting frustrated with his administration’s own demands for border wall funding.

In a private meeting regarding the wall Monday, Trump fumed to senators and his own staff about the $1.6 billion the Senate is planning to send him this fall, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Trump wants the full $25 billion upfront and doesn’t understand why Congress is going to supply him funds in a piecemeal fashion — even though that’s how the spending process typically works.

“He’s focused on border security. And like all presidents, he wants it done now. But we’re part of the legislative process. It’s slower and deliberate,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who met with Trump.

The president said at the meeting that if Congress doesn’t give him the resources he needs for border security, he will shut down the government in September, according to one of the people familiar with the meeting. He did not give a specific number, but has been fixated on getting the $25 billion in a lump sum.

In fact, the $1.6 billion figure came from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who attended the meeting. Mulvaney submitted the request to Congress earlier this year, though the administration has since upped its ask to $2.2 billion.

Senate Democrats offered to provide $25 billion in border wall funding earlier this year in return for giving 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. But Trump and most Republicans rebuffed that proposal to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Democrats are unlikely to provide $25 billion for Trump’s wall absent a much broader immigration deal.

Trump’s renewed focus on the border wall comes amid rising pressure to end his administration’s policy of separating families that cross the border illegally. The “zero tolerance” policy shift has been roundly criticized by lawmakers in both parties, but Trump has blamed Congress for inaction on immigration.

“Now is the best opportunity ever for Congress to change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration. Get it done, always keeping in mind that we must have strong border security,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.

GOP lawmakers are loath to see a government shutdown on their watch just weeks before the midterm elections.

“It’s probably an overwhelming belief in the House and the Senate, especially the Senate, that government shutdowns aren’t good for anybody,” Shelby said.

The Appropriations Committee began working to pass its Homeland Security bill on Tuesday. Democrats seem unlikely to change course and agree to add more border security money for the president.

“We’ve got the bill and we’re moving forward and I think we’re going to get good bipartisan support for it. I think it’s a good bill that will keep our borders safe,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Homeland Security appropriations committee.

On Monday, GOP Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Shelby both tried to explain to Trump that the Senate is merely meeting Mulvaney’s request and has to cut a bipartisan deal with Democrats. The Senate needs 60 votes to pass a spending bill, so Republicans would have to find at least nine Democratic votes.

“We’re going to make a down payment on that working together,” said Capito, chairwoman of Homeland Security spending panel.

But Trump has not been mollified. He raised his voice several times in Monday’s meeting with Mulvaney, White House staffers and the senators, insisting he needs the full $25 billion — an unlikely outcome in the narrowly divided Senate.

Shelby said he views $1.6 billion as a floor in negotiations, which could increase if Democrats want to do some horse-trading.

[Politico]

Trump imposes steel, aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies and Europe retaliates

President Trump followed through on a threat to impose steep metal tariffs on U.S. allies Thursday, a long-awaited decision that analysts said moved the country closer to a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that Canada, Mexico and the European Union would be subject to a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum beginning at midnight on Thursday. Brazil, Argentina and Australia agreed to limit steel exports to the U.S. to avoid tariffs, he said.

“The president’s overwhelming objective is to reduce our trade deficit,” Ross said.

The decision was the latest by the Trump administration to project a more protectionist stance amid ongoing trade negotiations with China and other countries. But it drew a sharp rebuke and promises of retaliation from longstanding allies.

“These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday. “These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States.”

European trade officials have previously threatened to respond to Trump’s move with  duties on U.S.-made motorcycles, orange juice and bourbon, among other things. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, reiterated that position Thursday, saying Europe would impose duties on “a number of imports from the U.S.”

“This is protectionism, pure and simple,” he said.

The Mexican economic ministry said it would move to place tariffs on U.S.-made pork, flat steel, apples, cheese and other products.

Trump announced the tariff and aluminum tariffs in early March but offered temporary exemptions to the European Union, Canada, Mexico and a number of other allies. He extended those exemptions in late April, noting at the time it would be the “final” delay unless the countries agreed to other concessions.

“We are awaiting their reaction,” Ross said of the other countries. “We continue to remain quite willing, indeed eager, to continue discussions.”

The move promoted criticism from a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially those with large agricultural industries.

“This is dumb,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Europe, Canada and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents.”

The decision comes days after the Trump administration announced $50 billion of new tariffs on Chinese imports, after officials had earlier said it was “putting the trade war on hold” with Beijing. Ross is set to travel to China this weekend to continue trade talks.

The Trump administration has relied on a 1962 law that allows countries to impose trade restrictions for national security purposes. The president has also justified the tariffs by pointing out “shuttered plants and mills” and the decades-long slide of manufacturing.

Several analysts said they are concerned the approach will have the opposite effect.

“The initial blows in the trade wars have finally landed,” said Eswar S. Prasad, former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division and a professor at Cornell University. “It is now clear that Trump’s threats about trade sanctions are more than just bluster and are to be taken seriously.”

Prasad said the hard line approach might net Trump some short-term wins, but said “it could eventually result in the U.S. playing a diminished” role in global trade.

“He doesn’t have a strategy that’s going to lead to making American manufacturing great again,” said Robert Scott, a trade expert at the Economic Policy Institute. “There will continue to be a series of tit-for-tat battles.”

The U.S. imported 34.6 million metric tons of steel last year, a 15% increase from 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Canada was the top source of U.S. imported steel, accounting for 77%, according to the International Trade Administration. Mexican steel accounts for about 9% of U.S. imports.

The majority of that metal is used in construction, auto manufacturing and appliances.

The tariffs, as well as export controls agreed to by Brazil and others, will raise the price of steel and aluminum in the U.S., making domestic producers more competitive while adding to the price buyers of the metals must pay.

“We think that’s going to put the industry in real peril,” said Jerry Howard, president of the National Association of Home Builders. “We were very excited by the tax bill, but it turns out the tax bill giveth, and tariffs taketh away.”

Ann Wilson with the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association said its members are already paying tariffs on many of the components they import to make auto parts. Imposing additional barriers on the metals used to make those parts, she said, amounts to a “double tariff.”

“There is little doubt that the uncertainty and added costs the administration is creating will put U.S. investments and jobs at risk,” Wilson said.

Steel trade with Canada and Mexico is covered under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the president is relying on a provision of U.S. law that allows him to claim the imports represent a threat to national security.

Many observers believe the announcement Thursday is the latest effort to prod stalled negotiations over rewriting NAFTA, which Trump repeatedly promised to do during his campaign for president.

“This really is an attempt to strengthen the negotiating power of the U.S. when it comes to renegotiating NAFTA,” said Ned Hill, who teaches economic development at Ohio State University. “This is just very public, bare-knuckle negotiating.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Trump promised he would go after countries who “cheated” in trade, but we do not have a major trade imbalance with our friends and allies.

Trump wants a total ban on German luxury car imports

US President Donald Trump wants to escalate his trade war to include a total ban on German luxury cars, says a report in WirtschaftsWoche. According to the German publication, which says its report results from talking to several unnamed US and European diplomats, during French President Macron’s recent visit to Washington Trump told him that he would “maintain his trade policy until no Mercedes models rolled on Fifth Avenue in New York.”

This news follows news last week that Trump had already asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to launch an investigation into the national security threat posed by imported cars, trucks, and auto parts, as well as wanting to add 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles. WirtschaftsWoche‘s article points out that just prior to his inauguration in 2017, Trump railed against the Mercedes-Benz vehicles he saw in New York.

When you walk down Fifth Avenue, everyone has a Mercedes-Benz in front of their house.” But that’s not reciprocity. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not too many, maybe none at all, you do not see anything over there, it’s a one-way street,” said the real estate billionaire. Although he is for free trade, but not at any price: “I love free trade, but it must be a smart trade, so I call him fair.

The US market is extremely important for luxury German automakers, and a ban on importing new vehicles would be devastating for brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. But even if Trump gets his wish, an import ban is highly unlikely to have the effect he’s looking for. Both BMW and Mercedes-Benz maintain large manufacturing presences here in the US, in part because any vehicles they build and sell here are exempt from existing import tariffs.

BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, employs over 10,000 workers and produced more than 371,000 cars in 2017. The Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, builds a similar number of vehicles, and just last year parent company Daimler invested $1.3 billion expanding the facility. Daimler also has a new factory in Charleston, South Carolina building Sprinter vans.

Daimler declined to comment on the proposed ban, but a spokesperson pointed out that the company supports more than 150,000 jobs here, and 22.8 percent of Daimler’s shareholders are from the US. Audi and BMW had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

[Ars Techina]

OPEC ‘At It Again,’ Trump Says

In another tweet, Trump complained about the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, saying the cartel was “at it again.” OPEC has teamed up with Russia and other major oil CLK8-0.04%  producers to restrain output, something that has pushed crude back up to late 2014 levels.

“No good and will not be accepted!” Trump complained. But while he’s hardly the first politician to take aim at OPEC, there’s little that can be done about its actions, as MarketWatch reports.

Read: Why Trump is tweeting about OPEC — and what he can do about oil prices.

[MarketWatch]

Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

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