Still, when the New Republic asked me to imagine what Trump’s foreign policy would look like if he were elected to another term in 2024, it was not hard to write:
“If Trump wins in 2024, I would expect him to pursue his foreign policy vision indefinitely. This will include US withdrawals from NATO and security agreements with Japan and South Korea to begin with.” – @dandreznerhttps://t.co/DfdeMVue1o
– The New Republic (@newrepublic) April 19, 2022
This recording seemed to get under the skin of author Michael Tracey, who tweeted a thread out In response. His main claim: “We now have four years of evidence that Trump had no inherent problem with NATO. On the contrary, he took the credit for ‘strengthening’ NATO, increasing its funding and supporting two rounds of NATO enlargement. This is just the the same old BS paranoia warming that is already rising again. “
He concluded: “Based on (some) of his rhetoric during the 2016 campaign, it was reasonable to suspect that Trump could pose a serious challenge to” globalist “institutions like NATO. But if you still hold on to that imagination in 2022 – whether you is pro or anti-Trump – are you just self-deceived. “
It’s possible that Tracey is engaging in an extensive prank with these tweets, but let’s assume he was sincere. His argument, as it is, rests on an extremely naive view of how policy-making works.
Here’s what I told the new republic in its entirety:
It took Trump almost all of his four years to figure out how some of the government’s levers worked. By the end, however, he had begun to realize the strength of staff movements and executive action, especially in foreign policy. So if Trump wins in 2024, I would expect him to pursue his foreign policy vision in an unlimited way. This will include the US withdrawal from NATO and security agreements with Japan and South Korea to begin with. Withdrawal from the World Trade Organization would also happen. There would also be a wholesale purge of officials in national security bureaucracies – essentially what happened in the State Department under Pompeo, but on steroids. Trump’s political appointments – by taking over the GOP’s control of the Senate and continuing the GOP’s submission to Trump – would make his subordinate first – time nominee look like a team of George Kennans in contrast.
I put forward an argument in two steps: first, that as disorganized as Trump was in his first term, towards the end, he was willing to fire those on his national security team who disagreed with him. In fact, Trump’s lame duck period consisted mostly of engaging in wholesale staff transfers at the Pentagon in a last-ditch effort to withdraw U.S. forces from Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere before his term expired.
Trump may be an immature, impulsive leader with a short attention span, but even he can move down a learning curve. It is safe to assume that he would only nominate people as friendly as Kash Patel or Ric Grenell for another term.
Second, if Trump had greater success in appointing only the most loyal toads to his national security team in 2025, what would he do? Pretty much what I said in that section.
It is not difficult to find evidence for this claim from Trump’s own associates and subordinates. In early 2019, Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper reported: “Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times during 2018, Mr. Trump said privately that he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” They elaborated that “in the days leading up to a tumultuous NATO summit last summer, Mr Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point in the military alliance he presented as a drain on the United States.”
In their book “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year”, my Washington Post colleagues Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker wrote: “Trump had privately indicated that he would seek to withdraw from NATO and blow it up. US alliance in the air with South Korea if he wins re-election. ” When his defense secretary warned him not to do these things before the 2020 election, Trump replied, “Yes, the second term. We will do it in the second term.”
And just last month, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told The Post: “In another Trump term, I think he may well have withdrawn from NATO. And I think [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was waiting for that. “
No wonder President Biden in his first joint address to Congress said: “In my conversations with world leaders – and I’ve talked to over 38, 40 of them now – I’ve made it known – I’ve made it known that America And do you know what they say? The comment I hear most from them is that they say, ‘We see America is back, but for how long? But for how long?’ ”
So yes, I think Trump would try to do the things he said he would do in 2016, kept trying to do while he was president, and was eager to try to do if he was selected for another period.
Tracey’s response to all of this on Twitter was: “so you admit that nothing Trump did at the political level during his four years in office indicated a desire to abolish NATO?” Uh no. Or to put it in a language that Tracey might understand: Just because Trump did not stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone does not mean he did not try.
Tracey is right in noting that Trump now claims to have saved NATO, even though that claim rests on dubious factual reasons. One can hope that NATO’s renewed popularity in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would force Trump to abandon that attempt. But I would prefer not to give a killer attempt – not even an incompetent one – another chance to kill his intended target.