President Trump on Wednesday sharply reversed his 2016 campaign stance on NATO. “I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete,” Trump declared, after a meeting at the White House with the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
Trump had criticized NATO members for failing to spend enough on their defense, and for what he wrongly said was the North Atlantic alliance’s failure to join the fight against terrorism. “I complained about that a long time ago,” Trump said, “and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.”
I’m a little different than most folks with my political slant in that I believe the US completely removing itself from foreign affairs is untenable, in our current context, if we are to move to free and open markets. NATO, of all the international organizations we belong to, is the least corrupt and the least in need of reform.
When President Washington warned of engaging in alliances, the world was in a very different place. Free and open trade was still learning to walk and democracy was a novelty. While we should heed Washington’s warning and be cautious, to simply withdraw from or make an about face on long-standing alliances abruptly, hurts more than it helps – the world does not play by Washington’s rules. While I agree with most libertarians on the ideal, in practice within the current context it would be a disaster.
Let’s take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as an example. The TPP was loved by very few folks on both sides of the aisle – despite President Obama’s persistence in trying to make it work, his own party had reservations. President Trump withdrew from the TPP within his first month of office despite projections that demonstrated it would actually help at least two of the industries he vowed to “protect” (construction, car manufacturing). By pulling out of the TPP, the US not only reversed 40 years of progress in exposing the world to capitalism and democracy, it also created a vacuum that China is more than willing to fill. If not us, then who? That’s the question we really ought to ask before forcing through a more perfect world.
My hope, of course, is that we get to the world where alliances and trade agreements are no longer necessary, but the world we live in right now requires bridges and ladders to the one we want to achieve. If we simply neglect the world, then what we want possible, even for our own country, becomes unattainable.
To that end, I’m encouraged by President Trump’s reversal – I hope to see more of them.