Harold Hutchison / Sep. 7, 2018

Trump's Moves on NATO, NAFTA Were Needed

The anonymous op-ed author complains about Trump's policies, but it was time for a change.

The anonymous New York Times op-ed from a “senior administration official” has generated a lot of heat, but it does seem overblown. Among that author’s complaints is how President Donald Trump is dealing with NATO and NAFTA. So what’s the real scoop behind Trump’s purportedly “dangerous” threat to pull out of the alliance and the trade agreement?

Let’s start by acknowledging that we have these powerful trade chips only because this president is willing to question how the status quo benefits America. As for NATO, its purpose was to deter aggression from the Warsaw Pact (really the Soviet Union and a collection of puppet states). Since the fall of the USSR, the alliance’s defenses have badly dwindled. This order of battle (it’s a Word document) shows just how numerically superior the NATO military was in 1989.

Today, the forces NATO can send are fewer in numbers, and there are significant problems with readiness. Then there’s the factor of Russia having geopolitical kompromat on some of our NATO allies. No wonder Trump has been delivering some tough messages to Canada and Germany for their lack of readiness. How bad is it? Germany’s “green” jet fuel grounded its fleet of Tornado attack jets, and Canada needed to borrow a replenishment oiler from Chile.

This type of nonsense is what President Trump is dealing with. The previous strategy of nicely asking allies to address the growing decline of NATO simply failed. Even our closest allies, like the United Kingdom, were dropping capabilities left and right. It was time to hit them with a figurative two-by-four.

The same applied to NAFTA. Mexico and Canada had been ripping off American workers in some areas, notably in the production of automobiles. Trump used the threat of an American pullout to get Mexico to come to the table to renegotiate NAFTA. Now, he’s using hardball to get Canada to rethink its barriers for dairy products, among other things.

This isn’t to say that playing hardball is coming without figurative casualties. On the contrary — standing up for oneself often involves short-term pain, whether the opponent is a schoolyard bully or a trading partner.

Those who think Trump is reckless should take a look at how Ronald Reagan handled arms control. He was willing to go for the complete elimination of a class of nuclear weapons, but when the Soviets wouldn’t negotiate in good faith, he improved our nation’s nuclear arsenal. Eventually, the Soviets caved and negotiated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (which they are now cheating on) and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Back then, there was a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that Reagan would start a global thermonuclear war. Much of it was from Democrats and what was then the establishment Republicans. Thirty years from now, it’s a good bet that Donald Trump, like Reagan before him, will have proven his critics wrong.

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