Trump repeatedly said in private he wanted US to leave NATO

  15 January 2019    Read: 1503
  Trump repeatedly said in private he wanted US to leave NATO

President Trump on multiple occasions last year talked in private about his desire to withdraw the U.S. from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to a new report.

Senior administration officials told the New York Times that they were initially unsure if Trump was sincere when he first tossed out the suggestion in 2017. But since then Trump brought up the idea repeatedly to his national security advisers, including around the time of the NATO summit last July when he was questioning the usefulness of the alliance.

At the time the president was frustrated with European allies he said needed to step up their defense spending. He stirred controversy when he suggested he could "probably" withdraw the U.S. without congressional approval, but ultimately said it was "unnecessary" after allies agreed to contribute more.

Still, the report of Trump broaching a withdrawal on a number of occasions has struck a nerve among national security officials worried that such a move would doom the alliance and please Russia, particularly in the aftermath of two bombshell reports from the New York Times and the Washington Post. The first reported the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 and the latter reported the president sought to keep details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin a secret.

Michele Flournoy, an undersecretary of defense during the Obama administration, said pulling out from the alliance “would be one of the most damaging things that any president could do to U.S. interests.”

“It would destroy 70-plus years of painstaking work across multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic, to create perhaps the most powerful and advantageous alliance in history,” Flournoy told the Times. “And it would be the wildest success that Vladimir Putin could dream of.”

Asked to comment on the report, a White House official cited Trump’s statements from July 2018 where he said the U.S.’ dedication to NATO is “very strong” but otherwise refused to provide further comment to the Times.

In the event that Trump did try to pull the U.S. out of NATO, the decision would face bipartisan opposition in Congress.

“It’s alarming that the president continues to falsely assert that NATO does not contribute to the overall safety of the United States or the international community,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., told the Times. “The Senate knows better and stands ready to defend NATO.”

Last year, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said any move by Trump to withdraw from the NATO alliance would spark unified opposition from Congress that would be historically unprecedented.

“There would be nothing more unifying that any president whether it’s Trump or pick one of the 20 people planning on running in 2020, if they were to actually seriously withdraw from NATO. I think it would create a unifying event unlike anything you’ve seen in U.S. history in terms of actions that we can take,” Tillis, a leading member of the Senate’s NATO Observer Group and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said at a Washington think tank.


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