I need to mark this date on the calendar. I’m grateful to Max Boot, the same Max Boot whose foreign policy opinions generally drive me down the short road to distraction. However, credit where it is due — he paid attention to a portion of Trump’s rambling campaign speech in Pensacola which offers more illumination on this administration’s dubious foreign policy. The ‘almost missed point’ comes about 20 minutes into the ramblings:
“Donald Trump’s performance at NATO was unacceptable.” Ya know why they said that? I told the people of NATO while they were standing right behind me, they’ve been delinquent. They haven’t been paying, I said ya gotta pay! And now they’ve taken in, because of that, and I guess I implied, if you don’t pay we’re outta there, and took more heat from the press. They said Donald Trump was rude to our allies. Well they’re rude to us when they don’t pay! Right? They’re rude to us. So, we’ll have a nation that doesn’t pay then their nation gets frisky with whoever. Russia? So we have a nation doesn’t pay, the nation gets aggressive, we end up in World War III for someone who doesn’t even pay. “
The context is generally, and rather loosely, a rant about “global bureaucrats,” the US foreign policy establishment, and how members of the audience should perceive Trump’s performance as a triumph of ordinary people against the Great Machine, as the Ordinary Man is exemplified by one Donald J. Trump.
“The reason for using Wikileaks was ‘plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted with full support from TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterize the subject.”
So, we have the President in Pensacola, offering up a stump style recitation of his presidential accomplishments, bragging that he has directly criticized NATO leadership and questioned their contributions to mutual defense, while rationalizing American reluctance to assist Baltic and Eastern European nations (read: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) if they “get frisky.” With whom? The President answered his own question: Russia.
Now, why would the Baltic countries be getting “frisky” with the Russian Bear? Step back to May 2015 and the earlier Latgale Proclamation. Latgale is the easternmost region of Latvia, with a large Russian minority. Officials in that nation took acute notice when in late January 2015 a website appeared boasting of the creation of the People’s Republic of Latgale. The Los Angeles Times reported:
“Until the furtive creators of the website declared independence on behalf of the country’s Russian-speaking eastern enclave, authorities here had dismissed the threat of aggression by Moscow as all but unthinkable, thanks to the collective security shield wielded by a member of NATO. But that first online hint of pro-Russia insurrection spurred an investigation that has identified the perpetrators, Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said. He declined to name the suspects or say whether anyone has been arrested, disclosing only that “a criminal process has been started.”
And the connection between Ukraine and Latvia was readily apparent to Latvian officials:
“The Latgale proclamation, which journalists and others with intelligence connections say has been traced to provocateurs in Russia, continues to unsettle Latvians and their neighbors in Lithuania and Estonia for its similarity to acts of rebellion in Ukraine a year ago that have escalated into vicious warfare and more than 6,000 deaths.”
It was NOT the Latvians who were getting “frisky,” it was Russia promoting dissident elements in the Baltic nations, perhaps seeking to replicate their actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Further, the Estonians and Lithuanians were alarmed when Russia sent 2,500 troops to the Estonian and Lithuanian borders in July 2017.
“Concern about a possible war in the Baltics is high, with majorities in Lithuania and Latvia naming armed conflict as a prime concern and all three fearing the likelihood of war more than that of extremist attacks, according to various polls. Russia has formally denied it would ever attack a member of NATO, which all three nations of the Baltics are.
But the promises of Moscow diplomats have done little to assuage worries in the former Soviet Union states, largely because of Russia’s interpretation of events in Ukraine. Russia initially insisted its troops were not participants in the Crimean annexation and continues to deny that it has a military presence in eastern Ukraine.” [Newsweek]
Again, the example of Russia action in Ukraine, is cited as a reason for Baltic insecurity NOT as an element of Baltic aggression against the Russians. Or, “friski-ness” as the President might characterize it. Nor is there anything subtle about Russian intentions in Europe:
“Putin has made clear his national security goals. He wants a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space; a new security architecture in Europe and Eurasia; and a weakened and divided NATO and EU, so that he can expand Russian influence into Europe.” [Newsweek 7/16]
It appears that in addition to assisting Putin “cauterize” the open wounds in Ukraine, and continuing to deflect discussions regarding NATO operations into debates about who owes what to whom, the President continues to hold up his end of his bargain with the devil in the Kremlin.