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At NATO, Trump Should Declare MAGA Doctrine of Self Defense

At the forthcoming NATO summit, President Donald Trump should tell the other 28 other members what Congressman John Randolph of Virginia told Greek proponents of American military assistance during their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire: “Let us say to those seven millions of Greeks, ‘We defended ourselves, when we were but three millions against a Power, in comparison to which the Turk is a lamb. Go and do thou likewise.’”

In short, President Trump should tell the other NATO nations that the United States will no longer defend them from external aggression unless Congress declares war as is constitutionally required by the Declare War Clause of Article I, section 8, clause 11.

Then Trump should announce a Make America Great Again (MAGA) doctrine of “Invincible Self-Defense.” That means he will engage the armed forces only in self-defense against actual or imminent aggressors towards the United States, and only if Congress declares war or directs the offensive use of the military. He should explain that the Constitution prohibits the president from initiating war based on treaties or executive agreements, and that while he wishes for freedom and liberty everywhere, he will fight only to defend that which is ours.

If Mr. Trump refrains from doing this, he will be acting, as presidents before him, as though he is the elected president of the world rather than president of the United States alone.  

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Article V of the NATO treaty, which requires signatories to treat an attack on one as an attack on all, cannot override the Constitution. Treaties are ratified by two-thirds majorities in the Senate, but the House has no voice as is required for a declaration of war. James Wilson, delegate to the Constitutional Convention and later a Supreme Court justice, explained Article V to the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention:

This system will not hurry us into war; it is calculated to guard against it. It will not be in the power of a single man, or a single body of men, to involve us in such distress, for the important power of declaring war is vested in the legislature at large; this declaration must be made with the concurrence of the House of Representatives; from this circumstance we may draw a certain conclusion, that nothing but our national interest can draw us into a war.

The Senate rejected the Versailles Treaty because it would have unconstitutionally pledged the United States to defend every border in the world without a congressional declaration of war. To avoid a similar debacle, Article 43 of the United Nations Treaty requires a congressional declaration before the United States Armed Forces can be deployed in combat under United Nations Security Council auspices. That understanding is fortified by Section 6 of the United Nations Participation Act. Article 11 of the NATO treaty similarly requires a congressional declaration to defend NATO members from aggression under Article 5. And the United States Supreme Court confirmed in Reid v. Covert (1957) that a treaty cannot override the Constitution.

Mr. Trump has commendably chastised America’s NATO partners for their skimpy financial contributions to the joint enterprise. No other president has displayed such moxie. But the NATO flaw is deeper, and President Trump needs to go further. The MAGA doctrine of Invincible Self-Defense should echo President George Washington’s Farewell Address:  

[N]othing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated…. It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

British foreign minister Lord Palmerston expressed similar views: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow….”

Self-interest dictates the foreign policy of all nations. The stigma of Judas Iscariot is no deterrent, for foreign policy betrayals are commonplace. The United States is no exception. We urged a Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956, but refused to lift a finger against the wicked Soviet retaliation. We organized a Kurdish insurrection against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1972, but abandoned them to his cruel whims in 1975 after Iranian and Iraqi leaders settled their border dispute. We urged a Shiite uprising in Iraq in 1991 against Saddam, but stood idly by while the Sunni dictator massacred his own people.

Contrary to what the critics might say, the MAGA doctrine of Invincible Self-Defense would not give birth to existential threats caused by Chinese or Russian aggression.

First of all, it is doubtful that our defense commitments to foreign nations are necessary to deter these powers. President Jimmy Carter revoked the Taiwan Defense Treaty effective in 1980, and China refrained from aggression against Taiwan for 37 years. The Philippines expelled the United States from Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base 1991 and 1992 respectively, yet the Chinese have not attacked (though China has recently asserted maritime claims opposed by the Philippines). China also didn’t enter the Korean War until we threatened its sovereignty with troops along the Yalu River.

China did attack unified Vietnam in 1979 after we pulled out, but it was smartly defeated. Today, as with the Philippines, China is disputing maritime waters with Vietnam. But neither dispute threatens the sovereignty of the United States. And Japan’s “Self-Defense Forces” would deter Chinese aggression without the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.  

Even if China did initiate wars of aggression against its neighbors, they would diminish rather than strengthen any threats to United States sovereignty. China would spend huge military and financial resources on suppressing insurgencies that would deter potential confrontations with United States (akin to the constant upheavals in Central and Eastern European Soviet satellites before the beginning of the end of the USSR in 1989).

At present, Russia’s annual military spending approximates $60 billion, a tiny fraction of United States defense expenditures. Even assuming the MAGA doctrine of Invincible Self-Defense causes Russia to employ military force to recreate the Soviet Empire or beyond, the expansion would be unsustainable for the same reasons the Soviet Empire collapsed: the staggering military and financial costs of suppressing hostile populations.

In defending the MAGA doctrine of Invincible Self-Defense, President Trump should summon the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln as the United States gazed abroad at multiple empires destined for extinction in 1837:

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a (Bonaparte) for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years [against our unsurpassed armed forces].

Trump needs to remember these words as he steps the ocean on his own trip this week.

Bruce Fein was associate deputy attorney general and general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission under President Reagan and counsel to the Joint Congressional Committee on Covert Arms Sales to Iran. He is a partner in the law firm of Fein & DelValle PLLC.

26 Comments (Open | Close)

26 Comments To "At NATO, Trump Should Declare MAGA Doctrine of Self Defense"

#1 Comment By Stephen J. On July 10, 2018 @ 11:32 pm

There is evidence that NATO members are reportedly “supporting” terrorists. Is this their “Foreign Policy”?
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“Under U.S. law it is illegal for any American to provide money or assistance to al-Qaeda, ISIS or other terrorist groups. If you or I gave money, weapons or support to al-Qaeda or ISIS, we would be thrown in jail. Yet the U.S. government has been violating this law for years, quietly supporting allies and partners of al-Qaeda, ISIL, Jabhat Fateh al Sham and other terrorist groups with money, weapons, and intelligence support, in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.[i]… Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, December 8, 2016,Press Release.
[1]
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“The [Syrian] district was taken over nearly six years ago by foreign-backed extremists, like Jaysh al Islam, Ahrar al Sham, and Al Nusra Front. The latter is an internationally outlawed terror group, but they all share the same murderous ideology, as well as the same Western covert sponsors in the American CIA, British MI6, French DGSE, and lavish Gulf Arab funding. It is these illegally armed insurgents who are holding the civilian population under siege in a reign of terror….
“In truth, there is indeed a siege in Syria. The entire Syrian nation is under siege – by criminal Western regimes and their equally criminal propaganda media, justifying war and aggression.”
[2]
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NATO is harbouring the Islamic State

[3]
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More evidence at links below:
[4]

[5]

#2 Comment By john On July 11, 2018 @ 3:05 am

What NATO war have the Europeans entangled us in?? So far as I know the only use of article 5 to date has been the Europeans helping us in Afghanistan. So the simple minded MAGA rhetoric is simply not backed up by the facts. It is fair to suggest that with the demise of the Warsaw pact that NATO may have outlived its usefulness but I don’t think you start that discussion with false claims

#3 Comment By An Unsurprised European On July 11, 2018 @ 4:30 am

The post-Cold War era has largely consisted of America starting fires around the world, then running away while shouting about the need for countries to fund their own fire brigades.

By all means, slink away from the mess of aggravated tensions in Eastern Europe that a quarter century of hubristic US-driven NATO expansion has fuelled at every opportunity. Europe should have expected nothing less.

But grandstanding on this point by quoting Washington and Lincoln is rather preposterous. Surely a more appropriate level of gravitas to accompany your latest exit would be the words of Bart Simpson: “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it, there’s no way you can prove anything”.

#4 Comment By Drew On July 11, 2018 @ 4:54 am

If only.

#5 Comment By Michael Kenny On July 11, 2018 @ 8:27 am

The usual “let Putin win in Ukraine” propaganda. European leaders have long ceased to beleive that the US would honour its treaty obligations. They’re just quietly stalling as long as possible until they can get an independent European defence system up and running and until Putin falls from power.

#6 Comment By Jhawk On July 11, 2018 @ 9:20 am

So Trump declares we won’t honor our NATO commitments. Explain why Putin won’t pressure the Baltic states to surrender their independence under threat and become client states of Russia again? If he does, will Trump ask Congress for a declaration of war? More likely he’ll visit Moscow, come home and declare ‘peace in our time’ (and MAGA). Poland is next and suddenly it’s 1939 all over again. Did the author of this piece actually write it or get his script from Moscow?

#7 Comment By Jon On July 11, 2018 @ 10:17 am

Besides insisting that responsibility for initiating military action be placed with Congress, there is a further step to be taken and that is having our legislature place a moratorium on raising the ceiling for defense spending in the future. And then there should be the persistent pursuit to lower the current level of defense spending. How large of a standing army must we maintain to ensure the territorial integrity of our borders?

#8 Comment By SteveM On July 11, 2018 @ 10:27 am

The Imperial Presidency is now a perpetual one-way ratchet up. Trump is no different. He has personally threatened massive destructive war on North Korea showing absolutely no deference to the Constitution.

Trump is conducting his erratic foreign policy with the absolute assumption that he can initiate war on his own prerogative. And as of now, except for a few largely ineffectual members, the feckless Congress and the war-mongering National Security State are completely fine with that. And OBTW, the MSM is mostly all in on the Imperial President model.

Bruce Fein opines some terrific end states in his essays, but the immediate “meta” problem is getting the feckless Congress, the MSM hacks and the indoctrinated people to recognize how warped the now normative political architecture is and take action on critically needed reform.

Only good luck with that…

#9 Comment By David J. White On July 11, 2018 @ 10:43 am

At the forthcoming NATO summit, President Donald Trump should tell the other 28 other members what Congressman John Randolph of Virginia told Greek proponents of American military assistance during their war of independence against the Ottoman Empire: “Let us say to those seven millions of Greeks, ‘We defended ourselves, when we were but three millions against a Power, in comparison to which the Turk is a lamb. Go and do thou likewise.’”

Randolph rather conveniently omitted mention of the timely intervention of the French fleet.

#10 Comment By Corwin On July 11, 2018 @ 10:57 am

This whole piece would be more realistic if the republicans, including Trump, didn’t just ramp up defense spending to new astronomical levels. Or was that just a way to funnel our tax dollars to private military contractors? And maybe a Trump Towers hotel in Jerusalem, as well? Bring military spending back under control. Then we can deal with NATO.

#11 Comment By balconesfault On July 11, 2018 @ 11:04 am

“If Mr. Trump refrains from doing this, he will be acting, as presidents before him, as though he is the elected president of the world rather than president of the United States alone.”

Or he would be remaining true to treaty obligations that have been wildly successful for the last 70 years in helping prevent the types of conflicts that led America to lose almost half a million young men on the battlefield in WW II.

Or are we just throwing back to the GOP of Robert Taft. Just as so many in the Republican Party are today defending Putin’s aggressions, it was Taft who railed in 1939 against “every member of the government . . . (who) is ballyhooing the foreign situation, trying to stir up prejudice against this country or that, and at all costs take the minds of the people off their trouble at home.”

This country or that, of course, referring to Germany and Italy.

Whenever I hear the MAGA chant … I keep wondering, when did America quit being great?

#12 Comment By The Dean On July 11, 2018 @ 11:42 am

Perhaps it is time to reevaluate NATO. This treaty was certainly needed against the expansionist Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact but is it needed in 2018?

Do we still need to maintain 65,000 American troops in Europe? What is the cost and why are we footing the bill?

Why is it that we pay just short of $500 million each year to maintain a militarized border in Europe, but Democrats and Liberals go into an apoplectic seizure when we wants to spend money to defend our southern border to stop the flow of illegals and drugs?

That half billion dollars a year can be better spent rebuilding American infrastructure rather than absorbing costs associated with European self-defense.

The Cold War is over. The Warsaw Pact is extinct. The Russian bear is Orthodox Christian not communist. Russia’s population is around 150 million and they have problems of their own.

Personally I hope President Trump pulls us out of NATO and stops this morphine drip once and for all.

#13 Comment By Kent On July 11, 2018 @ 12:37 pm

Yes, Trump should do all of this. But he believes in the exact opposite.

#14 Comment By BobS On July 11, 2018 @ 12:54 pm

“Mr. Trump has commendably chastised America’s NATO partners for their skimpy financial contributions to the joint enterprise.”

NATO has a $1.4 billion military budget and a $250 million civilian budget. The US pays 22% of that, a percentage based on a formula which includes the size of each member state’s economy. No member state is in arrears.

#15 Comment By Janek On July 11, 2018 @ 12:55 pm

I don’t think that the USA keeps troop in Europe and elsewhere because they love Europe and others so much. The USA keeps her military in Europe and elsewhere so far to protect the neoliberal/neocon racket imposed on the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The neoliberal/neocon racket is coming to the screeching halt and the best place to see that is USA and the Europe: the starting tariffs wars and migration crises are the best proves of that. To save herself the embarrassment the United States is courting the Putin’s Russia to save the failing neoliberal/neocon world order that is already more than half dead and on life support system. The Trump US administration is targeting Europe and NATO because of Europe’s opposition to the sanctions and starting the war on Iran. Russia is being wooed by not so vague suggestions about restoring their sphere(s) of influence if only they, the Russians, would agree to throw the Iran under the bus. I have to disappoint the author of this article Bruce Fein that Putin and the Russians are not that naive and stupid as the author thinks, on the contrary and as history shows they are smarter then the current crop of American politicians give them credit for. The author and his ilk should also be careful what they wish for because as the saying goes: if the God wants to punish somebody first He takes away his mind.

#16 Comment By One Guy On July 11, 2018 @ 1:32 pm

“…why are we footing the bill?”

So Uncle Joe can keep his job at the bullet factory.

“…Why is it that we pay just short of $500 million each year …”

So Uncle Bob can keep his job at the tank factory.

Congress and the President won’t reduce military spending because people would lose jobs. The military is the biggest jobs program in the USA. And as long as we can con people into thinking military overspending is patriotic, it will continue.

#17 Comment By Anthony M On July 11, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

Sounds great and all, but Trump is the one threatening Iran & North Korea while the citizens of Europe just want to be left alone. Increased “defense” spending is hugely unpopular in Europe because Europeans are tired of American wars.

#18 Comment By Clyde Schechter On July 11, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

While I agree with the thrust of The Dean’s post, I have to point out the error when he/she states “This treaty was certainly needed against the expansionist Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.”

NATO was indeed created for the purposes of containing the Soviet Union. But it was not a response to the Warsaw Pact–it couldn’t have been because the Warsaw Pact did not exist when NATO was created. In fact, the Warsaw Pact was the Soviet Union’s response to NATO!

#19 Comment By b. On July 11, 2018 @ 6:23 pm

“He should explain that the Constitution prohibits the president from initiating war based on treaties or executive agreements”

Courtesy of the War Powers Act, the President can “initiate” war whenever he or she pleases. Per recent Congressional practice. Presidents like Trump or Obama are free to ignore the relevant 60 day time limit and Congress. Obama goes to Libya, Syria, Yemen etc., so does Trump.

Kaine/Corker is set to make this situation even worse. It would be great of there was a national consensus that even the War Powers Act expansion of “Presidental war powers” remains unconstitutional, but neither Congress nor Presidents appear inclined to uphold their oaths of office. Congress is more likely to attempt to pass Kaine/Corker or whatever real “fix” it serves as a Trojan Horse for, than to attempt impeachment of a President for violating the War Powers Act, let alone the Constitution.

“If only Trump knew/understood/saw/could/would” is becoming a tired trope.

#20 Comment By EarlyBird On July 11, 2018 @ 6:58 pm

Let’s get real: NATO should be called “Europe’s American defense force.” It is not a mutual defense alliance in any meaningful sense. It is the American King Kong and her lil’ helpers.

With the exception of the Brits, NATO has been unable to provide meaningful help in Afghanistan outside of garrison duty. Honor and respect are due to those non-US NATO forces who died there, but in terms of war-fighting, the US commanders actually discovered they were better off staying in their bunkers playing soccer and smoking cigarettes than war-fighting. The individual nations themselves, again with the exception of the Brits, are incapable of launching any kind of expeditionary force alone without huge US logistics and transportation. The poorly considered Lybia adventure would not have occurred without the US doing 90% of the heavy lifting.

The idea that we would bring on Ukraine, another nation which would be incapable of helping us – or even herself should we be called to defend her – is preposterous.

I hate to get all Trumpian, but he’s right that the Europeans have been hitching a free ride with us for far too long. Pull the plug.

#21 Comment By Lenny On July 11, 2018 @ 7:22 pm

Американский консерватор

This is more appropriate for this publication.

TAC should just publish this piece in its original Russian

FYI: When America was sending ships loaded with Jews back to their death in the gas chamber, Winston Churchill was gambling British sovereignty in defense of Democracy and Europe. I want to puke after reading this disgraceful Putin propaganda piece

#22 Comment By Richard Wagner On July 11, 2018 @ 7:50 pm

“And the United States Supreme Court confirmed in Reid v. Covert (1957) that a treaty cannot override the Constitution.”

Not exactly. The ruling concluded that “executive agreements” cannot override the Constitution. It didn’t address treaties which are ratified by the Senate. I don’t know of any judicial precedent that addresses whether treaties must be consistent with the constitution, but someone correct me if I’m wrong.

#23 Comment By rosemerry On July 12, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

” Even assuming the MAGA doctrine of Invincible Self-Defense causes Russia to employ military force to recreate the Soviet Empire or beyond, ” for which there is absolutely no evidence despite US Dems and UK’s “Mayhem” govt.

#24 Comment By Salsibury Expert On July 13, 2018 @ 12:20 am

Jhawk says:

“So Trump declares we won’t honor our NATO commitments. Explain why Putin won’t pressure the Baltic states to surrender their independence under threat and become client states of Russia again?”

First, you have to explain why would Putin ever want to pressure Baltic states into anything. Putin said, time and again, that Russia isn’t interested in expanding its borders. Soviet (& Russian) government apologized for Stalin’s mistakes during build-up to WWII. Russia has enough land & resources; it doesn’t need anything from economically impoverished, nationalistically inclined Baltic states. Their bought-&-paid for elites scream about Russian non-existing threat because EU pays them to do so.

#25 Comment By semper fi On July 13, 2018 @ 3:46 am

@Lenny — “When America was sending ships loaded with Jews back to their death in the gas chamber,”

If you’re going to slander America, my country, the one that did so much to beat Hitler, you better be able to back that up, buddy. For starters, name the ships and tell us how their Jewish passengers ended up in gas chambers.

“Winston Churchill was gambling British sovereignty in defense of Democracy and Europe.”

I wonder what an Indian or African living under colonial rule would make of this sentence.

#26 Comment By Reality Check On July 14, 2018 @ 1:25 am

OK. Trump can declare a MAGA policy of self-defense. Fine with me. But he should not be too surprised if the Europeans politely ask him to stop the crazy, pointless Middle Eastern wars that have unleashed millions of refugees into Europe. Those refugees have done more damage to Europe than the Soviet Union. They are literally destroying the EU and endangering national governments in the constituent countries, most of them NATO countries.

This began under Bush and really got under way under Obama (when Hillary Clinton was at State), but Trump himself now bears considerable blame for continuing the stupid Bush and Obama policies.

Make America great again? Sure! Great! But the most important thing Trump can do to “MAGA” is to have a real “America First” foreign policy that stops putting Israel and Saudi Arabia first and America and its European allies last. A policy that gets America out of the Middle East, one that stops the horrific flows of Mideast and African migrants and refugees that are undermining NATO countries far more surely than a GDP percentage point here or there.