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Biden Is Slowly Losing the NATO Argument to Trump

The shoe is on the other foot. Another distressed press conference from Biden this week showcased the anguish of the incumbent. 

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President Joe Biden emerged from hibernation to join the pile-on over his likely general-election opponent’s recent comments about NATO.

“Can you imagine a former president of the U.S. saying that? The whole world heard it,” Biden said at the White House. “The worst thing is he means it. No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator.”

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At issue is the former President Donald Trump once again saying NATO members should, like Democrats often say of upper-income taxpayers, pay their fair share.

Trump told voters in Conway, SC an almost surely apocryphal tale of scaring NATO members straight on the subject of their defense spending. “One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ ‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’ And the money came flowing in.”

Read in context, it is clearly Trump boasting of his ability to get NATO members to contribute more money to their own defense. The “encourage” Russia to “do whatever they hell they want” line was arguably dumb and irresponsible. But encouraging Russia was clearly not the point—encouraging burden-sharing was.

Even if Trump embellished the details, there is something to his basic story about how he handled NATO during his first term.

“Well, I worked with him for four years and I listened carefully because the main criticism has been about NATO allies spending too little on NATO,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN last month. “And the message has been taken across the alliance in Europe and Canada.”

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“NATO allies have significantly increased defense spending,” he continued. “More and more allies meet the NATO guideline on spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. Poland is actually spending 4 percent of GDP, no other allies spending more than that. And in total, they have added 450 billion extra for defense.”

The Biden–Trump dust-up comes against the backdrop of the biggest foreign-policy fracture inside the Republican Party in recent memory. Republicans have historically been skeptical of government spending, but this skepticism often waned the further away from home the tax dollars are spent. Now you have some Republicans blocking a supplemental with aid not only to Ukraine but also Israel and Taiwan, arguing that more funds should be spent securing the southern border.

This bill has the backing of a bipartisan majority in the Senate, in addition to the White House. House Democratic leaders have pledged to help it pass by any means necessary, including through the use of procedural maneuvers to force it to the floor over the House Speaker Mike Johnson’s objections.

A generational torch might be passed from Mitch McConnell to Mike Johnson on these basic Republican priorities. Or the torch might get dropped during the handoff, burning the fragile GOP majority. But despite his tendency to clutter up valid points about ally burden-sharing or the folly of the Iraq War with junk about whatever the hell Russia wants and stealing Iraqi oil, Trump has had an impact.

Yet Trump and his allies are polarizing. College-educated voters who were starting to become more restrained on foreign policy in the aftermath of Iraq appear to be becoming less so. What seemed urbane and sophisticated to these voters under Barack Obama now looks gauche and narrow-minded—or much worse—when associated with Trump.

The burgeoning Democratic split over Israel really has less to do with foreign policy than multiculturalism, intersectionality, and how progressives feel about other issues, not least the West itself.

Not long after Biden spoke at the White House, his campaign sent out an email warning that Trump was risking “backlash”—not just from world leaders worried about the former president’s commitment to Article 5, but Wisconsin voters who “identify as Polish, Finnish, or Baltic.”

This was followed by another Biden-Harris campaign email about Michigan, where “nearly 900,000 residents identify as Polish, Finnish, or Baltic—all areas that could be at risk from Putin’s aggression.”

An adaptation of Tip O’Neill for the globalist era and what might come next: All politics are local.

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