GOP Hawks in Denial Over Trump’s Hatred for NATO, Ukraine

One of the many threats posed by a second Trump term is the terrifyingly high risk that he would undercut NATO, or even pull out of the alliance altogether, and allow Russia to menace Europe. Some Republican Russia hawks have addressed this risk by starkly warning the country about Trump’s intentions. Others have even endorsed his opponent.

But many Republican Russia hawks have instead played the familiar coalition-management game of denying the problem. Rather than admit Trump opposes their views, which would force them to confront their own party’s nominee, they are pretending that Trump doesn’t mean what he says, or that the responsibility for his actions lies with the Biden administration instead.

The impulse is on display in today’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, which features two columns by Republican Russia hawks denying the plain facts of Trump’s anti-NATO agenda.

Ukraine is currently undergoing an ammunition famine because the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refuses to pass more aid. The politics are extremely simple. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed an aid bill for Ukraine. President Biden says he will sign it. Democrats have left the door open to numerous mechanisms to pass the aid, including attaching it to a Republican-crafted border crackdown that the Democrats’ own activist base loathes.

The bill has been held up because, while it commands an overwhelming majority of the House, most House Republicans oppose it, which in turn has made House Speaker Mike Johnson refuse to bring the bill to a vote, because it would pass. And the reason most House Republicans oppose aid to Ukraine is that Trump opposes aid to Ukraine.

Holman Jenkins, the hawkish, pro-Ukraine Journal columnist, surveys the situation and concludes the reason aid isn’t advancing is … Joe Biden and House Democrats.

Why are House Democrats to blame? Jenkins conjures an alternative reality in which most House Republicans are eager to aid Ukraine, but a handful of dissident Republicans are blocking them and threatening to depose Johnson, and Democrats are going along with this threat. “Mr. Johnson is down to a one-vote majority in the House,” he argues. “If Democrats sit on their hands, one or two GOP defectors are enough to unseat him no matter how popular Ukraine aid is with his membership.”

If that were true, then yes, Democrats would be to blame. But it’s the opposite of the case. Ukraine aid is not popular with Republican members. Most of them oppose it, which is why Johnson won’t bring it to a vote. And while right-wingers are threatening Johnson’s job, Democrats are not planning to “sit on their hands.” They are openly promising to keep him in place if Ukraine aid threatens his position.

Jenkins proceeds to argue that Biden wants Republicans to hold up aid, because it’s “handy to push Ukraine toward a cease-fire.” And why does Biden secretly want Republicans to continue doing the thing he is begging them publicly to stop? Because Biden wants to cut defense spending, Jenkins hypothesizes, and letting Russia win is part of his plan to do that plan. Jenkins posits the existence of this secret plan, which lacks any evidence and which contradicts all Biden’s public statements and actions, but conveniently allows Jenkins to reconcile his support for Ukraine with his support for a Trump-dominated party.

A similar impulse is at work in a Journal column today by Alexander Gray, chief of staff of the White House National Security Council under Trump. Gray argues that “foreign-policy experts are predictably fretting” that Trump will undermine NATO, but this is merely “fearmongering.”

The reality, he assures his readers, is that Trump merely wanted to push NATO members to increase their defense spending. “Through public and private cajoling — also known as diplomacy — he secured a commitment from NATO members to beef up their contributions,” he writes. “The global foreign-policy elite” — Gray does not mention that this elite includes former high-level Trump appointees — “is sowing needless fear around the world by willfully misrepresenting Mr. Trump’s first term and scaremongering about a second. Should Mr. Trump return to the White House, there will doubtless be sighs of relief among officials in friendly capitals.”

Trump’s Russia hawk allies love to sane-wash him as having merely used unorthodox methods to successful prod the allies to spend more on defense. It is true that Europe has stepped up its defense spending (a process that preceded Trump’s administration). If that was really Trump’s goal, then he would be taking endless victory laps. Trump loves nothing more than boasting about accomplishments, real or imaginary. Trump would be regaling audiences about he singlehandedly turned NATO into the toughest alliance in human history. There would be stories about how big, strong men — men who had never shed a tear in their lives — came up to him and said, “Sir, you saved NATO” before weeping uncontrollably.

But that is not how Trump processed the episode. Rather than taking the win, he has continued to rail against Europe for its supposed freeloading ways. Trump regularly spits out social-media posts warning NATO in mob-style tones to “PAY UP.” He has repeatedly suggested that the United States under his presidency would refuse to uphold NATO’s guarantee to defend fellow members from attack, thereby undermining the alliance’s entire foundation. Earlier this year he said he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries that were “delinquent,” imagining Putin and Trump as partners in a protection-money racket.

It is glaringly obvious that Trump admires Russia and resents NATO and Ukraine, and would strengthen the former at the expense of the latter. The remaining Republicans who fear these outcomes are too craven to even admit they will happen. With such pathetic dissembling in place of coherent internal dissent, can it be any surprise Trump feels emboldened to do as he pleases?

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