The Administration

Michael Hayden: Americans died for NATO — Trump must show it more respect

Greg Nash

When I go back to Pittsburgh and drop in on Nieds Hotel in Lawrenceville or the Rochester Inn in the North Hills, I inevitably find old friends and, very often now, the children of old friends.

It’s always a great experience, catching up and re-establishing contact with people with whom I share history, culture, and values. After a draft or two of Iron City, my vowels in words like “out” and “house” and “fire” start to get a little elongated and the correct plural of “you” starts to become the Western Pennsylvania “yinz.”

{mosads}But it’s also long been clear to me that, despite the heartfelt camaraderie, as a group, most of these folks are a lot more comfortable with Donald Trump as president than I’ll ever be.


These are the people that Salena Zito, who shares those Pittsburgh roots and who was the best chronicler of the candidate’s triumphant march through Pennsylvania, describes as taking Trump seriously but not literally, while chiding folks like me who took him literally and (for far too long) not seriously.

That could make for a big difference, but Pittsburgh working class hospitality doesn’t let it get in the way of what my friends and I have in common: the ’burgh, its work ethic, the Steelers, the Pens.

And, oh yeah, one more thing: shared military experience. Most everyone I talk to back home has served, and so have their children. That’s likely a reflection of political scientist Walter Russell Mead’s judgment that Trump’s supporters broadly represent the Jacksonian tradition in American foreign policy: intensely patriotic to an America defined by blood, soil, and shared history and largely disinterested in international affairs unless, of course, somebody pisses us off (like Japan in 1941, Iraq in 1990, Al Qaeda in 2001).

These are the people who go, or watch their kids go, to fight the nation’s wars. The quotient of military life experience surrounding a pitcher of Iron City beer at the Rochester far exceeds any such quotient while sitting in a crowded green room at CNN.

All of which makes President Trump’s recent performance in Europe particularly troubling for me. Especially since expectations weren’t particularly high, just a verbal commitment to Article 5 of the Atlantic Treaty, that an attack against one was an attack against all, that America continued to share the Alliance’s commitment to defend member states against aggression.

The president’s secretary of defense and vice president had essentially done so on previous trips to the continent, but given all the campaign rhetoric — the candidate had actually said that coming to the defense of an alliance member was contingent on their being paid up — Europeans were looking for a personal commitment from the president.

It should have been a light lift. The moment was the president’s speech in front of twisted wreckage from the World Trade Center, a memorial to the only time that Article 5 has been invoked, when Europe came to the aid of the United States after the 9/11 attacks and NATO airborne warning and control aircraft (AWACs) patrolled American skies.

Not a word from the president, though, about America’s commitment to Article 5. Instead there was a spirited lecture — something explicitly forsaken in Saudi Arabia — about (the lack of) European defense spending.

Angela Merkel and Germany seemed to come in for some specific criticism that continued after the president returned to the United States where he tweeted, “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

Merkel, for her part, made campaign noises that Europe ‘‘really must take our fate into our own hands” since the days when Europe could rely on others was ‘‘over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.’’

(I’ll add here that it’s hard to imagine an outcome of a NATO meeting more applauded by the Russians than one that creates daylight between North America and Europe and that a Europe less certain of American power is more likely to accommodate Russia than it is to rearm on its own.)

(And I’ll also add that a Germany more detached from its American ties and its Atlantic identity and enthusiastically rearming — my take on Trump’s intent — is an experiment twice tried in the last century with really bad results.)

But back to that pitcher of Iron City at the Rochester. While the Atlantic Alliance is a jewel of American statecraft, it is also the product of American blood. And with this group, it was literally our fathers’ or grandfathers’ blood that had been shed in first liberating the Continent from fascism and then our generation’s and our children’s put at risk in holding the line against massive, echeloned Soviet tank armies for over four decades until the Wall was toppled.

That was NATO at its best, wonderfully successful in defending Europe from the Soviet threat and eventually in creating a Europe whole and free (and competitive). So, we might want to think twice before doing things that put that structure at risk or put those allies on our B-list.

And if the president missteps and this structure and those relationships actually collapse and things inevitably worsen, the nation will again look to our kids and grandkids — and I mean “our” in a narrow sense, literally ours — to go and buy it back. I’d tell my friends that we should keep that in mind.

And then we’d get back to the Stanley Cup. Go Pens.

Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Defense Donald Trump Donald Trump Europe international affairs Military NATO United States
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