John Bolton, a Republican foreign policy heavyweight, says Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE should take back remarks questioning the U.S. commitment to its NATO allies.
"I hope that Donald Trump retracts it," said Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, in a phone interview with The Hill on Thursday.
Trump, in an interview with The New York Times published late Wednesday, said he would not automatically rush to aid a fellow NATO member if they were attacked — a key tenet of the alliance.
Asked specifically if he would aid Baltic nations if Russia attacked them, Trump said he would only do so after reviewing if those nations had "fulfilled their obligations to us."
Trump's remarks mark an unprecedented break with the U.S. commitment to NATO, an alliance established on deterring Russian aggression in Europe.
Bolton suggested that placing conditions on U.S. support for NATO allies could have disastrous consequences.
"If Russian tanks moved into a Baltic republic and then you decided to review whether they were meeting their expectations, the Russian tanks would be at the Baltic Sea before you could get the file," said Bolton, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"So that is a massive failure of deterrence and it strikes not simply at the safety of the Baltic republics but the entire alliance," he said. "To call that deterrence into question opens the door for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or others to take advantage of perceived weakness."
Bolton also joked about the controversy over the convention speech from Trump's wife, Melanie Trump, which included lines some claim were copied from a speech by first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaYouTube confirms it picked kids featured in Harris video Photos of the Week: Congressional Baseball Game, ashen trees and a beach horse The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Gears begin to shift in Congress on stalled Biden agenda MORE.
"If it was a statement written by the same speechwriter who wrote Mrs. Trump's speech, maybe they just ought to fire him," he said.
The former ambassador is only one of a number of Republicans who have criticized Trump's remarks.
GOP Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics MORE (S.C.), a former presidential candidate, also jumped on Trump's comments, which came a day before the Republican National Convention turned its focus to national security.
Trump's remarks also set off alarm bells in Europe, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg issuing a rare response to Trump's remarks.
"Solidarity among Allies is a key value for NATO. We must defend one another," he said, reminding Trump that the only time the defense of a member nation was exercised was for the U.S. in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Trump has previously questioned NATO's value and called for its members to pay more for their own security, but this is the first time he has questioned whether the U.S. would fulfill a key obligation of NATO membership if he were elected president.
Bolton said he was not disagreeing with the idea that NATO members should live up to their own commitments. But, he added, Trump's comments would have consequences beyond just NATO.
"If people don't think they can count on you, then they won't count on you. And it goes beyond NATO, too. What do you think the Japanese think of the security of their mutual defense pact with the United States when they hear something like that? What do the Israelis think when they see a comment like that?" he said.
Bolton said he did not formally endorse Trump, but supports him.
"I didn't endorse anybody, but I supported him for election. The reality is that in November we will elect somebody for president. We can like that or not, that's the reality," he said.
"And I think for a whole host of reasons, Hillary [Clinton] is not qualified and not competent to be president, so I supported Trump yesterday before I read this and I support him today, I just think he is wrong on this issue."
Bolton also offered words of caution.
"An American president has his or her words scrutinized carefully by every government around the world, and while there's only one president right now, there's only one of two people who are going to be president," he added, in reference to Clinton, who is expected to receive the Democratic nomination next week. "People have to recognize when they speak as a putative president of the United States, their words have unbelievably important consequences."