During the 75th birthday of NATO, Biden’s senility became a key topic

This Tuesday (July 9), NATO is convening its three-day summit in Washington, celebrating its 75th birthday. Amid the celebrations, and with many uncertainties about the incumbent American President reelection (Biden’s senility being the topic of the day), a specter seems to haunt the summit (from a Western perspective), namely the specter of the “far-right”, and the specter of Donald Trump. The problem with specters in general is that often it is quite hard to assess the extent to which they represent a real threat (and therefore are not, in fact, specters, but rather are real dangers), and the extent to which they merely are invoked by some to play the (very real) role of a convenient boogey-man to scare others into taking certain measures.

On the so-called European “far-right”, I’ve argued elsewhere that it encompasses a wide heterogeneous range of political actors and that a large part of it can be and has been co-opted into supporting the European bloc and NATO. One just needs to look at Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni phenomenon and all the political courting and flirting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

With regards to foreign policy, misconceptions and myths about Trump and Biden also pile up, amid NATO warmongering hysteria on one side and anti-imperialist illusions on the other side. Proponents of NATO expansion “warn” that a new Trump presidency shall bring about the demise of the Alliance, thereby plunging the European continent back into hellish wars and totalitarianism (this is literally what Hal Brands, a Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies scholar, has argued). Some anti-imperialist analysts in turn seem to believe in a similar scenario (the end of NATO under Trump), but with positive overtones, in terms of an “anti-war” administration emerging.

Michael Galant (a New York Times reporter), argues however that rather than having been an “anti-war” President, Trump in fact repeatedly “added fuel to the fire” (particularly in Yemen), by “scaling up aerial warfare” (which tremendously increased civilians deaths), and by “increasing troop levels”: he did withdraw thousands of troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, but, on the other hand, deployed thousands of additional ones to the Persian Gulf, for instance, while increasing military presence in Saudi Arabia. In 2020, he had about 10,000 ground troops in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, which, the New York Times reportedis just a little below the numbers at the end of the previous Obama presidency.

With regards to so-called “direct action” (that is, raids, special operations, and airstrikes by – often unmanned – drones), Trump, when President, in fact, according to Stephen Tankel (an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New America Security), “removed the standard that a terrorist target has to pose a continuing, imminent threat to US persons to be individually targeted outside traditional war zones”, thereby lowering “The threat standard applied to people the United States can kill.” In a similar manner, the infamous drone strikes and “counterterrorism raids” were made simpler, no longer undergoing “the same high-level vetting they did under Obama.” So much for the “peacemaker” character of Trump. Now, when it comes to the issue of NATO, some context is needed.

European allies plus Canada have increased their defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, something that they will be celebrating during this week’s summit, while some will be warning about Trump possibly “eviscerating” the Alliance. As Marc A. Thiessen, a columnist writing for the Washington Post journalist, reminds us, it was actually Trump (not Biden) the one responsible for most of such spending increase. When the Republican took office, only three NATO members other than the US were meeting their spendings commitments – moreover, “spending by non-US members had dropped to an all-time low of 1.4 percent in 2015”.

This was the context of the Republican’s repeated remarks about the obsoleteness of the Alliance. Trump’s rhetoric about NATO, as I wrote before, has always been about that. As he said, back in 2016: “NATO is unfair economically to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” In the same spirit, in 2017, Trump’s defense chief James Mattis stated: “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values.” The Republican himself has claimed that his “hard words” were all about negotiation tactics.

Biden himself is on the record as having made (back in 1997), similar points. While discussing NATO expansion and “attempts at an equal cost sharing of NATO enlargement”, as well as the topic of “willingness for rational division of labor in Bosnia”, the then senator said, in very American terms, that, the attitudes of European members of NATO with regards to Washington’s share of the Atlantic Alliance’s costs, “seem to many senators to be variants of taking the United States for suckers.” He added that “unless we quickly come to a satisfactory burden sharing understanding in all its facets with our European and Canadian allies, the future of NATO in the next century will be very much in doubt.” (the video can be seen at C-SPAN, at around 42 minutes).

“Trump-proofing” NATO is now one of the European establishment talking points, while Brussels tries to either co-opt or neutralize dissidents, and while Europe already has a military presence in Ukraine.

In February 2023, Sumantra Maitra, visiting Senior Fellow for the Center for Renewing America (a think-tank that has connections with some Trump policy-makers), argued that Washington should “pivot away from Europe”: “A much more prudent strategy is to force a Europe defended by Europeans with only American naval and as a logistics provider of last resort with the US re-oriented towards Asia.” Hillary Clinton’s concept of the “Pacific Century” in fact was never completely abandoned, and, as I wrote before, Washington’s foreign policy has long oscillated, back and forth, between “countering” Moscow or Beijing (sometimes attempting both simultaneously)

Moreover, large parts of the so-called “Trump’s plan” pertaining to NATO have already been under discussion – making the aforementioned scenario more likely regardless of who wins the US election. One could cite the (ill-named) “Fortress Europe” and other initiatives such as the so-called “military-Schengen” proposal – not to mention the “EU Defense Line” in an increasingly militarized and OTANized Europe. It is all about an overextended and overburdened US pivoting to the Pacific.

There are many obstacles to such plans, including Washington’s own subsidy war against the de-industrialized continent, which is still largely dependent on the US. Changing that is no easy task.

With regards to the current conflict in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian forces have been mostly on the defensive for the last months, and Russia has been making several advances along the 600-mile front, including in the Donetsk industrial region. Last week the Ukrainian military retreated from the outskirts of Chasiv Yar, a strategic town. Russia Ministry Defense also announced its military forces are now controlling the Novyi district, located west of the Siversky-Donabas canal. With these developments, Moscow is closer to gaining control of the entire region. The hard fact is that Trump is far from being NATO’s only problem.

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