President Trump was not just working against the E.U. in his efforts to reform NATO — he had staff working to finish a key policy agreement out of fear he would blow up the summit and refuse to sign on, according to a story in Friday’s New York Times.
The story is part of a media narrative that Trump’s advisers are quietly smoothing over his crazier instincts – and supposes the president is signing agreements whose content he hasn’t read.
“Senior American national security officials, seeking to prevent President Trump from upending a formal policy agreement at last month’s NATO meeting, pushed the military alliance’s ambassadors to complete it before the forum even began,” wrote Helene Cooper and Julian Barnes.
“The rushed machinations to get the policy done, as demanded by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser … “are a sign of the lengths to which the president’s top advisers will go to protect a key and longstanding international alliance from Mr. Trump’s unpredictable antipathy.”
Usually, this agreement is “subject to intense 11th-hour negotiations,” the Times reported. But because it “came just weeks after Mr. Trump refused to sign off on a communique from the June meeting of the Group of 7 in Canada,” advisers could not take the chance he would do the same in Brussels.
Approval of the communique – “renamed for the meeting as a declaration – was critical for the alliance,” The Times wrote. “It ensured that, despite Mr. Trump’s rhetorical fireworks, NATO diplomats could push through initiatives, including critical Pentagon priorities to improve allied defenses against Russia.”
James Stavridis, a retired four-star general who served as supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Times that the president’s national security team had done “a good job of salvaging a minimally successful outcome to the NATO summit,” but said it is “unfortunate that the president’s apparent personal animus continues to create friction in an alliance that has stood the test of time.”
Bolton sent a message through Kay Bailey-Hutchison, the American ambassador to NATO, saying he wanted to finish the agreement before the president left for Europe. The article cited “five senior American and European officials familiar with the discussions who described them on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the White House.”
The sources said Bolton’s directive pushed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to tell ambassadors “the usual infighting over the summit agreement … had to be dropped.”
The ministers complied. “Fearful of a repeat of the G-7 disaster – in which Mr. Trump refused to sign off on the joint communique, escalated a trade war and publicly derided Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada – the emissaries from the NATO countries all agreed,” The Times reported.
The Times blames Trump’s bullying for the pace with which the communique took shape, but did not report that his strategy appears to have worked.
Not only did the European states make unprecedented commitments to increasing defense spending, they put together “’the most substantive,”’ according to Jamie Shea, NATO deputy assistant secretary general, and “meatiest,” according to Deborah Lee James, former secretary of the Air Force in the Obama administration, summit in recent memory.
It credited the rush job with winning approval of Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ ‘Four 30s’ initiative – the plan for 30 battalions, air squadrons and combat warships ready to respond within 30 days.
“Many European members of NATO thought Mr. Mattis was being too ambitious in pushing it,” The Times wrote. “But in the rush to get the agreement done before the meeting, the Four 30s initiative was approved.”