According to his latest statement, Trump basically invented NATO and also definitely never tried to screw over Ukraine.
To the extent that Donald Trump had anything resembling a coherent foreign policy during his time as president, it was largely as follows: pantomime as a competent, independent statesman, while kowtowing to the actual strongman dictators he, himself, desperately sought to emulate — most frequently (or at least most egregiously) Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Often, this manifested as not-so-subtle machinations to sabotage the longstanding Cold War-era infrastructure set in place to contain Russian expansionism: chiefly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Trump railed against as “not fair” and from which he privately planned to withdraw the United States, should he have won a second term in office. While Trump’s ostensible complaint against NATO was that other member countries weren’t shouldering their fair share of the financial burdens (a dubious assertion), the deeper truth is that his criticism of the decades-old alliance fell neatly in line with Putin’s antagonism toward the institution.
In particular, the Russian strongman resents NATO’s standing between him and broader regional dominance — a distaste exacerbated by NATO’s promised inclusion of Ukraine, whose reconquest Russia has long sought, and whose much-needed foreign aid was held in jeopardy by Trump as part of a blackmail plot to manipulate the 2020 presidential election. Perhaps you remember that? He was eventually impeached over it.
Regardless, now that Russia has launched its full-scale invasion into Ukraine, and now that the NATO alliance has activated to help that country defend itself against the onslaught, Trump is suddenly singing a very different tune, per a press release issued Monday morning. It turns out, he claims, that he’s always been a huge fan of NATO! In fact, he practically invented it! And, let’s not forget, he LOVES that Ukraine is able to defend itself, too.
It’s difficult to get one’s head around the true magnitude of bullshit compacted into such a small statement, if for no other reason then that this string of words is monumentally ahistoric that the mind reels when faced with its inherent lunacy. Consider that the Javelin missiles Trump is bragging about having sent to Ukraine are the very same items he (unsuccessfully) used to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into interfering on his behalf in the 2020 election during their now-infamous 2019 phone call. In fact, Trump’s campaign actively worked to excise lines from the 2016 GOP party platform that supported arming Ukraine against Russian aggression. And as for his claim that there would “be no NATO” without him? It’s just ... what can you even call it? The rantings of a megalomaniac? The sort of thing Dr. Evil’s father would say?
With it looking increasingly likely that he will throw his hat in the ring for another run at the White House in 2024, Trump’s statement — no matter how grotesquely incorrect and ridiculous — makes a sliver of shrewd sense. With public opinion firmly on the side of Ukraine, and President Biden’s approval ratings sitting somewhere beneath the Earth’s crust, Trump seems to intuitively know that positioning himself on the “right” side of this conflict in Europe is an easy way to vault himself back into the public eye as a “serious” international figure — at least among those who are pre-inclined to already see him as such, and who aren’t burdened by inconveniences like “facts” and “a competent understanding of how the world works.” That Trump very clearly doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine or NATO doesn’t matter here; remember, just days ago, Trump lauded Putin as “pretty smart” and showered him with praise, even as Russia stood at Ukraine’s doorstep. All he cares about is saying something that passes as vaguely coherent to those who don’t know any better. This is the Trump M.O. stripped down to its most basic elements: Lie, obfuscate, and then simply pivot away when the next opportunity to grab unmerited attention comes along.
So far, it hasn’t failed him yet.