It's Like the 1900s All Over Again

This week: a NATO summit, a visit to the UK, and a little soccer. Sorry, football.

So first things first: football WAS coming home, but now it’s not. Very Sad. If you don’t get it: England hasn’t won a World cup since 1966. In 1996, they hosted the Euro Cup, and some blokes wrote a song about “football coming home”. It did not. Germany won.

This year, England nearly went all the way – and then choked against Croatia in the semis. Now one could say they lost because Croatia simply outplayed them blah blah whatever BUT a real intellectual will tell you that the Royal Family have been boycotting the World Cup being hosted in Russia because Russia tried to murder some people in the UK back in March so the Queen asked Harry Kane to throw the game so she wouldn’t have to apologize to Putin OR miss the first English appearance in a World Cup final in 52 years. That’s my hot take and I stand by it.

NATO.jpg

This week, Trump went to Brussels, Belgium for the annual NATO summit. Trump has been critical of NATO since before day one, and despite positive noises at the concluding press conference, this summit seemed no different. Trump apparently walked in the door, said everybody owed the US money, made the Secretary General of NATO give him undue credit, and said Germany was controlled by Russia. During breakfast.

Trump’s claim is that European countries are “delinquent” in their payments, and owe the US money. That’s not how NATO works. In 2006, the members agreed that they would each spend 2% of their respective GDPs on their OWN defense budgets. The US spends around 4%. It’s true that only four other countries spend over 2%, but here’s the deal: all that means is they spend less on their own militaries. They don’t “owe” anyone.

Furthermore, to suggest that the US is spending 4% of its GDP on defense solely for the sake of NATO is absurd. The US is a global military power. No country in Europe comes close to that. And by the way? That’s a good thing. Trump accused Germany of only spending 1%. That’s true, but remember what happened last time Germany massively increased its military expenditure?

Europe spends less on defense because they have fewer things to worry about. Should they meet their 2%? Sure. And they pledged to do so – back in 2014. Trump claims he got new concessions, but every leader who’s commented on it has said they simply recommitted to hitting 2% by 2024, despite Trump’s insistence that they do so by January, and then go past that to 4%. 

Trump did end the summit by saying that he “believes in NATO” and thought it was very unified. But saying a thing don’t make it true, and NATO members are worried that the US might not step up to defend its allies like they did for the US after 9/11.

You know who benefits from a destabilized NATO? Vladimir Putin. You know who Trump is going to Helsinki to see on Monday? Vladimir Putin. NATO was founded in 1949 specifically to counter the Soviet Union, and that mission has come back into vogue as Russia has invaded its neighbors, interfered in European elections, and generally antagonized the West. Putin would love nothing more than for NATO to lose its most powerful member, and Trump has been doing a phenomenal job of heading in that direction.

Vladimir-Putin-Wink-e1477989163795.jpg

Could Trump go to Helsinki and admonish Putin and grill him about election interference? Sure. Will he? Probably not. While in Brussels, Trump refused to rule out the possibility that he would offer to cease NATO military exercises for Putin. He did say he’ll ask him about election interference though! Which is about equivalent to asking someone who rear-ended you last year if they rear-ended you last year. He’ll just say no and walk away. 

After finishing up in Brussels with NATO, Trump headed to London for a weekend in the United Kingdom. The first thing he did was give an interview criticizing Prime Minister Theresa May for her approach to Brexit. The second thing he did was go to dinner with Theresa May.

trump and may.jpg

Britain chose to leave the EU in 2016. Since then, they’ve been trying to figure out what that will look like. One of the options is a ‘soft exit’, where the UK would maintain access to the free flow of goods while following the EU’s rules, vs a ‘hard exit’ where they’d have to figure everything out from scratch. May has been pushing for a soft version, which would cost the UK about $22bn per year, versus over $100bn/year for the hardest version. When May announced that they’d go the soft route, 5 members of May’s party resigned their posts, including the Brexit secretary.

See, in the UK, if people aren’t happy with a leader, they can call new elections at any time with a no confidence vote. Unlike in the US, where we have to just… wait. So May is in a vulnerable spot right now as her party’s radical right abandons her.

And then the American president said she was doing a terrible job negotiating Brexit, and that her plan would preclude a separate trade agreement with the US (which isn’t true of May’s published plan, but likely will be of the final arrangement). One might think this would derail the meeting, but the Brits are excellent at keeping a stiff upper lip and trucking right along. May told Trump “it’s just the press” and they apparently had a very productive meeting earlier today as May sought to reinforce the “special relationship” between the US and the UK. Props to her – she can use all the friends she can get. #fpf