In recollecting one out of an exhaustive (and exhausting) catalog of diplomatic blunders by Donald Trump, you would be forgiven for overlooking his North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference faux pas at Brussels in May of 2017. It was there during his address to the assembly of leaders that Trump stupidly (and, ergo, his equally stupid handlers) neglected to invoke the traditional reaffirmation of Article 5 of the NATO agreement, which is:
The principle of collective defence is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.
In other words, if anybody attacks a NATO country, all other member nations come to that member’s defense. Not only is Article 5 central to the NATO agreement, it is the first thing anyone who knows anything about NATO remembers. Which suggested at the time that Trump, and the then extant and ever-shifting collection of cretins around him, didn’t understand the first thing about NATO in May of 2017, to pick a date.
Clearly, given sufficient time and enough embarrassing experience, there is nothing that Trump and company cannot fail to learn. The nation of Turkey is a NATO member and Secretary of Defense Mike Pompeo has threatened Turkey with a military attack, saying the U. S. intends, “in the event that kinetic action or military action is needed, you should know that President Trump is fully prepared to undertake that action.” Thus does it appear that the supply of ignorance and arrogance in the American executive branch remains obstinately in place. Should Pompeo, and therefore Trump, make good on this threat, the other 27 member nations in the NATO alliance would be obliged to come to Turkey’s military defense. This puts America’s allies in an extremely awkward position, and not a single one of those other nations doubt that the position they are in is all thanks to Donald Trump and Donald Trump alone.
Pompeo wouldn’t need to threaten Turkey if Trump had not removed troops from Syria, rendering the Kurds guarding that border with Turkey an irresistible target. It was the equivalent of diplomat entrapment, and Donald Trump finds himself in a position of having to fix a problem that wouldn’t exist if he’d merely left well enough alone.
Will the member states attack U. S. troops if they invade Turkey? Probably not. But whether they do or not they are in a no-win situation. An attack on America will doubtless result in heavy losses for them, and a severely bruised relationship, to say the least, with their powerful ally. Failure to attack will significantly weaken NATO and put its meaning in question and its continued existence in peril. I’m reminded, just now, of the words of Isaac Asimov, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” I would amend that aphorism to comport with incompetence unheard of in Asimov’s time, and say that in Trump’s case, violence is the first refuge of the incompetent.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.