Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of “United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.
British soldier Lance Corporal Jamie Webb, 24, died from the blast of a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan in March, 2013.
Canadian Master Corporal Byron Greff, 28, died in a suicide bombing in Kabul in 2011.
Those are just two of the names of the many hundreds of dead soldiers from NATO countries who have fought in Afghanistan to defend the United States.
It is the first and only war waged under NATO’s Article 5 collective defense obligation that an attack on one member country is an attack on all its members. That war was, of course, triggered by an attack on President Donald Trump’s hometown of New York on September 11, 2001.
The total number of dead soldiers in Afghanistan from the United Kingdom is 455, from Canada, it is 158, from France, 86 and from Germany, 54.
Yet Trump is constantly berating NATO allies for not paying enough for their own defense, as if their blood spilled on the battlefield is meaningless.
The contrast of NATO allies’ support for the United States in Afghanistan and the behavior of Russia is both striking and telling. In March, the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, told the BBC that Russian weapons were being smuggled to the Taliban and that they “provide some degree of support to the Taliban.” (Russia has denied these allegations).
Yet Trump continues to treat Russian President Vladimir Putin like a peer, rather than a pariah who controls a gangster state that orders the assassinations of enemies in countries that are close American allies such as the United Kingdom. Just this week, a woman in England died from exposure to Novichok, a nerve agent, which is only produced by Russia.
Departing for his trip to the NATO summit and then on to the UK, Trump on Tuesday said, “I have NATO. I have the UK, which is in, somewhat, turmoil. And I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?” Who would have thunk, indeed.
Yup, it’s just so much easier to deal with Putin, who invades neighboring countries at the drop of a hat, attempts to swing American elections as a matter of routine, and has political opponents jailed and even killed.
At the same time that he is bromancing Putin, Trump is dumping on America’s closest allies. Last month he called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “very dishonest” and “weak.”
On Wednesday at the opening of the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump made the absurd claim that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”
There was, of course, a time when that was true, when the Soviet Union lorded it over communist East Germany. It’s precisely because of the NATO alliance that stood up to the Soviet Union that, today, East and West Germany are a unified liberal democracy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was raised in East Germany, jabbed back at Trump on Wednesday, saying, “I have witnessed this myself, that a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. And I am very happy that we are today unified in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany.”
Trump’s berating of allies and embrace of enemies might make sense if there were some kind of grand strategic plan behind it, but it’s hard to discern one. Trump has slapped tariffs on European imports such as steel and aluminum, and the Europeans are increasing their own retaliatory tariffs on American products such as motorcycles and orange juice.
Is a trade war with the EU really a smart idea? Hardly, since the EU is the world’s largest trading bloc, considerably larger than the United States or China.
And is attacking America’s NATO allies smart? If anyone can supply a meaningful rationale for this, I’d like to hear it.
Finally, is embracing Putin smart? That question kinda answers itself.