The Debate Over NATO and Montenegro Is a Sideshow

Don’t get me wrong: the current debate regarding the status on NATO and Montenegro’s membership is interesting.  But while plenty of pundits are having that discussion, it’s worth pointing out that it is essentially a sideshow and a distraction from more urgent questions.

This most recent round of debate kicked off with Fox’s Tucker Carlson asking Pres. Trump about the purpose of NATO (ostensibly): “Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that’s attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?”  Trump answered: “I understand what you’re saying, I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.”

In the real world, Montenegro’s accession to NATO is a treaty matter; that’s what the “T” stands for.  The matter was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification by Pres. Obama, but the ratification vote (97-2, btw) wasn’t held until March 28, 2017 — when Trump was President.  And yet Trump did not blow up the ratification.  To the contrary, he signed certifications to satisfy conditions attached by the Senate to the ratification.

Accordingly, the main issue raised by the Carlson-Trump exchange is not the wisdom of Montenegro joining NATO.  Rather the question is whether Trump is too shallow to understand the foreign and defense policies being pursued by his administration, too weak and lazy to force his administration to conform to his policy opinions, or both (spoiler: it’s probably both).

The immediate question raised thereby is how much Trump undermining NATO — an exercise in collective security and deterrence — becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And this sort of concern can be generalized to Trump’s larger agenda, given how often his public (and private?) pronouncements are at odds with the policies being pursued by his administration.

From there, another question might be why those who seemed most concerned with the “deep state” never seem to find a critical word for the obvious disconnects between the President, his advisors and Cabinet officials.

Given that people are increasingly realizing that one of the reasons Congress is dysfunctional is because it has too many Members who are more interested in being pundits instead of legislators, still another question might be what happens when the President also starts acting as a pundit, commenting like a bystander on the policies for which he is ultimately responsible?

And putting on my media critic hat for a second, the fact that none of the above questions are particularly pleasant for partisan Republicans may explain why Carlson went along with the farcical notion that Trump is not as responsible as anyone for Montenegro being a member of NATO.  Conversely, the hyperbole of the establishment media avoids the same basic questions.

That sophisticated debate other people are having about NATO? Trump isn’t having it, nor has he ever demonstrated he’s capable of it.  The debate is a sideshow.  The ringmaster ocupies the center ring, leaving the lions, tigers, and bears largely unattended.

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