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The Reagan Alternative to Trump’s NATO Vision


We’re in the midst of a great debate on American foreign policy. And just because the voting in Congress has been lopsided doesn’t mean that important questions about America’s role in the world aren’t being raised.

The immediate issue is the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On Aug. 3, the U.S. Senate voted 95-1 to agree that Finland and Sweden could join NATO. If all goes according to plan, the alliance will soon boast 32 countries.

And while a 95-1 vote might seem so huge as to make the matter uncontroversial, that’s not the case. The headline from the Associated Press captured the larger controversy: “On NATO, McConnell nudges GOP away from Trump-era approach.”

As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said of the vote, “I was concerned about … this sort of growing isolationist sentiment in the party … given voice by President Trump.” Allowing for McConnell’s carefully parliamentary way of speaking, those words count as a shot against the 45th president.

Indeed, Donald Trump railed against NATO, calling it “obsolete.” And his antipathy to other NATO leaders, including then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was obvious. Interestingly, Trump became somewhat more favorable to NATO during the course of his presidency, and he deserves credit for warning the Germans about their dangerous dependence on Russian energy.

Moreover, Trump regularly inveighed against “forever wars” in the Middle East, the kind that typically get fought by some sort of multinational force, including NATO. And while Trump failed to extricate the U.S. from those morasses, he nevertheless won the argument: Few today have any appetite for “liberation” and “nation building.” (Back in 2002, this author wrote in opposition to the Iraq War, even before it started.)

Today, the Trump mantle is being upheld in the Senate by that lone lawmaker who voted “nay” on NATO expansion. That would be the Republican junior senator from Missouri; as Politico puts it, “Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy is living on through one senator: Josh Hawley.”

Hawley’s argument is that the U.S, should be more focused on opposing China in Asia — and without a doubt, the trip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has shifted attention from West to East. Yet still, Hawley faced pushback from Sen. Ted Cruz, who said of Hawley’s argument, “I think it’s mistaken. We don’t beat China by retreating from the rest of the world. We beat China by standing with our allies against our enemies.”

Cruz has a point. The U.S. boasts about 15% of the world’s GDP. At the same time, China’s GDP, adjusted for purchasing power, is almost 19%. And yet if the U.S. is joined with the European NATO countries, our total share of world output rises to some 31%. Now that’s a powerful bloc.

And that’s what our 40th president, Ronald Reagan, always had in mind. During his eight years in the White House, he praised NATO many times, including in his famous address to the British Parliament in 1982, when he predicted that Soviet Communism would end up on the “ash-heap of history.”

That’s the right place for our enemies: on the ash-heap. And to be put there peacefully, as Reagan did to the Russians. The Gipper had a phrase for that: Peace Through Strength.

As he said in 1980, “We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.”

So that’s what we have to do: Stay strong. And unity with NATO allies is a key source of strength.

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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