The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Letting NATO Fail Leads to an Occupied World

President Donald Trump arrives to hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. (Reinhard Krause/Reuters)

The other night, Tucker Carlson interviewed President Trump about the NATO alliance and asked, “Let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” (Is Carlson’s son in the military? If not, is Carlson implying that to honor NATO commitments, the U.S. government would reinstate the draft?)

David French answers, “If you don’t want Americans fighting in foreign lands, you maintain your alliances.”

“What price are we willing to pay to defend our allies?” is a fairer question than we may want to admit. If, God forbid, Russian tanks suddenly rolled up to the borders of the Baltic states and started firing, what percentage of the American public would support deploying U.S. troops to defend those countries — or, more likely, to retake those countries from Russian forces? (Wargame simulations suggest those countries would only be able to hold out for a few days.)

There was an anti-war movement in the United States just weeks after 9/11. Russia would no doubt have covert efforts to fan the flames of dissent and division, but it might not be all that necessary. Americans who didn’t want to use military force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after thousands of Americans were killed will not support military force to retake foreign capitals that they’ve never heard of, such as Tallinn and Riga. You would hear a lot of cries about the dangers of nuclear escalation, the long-standing Russian ties to that region (as if that would ever justify a military invasion), and the insistence that peace could be achieved by offering modest territorial concessions over a negotiating table in Geneva.

I’ve been raving about Brad Thor’s latest thriller Spymaster, which deals with a Russian plot to undermine NATO. One of the plot points is that the fictional, not-very-Trump-y U.S. president tells his team to prevent or avoid “an Article Five situation” — meaning, an at all costs, don’t allow a NATO ally to be attacked, so that Article Five is invoked and the United States is obligated to launch a counterattack. Separate from whether he wants to honor the American commitment to its allies, he doesn’t want to test the commitment of NATO members, or the American public, to that promise.

To imagine a future where American commitment to NATO ends, turn to the Norwegian drama series Occupied — compelling and thrilling enough to be worth reading subtitles. The near-future world of Occupied imagines that fighting in the Middle East has cut off most oil exports (not that far-fetched), a United States that is energy-independent has left NATO (once really far-fetched, now less so), and a Green party winning a majority in Norway after a Katrina-style hurricane. Green party prime minister Jasper Berg pursues a policy of shutting down Norway’s oil and gas exports in the name of reducing carbon emissions and pursuing a clean-energy plan relying on the element of Thorium.

(This is all shown in the first few minutes, so it’s not really a spoiler. General, non-specific, thematic spoilers ahead.)

Norway’s environmental ambitions and sudden disruption of energy supplies cause all kinds of economic problems across Europe, and one day Berg . . . finds himself kidnapped by Russian-speaking masked men. They give him an ultimatum: Allow Russia to reopen Norway’s oil and gas production or face a full-scale invasion. Berg turns to the European Union for help, and finds the EU has more or less given Russia its blessing. It becomes clear that without the United States, NATO doesn’t really function at all.

A good portion of Occupied portrays Norway’s progressive, sophisticated, well-educated political class slowly realizing that no one is coming to rescue them. Month by month, the Russians take over more and more of how the country operates, and the country’s beloved soft power is impotent in the face of hard power and military force. There are a lot of darkly funny deer-in-the-headlights moments for Norwegian Green politicians as they realize that they have no idea how to handle the kind of military crisis that they thought was left to history; meanwhile, the tough old grouch who runs the national military academy is the only guy who sees the threat clearly and is formulating a plan to deal with it. (This is the most inadvertently conservative show in a long time.)

Late in the first season, the American ambassador briefly appears, offering a little help but telling Berg, “We no longer get into wars unless we have a clear strategy to win them.” In short, you’re not important enough for the United States to fight a war to liberate. All of the Norwegian characters face the decision of whether to join an underground liberation movement, or to try to make the best of living in an occupied country — sensing that if push comes to shove, Russia could resolve the dispute with an extremely bloody invasion.

We get intermittent glimpses of the rest of the continent, with the Eastern European countries deeply concerned but generally afraid to take much action to help Norway, and the Western European countries are mostly happier now that Norway’s oil and gas is flowing, and their economies are stable again. No one is willing to stand up to Russia alone, and everyone else is whistling past the graveyard, hoping that Russia’s military shows up at their border last.

And that, I suspect, is where Europe will eventually end up if the United States government ever indicates that it will not honor Article Five. If we don’t honor it, nobody else will. And the day that becomes clear, the question becomes just how much European territory Russia wants to claim.

No, We Don’t Hand over Former U.S. Ambassadors to Foreign Authorities

In theory, an “outsider” president will shake things up and bring new ideas. In practice, an “outsider” president nods along and contemplates outlandish proposals by the Russian government.

The White House confirmed Wednesday that Trump was considering a proposal from the Russian president to allow Kremlin officials to question former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul and other individuals in exchange for allowing U.S. investigators to sit in on the questioning of 12 Russians indicted on charges of trying to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

The arrangement, which Trump called an “incredible offer,” has been condemned by critics and dubbed “absolutely absurd” by the State Department.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the request had been discussed but there “wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States.”

All U.S. diplomatic personnel are protected by diplomatic immunity — they can be expelled but generally not prosecuted for crimes. (Despite what you saw in Lethal Weapon 2, it’s not absolute, but countries waive their personnels’ immunity in exceptionally rare and egregious cases.) Only barbaric regimes such as the Iranians fail to respect the sovereignty of foreign embassies and the right of diplomats to operate unmolested. You’ve seen American elected officials prosecuted and convicted in absentia by kangaroo-court “war crimes tribunals” in foreign countries, but the U.S. State Department has always refused to cooperate with that nonsense. The Pentagon negotiates Status of Forces Agreements with host governments to hash out when U.S. service personnel can and cannot be tried in a foreign court.

In other words, when you go to work for the American government overseas, they make a promise to have your back, no matter how much the you-know-what hits the fan.

Even entertaining this proposal from Putin is a violation of that promise. If you hand over McFaul to Russian authorities, even for mere “questioning,” there’s no guarantee that you’ll get him back, or that he’ll come back in one piece. What’s more, if the Trump administration ends this longstanding U.S. policy of protecting our personnel, no matter which administration they served, then it is extremely likely that some future administration will fail to offer protections to Trump-administration officials.

Remembering the Last Young Democrat Touted as Their Great Hope Among Hispanics

As I mentioned to Greg Corombos and Kurt Schlichter lately, the hype and excitement surrounding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminds me of not too long ago when then–San Antonio mayor Julian Castro was supposedly the next big rising star and future of the Democratic party. Just about every political publication did a big glossy profile of him, touting him as more or less the “Latino Obama.” After Castro gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012, I dove into his record, writing what I hoped was an important profile of what he had done as mayor at that point . . . and finding not that much to brag about.

In 2014, Castro joined Obama’s cabinet as secretary of housing and urban development and . . . well, he might as well have joined the Witness Protection Program. There was a lot of speculation that he might be Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, but after Clinton selected Tim Kaine, Castro more or less disappeared from the public debate. He was booked for a few Iowa events last month, and he’s got a new book coming out later this year, but let’s face it, you probably hadn’t even thought about him this year until I mentioned him.

Maybe, six years from now, we’ll still be talking about Ocasio-Cortez. But sometimes “the next big thing” doesn’t turn out to be so big.

ADDENDA: Delightful: “Progressives promised an army to fight Brett Kavanaugh. They’re barely recruiting.”

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