At an unscheduled press conference in Brussels on Thursday, President Donald Trump fielded questions regarding the NATO Summit and other topics from the international press. Naturally, in light of his aggressive remarks on Wednesday, one of the top topics was about how committed the President is to keeping the U.S. in NATO.
Trump said that he is happier with NATO now, and more committed, and that NATO is stronger now than it was two days ago.
In one exchange with Margaret Talev from Bloomberg, she directly asked him if he would pull the United States out for “any reason” and whether he could do it without the approval of the U.S. Congress.
“I think I probably can [end it],” Trump answered, “but that’s unnecessary.”
It was the general tone he kept in each of the questions, which was to stand by his bashing of NATO and also say he was committed to staying.
Addressing the elephant in the room, Philip Rucker of the Washington Post asked about Trump’s tweet Wednesday where he questioned the very existence of NATO.
Rucker asked: “You tweeted yesterday ‘what good is NATO’ and you talked about NATO as an alliance that benefits Europe that defends and protects Europe. Do you see any value of NATO to the United States vis-a-vis Russia? Does it help protect the United States from Russia in your view?”
“I think it’s another very strong ally,” began Trump’s answer, as he again stood by his prior trashing of NATO while also praising it. His essential argument is that up to and including yesterday it was full of deadbeats sponging off the United States for their own protection and mostly useless to us, but now after a few hours in a meeting with him, they are a great and powerful group of allies to which we are firmly committed.
“You know what was happening with spending prior to my getting into office, the numbers were going down. Now the numbers have gone up like a rocket ship. The numbers have gone up a lot, and they’ve gone up rapidly and they’re now going up further. So I think NATO is going to be very, very effective,” he said.
He continued in that vein, essentially making an effort to bridge the destructive talk of less than 24 hours ago with this morning’s new positivity. “I think that when I was saying that I am very concerned with the pipeline, I don’t like the pipeline, and when I talk about NATO, I say ‘how do you have NATO and then have somebody paying the people that you are protecting against?’,” he said. He then implied maybe that protection won’t be as necessary soon. “But maybe we’ll get along with the group that we’re protecting against. I think that’s a real possibility. As you know I’m meeting with President Putin on Monday.”
Trump was then asked by a BBC reporter whether he “warned” people that “the U.S. would pull out of NATO” if spending commitments weren’t met.
“I told them I would be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments substantially,” he said. “Yesterday I let them know I was extremely unhappy with what was happening and they have substantially upped their commitment.”
The assertion that the commitment has changed was disputed almost immediately by French President Emmanuel Macron.
“Now we’re happy and we have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO,” Trump added. “Much stronger than it was two days ago.”
Trump was asked again about how his rhetoric from Wednesday compared to his commitment of Thursday. “Did you ever at any point say that the U.S., though, might stop engaging with NATO? And do you think your rhetoric helped NATO cohesion, or are you worried that people might even think that the U.S. is going to not be as committed to NATO? There are a lot of people who would say they were worried and stressed by what you did yesterday.”
“Well they were probably worried because the United States was not being treated fairly, but now we are,” he answered, “because the commitment has been upped so much.”
“I believe in NATO,” said Trump. “I think NATO is a very important — probably the greatest ever done — but the United States was paying for anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of it, depending on the way you calculate it. That’s not fair to the United States.”
NATO now is really a fine-tuned machine,” said Trump. The “now” in this instance must by necessity mean “right this very minute but not even just a few hours ago” based on the totality of his remarks.
Robert Wall of the Wall Street Journal asked the therefore obvious question, which is what happens if all of the “now” conditions that have changed his view on NATO actually do not come to pass, how will the President react.
“If the Germans and the Canadians and others don’t come up to 2%, what is your fallback position, how will you up the pressure to make them actually–” he asked.
“Well they will,” said Trump. “I have no doubt about it.”
He says it will happen over a matter of years, which was already the case, and confirms that the commitment is 2%, which it already was, both conditions of an agreement made under President Obama. If any change was made to the commitment overall, details of that change were not offered to these reporters by Trump, but the implication would be that other countries have agreed to increase the rate at which they are increasing budgets to meet that already existing percent and due date.
A rather minor change for such a dramatic shift in the President’s tone and rhetoric. And although he brought up his displeasure with Germany in the above clip, he also did not state any change to that nation’s agreement with Russia on natural gas.
What, if any, changes were agreed to by nations of NATO, details of those changes did not make into Thursday morning’s press conference.
Watch the clip above, courtesy of MSNBC and Fox News.
[Featured image via screengrab]