As President Donald Trump joined other leaders of the NATO military alliance at its Brussels headquarters last week, virtually no one made the connection between NATO's past actions and the terrorist bombing of an Ariana Grande pop music concert in Manchester, England, earlier in the week. Instead, many observers were busy analyzing the political implications of world leaders' handshake strength and technique (particularly Trump's) as if the diplomatic summit had been reduced to a strongman contest.
If Trump had planned on going to Brussels to achieve something concrete in the eradication of existential threats, then he was way off-base in his speech to fellow NATO leaders.
"The NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on NATO's eastern and southern borders," Trump said.
Whoever wrote Trump's speech co-opted the same sort of establishment rhetoric seen in European Parliament motions. Often crafted by rapporteurs from Eastern European nations bordering Russia, European Parliament resolutions have labeled Russia and the Islamic State as prominent threats to the European Union.
Terrorism, Russia ... Russia, terrorism. One of these things is an actual problem -- as exemplified by attacks like the one in Manchester -- and the other is a country currently leading the effort in the Middle East to eradicate terrorists.
"These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with (NATO Secretary-General Jens) Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they're supposed to be paying for their defense," Trump said.
As for NATO's counterterrorism efforts, maybe it had best just put the wallet away altogether. Recent history suggests that the alliance has only exacerbated the problem. For instance, had Trump evoked NATO's military intervention in Libya, he could have justified withholding NATO funding and calling upon other member nations to do likewise.
There is a link between the Manchester bombing and the NATO-led 2011 military intervention to remove former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi. The father of 22-year old bombing suspect Salman Abedi worked for Gaddafi's security forces and fled Libya after supporting Islamists seeking to overthrow Gaddafi, according to the New York Times.
With Gaddafi dead, jihadists have been running free in Libya in recent years, and the Islamic State has established a foothold there in its perpetual quest for a caliphate. Some, like Abedi, have apparently been shuttling back and forth between England and Libya under the nose of the British intelligence services.
NATO should have known at the outset that its Libyan adventure could open the floodgates to terrorism in Europe and the West. Its leaders were told as much. In February 2011, Gaddafi warned then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a phone call about the nature of the "Libyan rebels" seeking his ouster.
"Those people are from Guantanamo, we know them by name," Gaddafi told Blair. "They support al-Qaida -- do you support al-Qaida?"
It was Britain under Blair and France under former president Nicolas Sarkozy that led the early push for Libyan military intervention. Eight months later, Gaddafi was dead at the hands of "rebels" operating under the protection of NATO's no-fly zone.
Meanwhile, Russia was fuming, since it had abstained from vetoing the no-fly zone when the U.N. Security Council voted on it, unaware that such a move would lead to mission creep and ultimately to a NATO-facilitated regime change, resulting in a power vacuum for terrorists to fill.
Russia has been determined not to make the same mistake in Syria, backing the Assad regime against Syrian rebels supported by assorted terrorist groups, Persian Gulf nations and their Western allies, all seeking to turn Assad into the next Gaddafi. If Assad is deposed, Syria will become the sort of jihadist nest from which terrorists such as Manchester bomber Abedi come and go.
During his presidential campaign, Trump called NATO obsolete. But after hosting Stoltenberg at the White House in April, Trump changed his mind.
"The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism," Trump said. "I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism."
So handing victories to jihadists is an example of NATO fighting terrorism? It sounds like another swamp -- and its piggy bank -- needs draining.