U.S. President Donald Trump limbered up in the bullpen for his meeting with NATO alliance leaders this week by riffing on one of his favorite themes: getting ripped off.
"I'm going to tell NATO: You've got to start paying your bills," Trump said earlier this week, suggesting that he'll be treating these U.S.-allied nations as if they were freeloading college grads still relying on mom and dad to keep the fridge stocked.
Trump's critics have expressed shock and disgust at what they consider to be disrespect for one of the most hallowed institutions of global governance. Those same people may not realize that voters who elected Trump long ago lost faith in the concept of global governance and elected him to shake its foundations.
If Trump can provide the impetus for some long-overdue NATO soul-searching, all the better. Trump is approaching NATO's performance like a businessman analyzing America's return on investment and seeking concrete results. Until now, NATO has been virtually untouchable -- no matter how much it screws up. That's because it's the military equivalent of a religion. Trump is asking for receipts for his donations to the church's collection plate.
Trump is right to do so. Here in France, we're still feeling the aftershocks of NATO's invasion of Libya in 2011. Operation Unified Protector was a reaction to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi trying to maintain control of his country during the Arab Spring uprisings, and the operation was supported by the U.S. While Gaddafi was trying to prevent his country from falling into chaos by cracking down on rebel fighters, his actions were sold to us here in Europe as a slaughter of innocents. The humanitarian pretext resulted in the French left being even more supportive of war than the right.
NATO was supposed to create a no-fly zone to protect the Libyan opposition. Instead, this slippery slope led to a full-scale foreign invasion of a sovereign country and a coup d'etat against its leader, who was killed.
Seven years later, Libya still isn't stable or open for business to the countries that invested in the NATO operation. Many of the Africans from the region who previously found work in or around a stable Libya under Gaddafi have fled north to Europe.
Has anyone held NATO accountable for the massive influx of migrants streaming into Europe, partly as a result of its mess-up in Libya? Has anyone asked what NATO was doing in Libya in the first place when its mandate is to protect its independent member-states through mutual defense, historically against the Soviet Union? (Poland was a voice of reason within the alliance, objecting that NATO had overstepped its mandate.)
France and the rest of Europe are still struggling with the new demographic realities that resulted from NATO's missteps in Libya. So please forgive us if we find it worrisome that NATO's new obsession is to amass troops and conduct "exercises" on Russia's border with Europe under the pretext of preparing for some kind of potential Russian invasion.
We are apparently supposed to buy into the narrative that Russia is a threat because it annexed Crimea, a Russian-majority region of Ukraine on the Russian border. I guess we're also supposed to conveniently forget the context. A coup d'etat targeting Ukraine's pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, just happened to occur shortly after the Ukrainian government suspended preparations for a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of a customs union with Russia. This led to a revolt, and Russia justified an intervention with its own "responsibility to protect" along its border.
Russia didn't start that conflict. And given the way NATO stepped far beyond its mandate with its intervention in Libya, the idea of unchecked support for its activities is troubling. The fact that Trump is starting to question this kind of unaccountable and opaque global governance is wonderful, but it's just a start. He needs to go much further in demanding evidence and answers from those who seek to use NATO as an instrument for needless chaos.
Trump has done well in finally cutting off U.S. sponsorship of the anti-Assad fighters who fueled the ongoing conflict in Syria -- yet another cause of mass migration to Europe. He's taking the approach of a businessman going through a budget line by line and asking: "What is this supposed to do? And is it actually doing that?"
If Trump can keep demanding accountability from institutions such as NATO before it makes any more poor choices, then maybe we can all benefit from a more peaceful world.