President Trump approved the accession of Montenegro into NATO today after the Senate voted 97-2 last motnh to ratify Montenegro's membership, further solidifying the Trump administration's commitment to a status quo where the U.S. subsidizes the defense and military aspirations of the rest of the West, a sharp departure from Trump's pre-presidency rhetoric.
The only no votes in the Senate came from Republicans Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.). A 2016 poll of Montenegrans found that support for joining NATO had "risen" to 47.3 percent.
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump's flippant remarks about the U.S. relationship to NATO were interpreted by many observers as a signal that, at best, Trump would support long overdue NATO reform or, at worse, that he'd pull the U.S. out of the alliance, perhaps even during an invasion of a Baltic state by Russia.
Respectful and diplomatic efforts by Defense Secretary James Mattis to relay to European NATO members the importance of increasing their contributions rather than relying on profligate U.S. spending were outright dismissed by European leaders. And why shouldn't they be? President Trump's opening offer of a massive increase in U.S. military spending certainly offered European leaders little incentive to push for an increase in their own military spending.
Then last week, Trump ordered missile strikes on Syria after blaming the Syrian government on a chemical weapons attack on civilians, acting as the police wing of the Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), entirely of his own volition. Trump spent much of the campaign insisting U.S. allies should pay for the defense the U.S. provides—yet the first military engagement he can call his own involved enforcing international law unilaterally and out-of-pocket.
It's hard to look at these developments and not conclude that the Europeans have totally clowned Trump—in exchange for refusing to seriously consider increasing their defense spending they have been rewarded not just with Trump's support for NATO expansion despite any clear commitment to reform, but also with Trump's willingness to commit the U.S. to act unilaterally as an enforcer of international law. Trump the candidate would've probably demanded the U.S. be paid for such enforcement. As president, he hasn't even questioned the assumptions underlying such a U.S. role.
Trump is scheduled to attend the NATO summit in Brussels next month—by then he will almost certainly be largely indistinguishable in form, if not in style, from his predecessors. On foreign policy, he is becoming largely indistinguishable from his campaign rival Hillary Clinton.