President Donald Trump upended the show of unity at NATO’s annual summit Wednesday as many allies had feared, claiming that Germany “is totally controlled by” and “captive to Russia” and inflating his demands that the alliance’s members spend more on defense to an unrealistic level.
The president’s comments in Brussels, especially his harsh and unexpected attack on Germany, Europe’s leading power, overshadowed the alliance’s ostensible business and undercut its ultimate summit declaration of NATO allies’ commitment to shared values and a joint defense against Russian aggression.
His attack on Germany as beholden to Russia, because of a pipeline project, was in keeping with Trump’s practice of accusing others of behavior he has been accused of. It comes after he irked allies last month by suggesting that Russia should be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrialized democracies.
Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, a get-together that has U.S. allies apprehensive given his frequent warm words for the autocrat.
The president’s posture toward close allies has been increasingly and remarkably confrontational this year, especially in comparison to his more conciliatory approach to adversaries, including Russia and North Korea. Even as he flew to Brussels, Trump continued his attacks on NATO allies for not spending more on defense, and after hours of meetings Wednesday he reiterated his disdain in a tweet that began, “What good is NATO … ?”
As his latest remarks filtered back to the United States, even some Republican congressional leaders criticized the president for his slams against Germany and other allies, though others defended him.
Among Democrats, former Secretary of State John Kerry called Trump’s statements “disgraceful, destructive,” and the party’s congressional leaders—Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi—in a joint statement said the president’s comments were an “embarrassment” and “another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.”
In closed-door summit meetings, Trump significantly increased his previous demands for NATO allies’ defense spending, saying each of the 29 member nations should budget an amount equal to 4 percent of their economies as measured by their gross domestic product—up from 2 percent.
While NATO in 2014 set the goal that each nation reach the 2 percent level by 2024, Trump told allies to do so immediately. Doubling that, which allies reject, would require that the U.S.—now at 3.5 percent of GDP—increase its military spending as well.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who throughout the day emphasized the steady increases in member nations’ military spending in recent years, giving Trump some credit, later told reporters the alliance would focus on meeting its current goal.
Stoltenberg has strived to maintain good relations with Trump, but his calm demeanor at a news conference at day’s end could not dispel the palpable tension caused by an American president who gives short shrift to longtime alliances. White House aides privately acknowledged that Trump’s posture reflected his transactional approach and was intended to create leverage on trade issues and security.
Though Trump had been expected to shake things up in Brussels, especially after he had broken with allies last month at the G-7 summit in Canada, his performance still was something of a shock that drew widespread criticism.
Nicholas Burns, who was the U.S. ambassador to NATO on Sept. 11, 2001, after which the alliance voted to come to the aid of the United States, said, “Our big strategic advantage over Russia is we have these big alliance systems and they don’t. That’s a very big part of America’s influence in the world, and the president doesn’t see that because he’s so narrowly focused on trade disputes.
“He’s making a major mistake if he keeps this up,” Burns added. “It’s taking on the vestiges of a vendetta. When you go out at the start of the summit and set a tone that looks so anti-German and looks like it’s aimed at weakening (Chancellor Angela) Merkel, it looks malicious.”
Following the meetings at the sprawling, glass-enclosed NATO campus on the outskirts of Belgium’s capital, Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, took to Twitter for damage control.
NATO, he tweeted, “is the most successful alliance in history. All #NATO allies have committed to extending this success through increased defense spending, deterrence and defense, and fighting terrorism. Weakness provokes; strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief.”
Adding to the unease is anticipation of Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin. Amid speculation that Trump would acquiesce in Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Stoltenberg dodged a reporter’s question about whether the president had given any assurances that he would stand by NATO’s position that the action was illegal.
Critics and even some supporters say that while Trump has grounds to complain, as past presidents have, that NATO allies are taking advantage of the United States, he fails to recognize the alliance’s value to the country.
“‘America First’ has been his mantra. What Trump doesn’t understand is the United States cannot defend itself without its assets and bases on foreign soil,” said Frank Rose, a former Defense Department and State Department official in Republican and Democratic administrations.
“That radar in Denmark is not there to defend the Danes. It is defending us,” Rose continued.
At a breakfast with Stoltenberg before the summit, Trump redirected a question about his looming meeting with Putin by suggesting that a natural gas pipeline project has made Germany subservient to Russia. He apparently was referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would dramatically increase the amount of gas Russia is able to export directly to Germany.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump said. “You tell me if that’s appropriate, because I think it’s not.”
Merkel delivered a public retort upon arriving at the summit. The chancellor, who grew up during the Cold War years in the former East Germany, under the Soviet Union’s control, archly stated that she didn’t need to be lectured about dealing with authoritarian regimes.
“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she said. “I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.”
When the two leaders met privately later, they spoke about the pipeline and other issues, Trump said. But in their brief remarks to reporters he only flattered Merkel about Germany’s economic gains.
French President Emmanuel Macron, asked by a reporter after his short meeting with Trump if he agreed that Germany is captive to Russia, said flatly that he did not, as Trump sat alongside him.
As is often the case with Trump, his criticism of the pipeline project contains a measure of truth within his distortions and misrepresentations.
Germany isn’t “captive” because the pipeline isn’t finished, though U.S. and Eastern European countries have long worried that Germany could become more dependent on it over time. Russia in the past has manipulated gas supplies to threaten Ukraine.
Ukrainians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans worry that Western Europe could become less willing to protect them if Russia has a bigger role as an energy supplier. However, defenders of the pipeline have long argued that Russia, whose economy depends heavily on energy sales, will become less confrontational with the West if its prosperity becomes more intertwined with the rest of Europe.
The pipeline has also been backed by German environmentalists because increased use of natural gas has allowed the country to phase out coal and reduce its dependence on nuclear power.
“This pipeline, there are real questions about getting too dependent on Russia—that’s not an illegitimate question to ask,” said Robert Jervis, a professor of international relations at Columbia University.
“The problem is then he doesn’t have the attention span to sit still for the discussion or contemplation of the question itself.”
A commercial element could be at play in Trump’s complaint: If Germany imported less gas from Russia, it might import liquefied natural gas from the U.S.
Merkel has had her own criticisms of the pipeline, although she has not stopped it. The project was pushed by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who had warm relations with Putin and signed the deal in 2005, just days after Merkel’s party beat him in German elections. Schroeder has gone on to have extensive business dealings with Russia.
Even before Trump’s morning blast, allied leaders were nervous about the American president’s ambivalence toward NATO and his repeated demands that they increase their share of military spending.
They weren’t alone. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 97-2 in favor of a resolution in support of NATO and the House did so unanimously on Wednesday.
“NATO is indispensable,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.
In a rare move, the Walworth County Board on Tuesday killed a resolution to hold an advisory referendum asking voters if the Legislature should legalize marijuana.
Board member Charlene Staples, who was out of town and missed the meeting, submitted the referendum resolution and asked that it be referred to the executive committee Monday.
The Rock County Board narrowly passed a similar resolution last month.
Tuesday, board member Rick Stacey made a motion to “file” the proposed resolution and withdraw it from consideration. Other board members rallied behind Stacey’s motion, and the board voted unanimously to scratch the resolution.
“I am disheartened by it. I believe they should’ve allowed people to have a voice,” Staples told The Gazette on Wednesday. “I did what my constituents asked me to do. Unfortunately, others felt differently. I think there’s more information the state can gather on the issue of cannabis. And people want that information.”
Preventing a resolution from appearing at a county board committee is rare, County Administrator Dave Bretl said. The board refers about 90 percent of resolutions to committees without question, he said.
But during Tuesday’s meeting, several board members fervently opposed a referendum, pointing to a lack of tests that show how much THC is in a person’s body and questioning the effect marijuana use might have on children—both topics that came up in Rock County’s debate.
“I personally feel just by the very action of having the referendum implies you’re supporting it,” board Chairwoman Nancy Russell said. “If it’s contained in candy, some states where it’s been legalized, kids have been taking it to school with them. In Amsterdam, they’re having more problems in the coffee houses. It’s become a big crime area.
“For all those reasons, I would be totally against even having a referendum.”
Staples said the referendum’s intention isn’t to legalize marijuana but rather to gauge voters’ stance on the topic and nudge the Legislature to seek more research.
She said she proposed the referendum after several constituents asked her to do it.
Tuesday, board member Kathy Ingersoll told the board that placing the referendum on the ballot does not imply the board backs legalizing marijuana. She said discussions among board members “makes it sound like it’s a referendum to sway toward the positive, and I don’t think that was the purpose.”
Still, Ingersoll voted with the nine other board members present to scrap the resolution.
Had the board forged ahead, it would have joined Dane, Brown and La Crosse counties, which are currently considering holding advisory referendums in November.
The Rock and Milwaukee county boards have approved placing advisory referendums on the November ballot.
Mike McCabe says he wants voters to consider what it would be like to have a governor who owes nothing to big-money interests.
“I’m the one candidate that’s not taking the huge donations that candidates for governor can take. I consider those big checks to be legal bribes, and I think it dooms us to a government that works exceptionally well for a privileged few at the top but fails the rest of us,” McCabe said during a campaign stop in Janesville on Wednesday.
McCabe is trying to stand out in a large field of Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the Aug. 14 primary. He said he is the candidate who can defeat Gov. Scott Walker in November.
About 35 people turned out to hear him speak in Lower Courthouse Park.
McCabe knows a lot about money in politics. He spent 15 years of his life following political money with the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
McCabe says he has raised $200,000 and won’t accept a single donation for more than $200.
He says the way to win is through “people power,” his army of 2,500 volunteers around the state. His Democratic opponents, meanwhile, boast of having just “dozens” of volunteers, he said.
None of the Democrats running for governor has raised even a 10th of what Walker raised in 2017 alone, McCabe said, “so when they’re chasing the money from fat-cat donors, they’re playing Scott Walker’s favorite game, and they’re playing it by his rules, and they’re playing into his hands. ... I don’t think you beat Scott Walker with money. He’ll have vastly more than anybody.”
As for ideas, McCabe says he’s the first candidate to call for BadgerCare to be available to all state citizens and the first to call for legalization of marijuana. Most of the Democrats have joined him on those positions.
McCabe is also calling for a pilot project that would be an alternative to welfare. The idea is to give people a “basic income” of either $500 or $1,000 a month and allow them to work as much as they want.
Welfare is a trap because when recipients earn enough money, they lose benefits, so they work less to keep benefits, McCabe said.
Automation will put millions of Americans out of work; consider what driverless vehicles will do to trucking, for example, he said. But a guaranteed minimum income would give people the stability to make something of themselves.
McCabe said idea could largely replace welfare, but if a small-scale experiment doesn’t work, he’d abandon it.
McCabe said as governor, he would invite Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol to talk to each other—something they rarely do now.
Wisconsin’s governor has a strong veto power, so it would behoove legislators to follow his lead, he said.
McCabe’s mother grew up in Janesville. His father grew up on a farm near Shopiere.
McCabe spent some of his youth on a farm near Evansville but most of it on a dairy farm in Clark County.
He said Clark County used to vote for Democrats, but now it’s redder than Waukesha County.
And nobody’s going to defeat Scott Walker without changing the votes of those people, the ones who feel forgotten by government, he said.
Democratic candidates for governor Kelda Roys and Paul Soglin set aside their differences Wednesday night and rallied behind a common cause: undoing the policies of Gov. Scott Walker.
At a Rock County Progressives forum at Basics, each slammed Walker and the Foxconn deal, asserting Walker has handed out favors to corporations and rolled back environmental regulations.
Speaking to a room of about 35, Roys, a former state legislator and executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, praised the state’s progressive and pragmatic history. She said she wants to ensure health care for all, reduce the “horrific infant mortality rate” and invest in small businesses.
“As I travel around Wisconsin, I feel so hopeful and optimistic,” Roys said. “People have the same concerns, the same challenges and the same belief that Wisconsin can do better.”
In order to oust Walker in November, Roys said Democrats must shift voter turnout by about 5 percentage points in their direction. She said she’s the candidate to make up the deficit by energizing the party’s base, mobilizing Generation X and Millennials, and rallying women. Roys, one of two women seeking the party’s nomination Aug. 14, said when women vote, Democrats win.
Soglin, the current mayor of Madison who has held the job off and on since 1973, has long been a leading figure for Wisconsin liberals. In 1973, he gave Cuba’s communist leader Fidel Castro the key to Madison. He was also a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War on the UW campus in the late 1960s.
The five pillars of Soglin’s campaign include affordable housing, health care, transportation, quality child care and education.
Questions from the audience led the forum discussion. One person asked if the candidates had plans to appeal to rural voters and whether they could win without the rural vote.
Both said they unquestionably must appeal to rural voters. Soglin said voters should “replace a governor who cannot speak ill of Donald Trump no matter how much his policies hurt Harley-Davidson, hurt Wisconsin beer, Wisconsin cheese and our milk producers.”
Roys said she would pursue broadband connectivity expansion in rural areas and modernize infrastructure.
On the environment, Roys said she wants to implement law and order for environmental regulation, saying, “If it’s good in the criminal justice system, why is it bad in the context of consumer protections? We have got to stop letting polluters write their own permits and get them rubber-stamped by the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).”
Soglin said eminent domain, long an issue for Rock County farmers, was originally intended so governments could obtain private lands for public use. Soglin said Walker is using it to acquire private property to give to private businesses.
On Foxconn Technology Group’s $10 billion manufacturing complex that recently broke ground in Mount Pleasant, Soglin said once elected he would announce that the “deal’s canceled. The money’s cut off. If you want it, you can sue.”
As a small business owner, Roys said Foxconn is “a slap in the face. I think that the longer people look at this deal, the worse it smells.”
Both candidates said they would end the state’s school voucher program by stopping new enrollments while allowing current students to finish their education. Roys said public money should not be used for schools “that are not fully public.”
Joan E. Beyer
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John Michael Duncan Sr.
Mary Lou Esmond
Richard “Dick” Haugen
Dorothy Lee (Johnson) Lewis
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Shawn S. Riley
Roberta “Bobbi” Sommers