The final and complete liberation of Paris, on August 25, 1944, couldn’t come fast enough for Winston Churchill and the other Brits in London. Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces in exile there, had been a pain in the ass – arrogant and stubborn with a massive ego, easily wounded, and with no charm at all. Churchill and the others humored him, and rolled their eyes, and when the time came sent him back home, gladly. Let him rule France. They had other worries, and they had no time for his nonsense.
That was a mistake. Don’t ignore charmless men with big egos. They become older and more charmless with even bigger egos. And they don’t change, and they do have fragile egos, and they hold grudges, forever. That sounds a lot like Donald Trump, but he wasn’t the first at this. Trump thinks things should be just the way he wants. Charles de Gaulle did too. This is a matter of stubborn pride. Donald Trump may want to pull the United States out of NATO but Charles de Gaulle actually did pull France out of NATO:
The memo was brief – just a few hundred words. The memo was polite. But for President Lyndon Johnson and his NATO allies, it read like a slap in the face.
“France is determined to regain on her whole territory the full exercise of her sovereignty,” wrote French President Charles de Gaulle. The country intended to stop putting its military forces at NATO’s disposal and intended to kick NATO military forces – and those of NATO members – off of its land.
In short, de Gaulle had just done the unthinkable: pulled the plug on a crucial part of NATO.
In short, de Gaulle was Trump before Trump was Trump:
De Gaulle’s 1966 decision to withdraw France from NATO’s integrated military command sent shock waves through NATO’s member states. It was a reminder of the fissures within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and a challenge to its very existence. Could NATO survive without a member state’s participation in the very military agreements it was founded on?
Yes, NATO could survive, and did, but de Gaulle had only wanted to Make France Great Again:
French president Charles de Gaulle still resented what he saw as the United States’ abandonment during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when the U.S. effectively forced France to withdraw its forces from the area around the Suez Canal during a conflict over its nationalization by Egypt. And he valued French military independence – something he felt could never be achieved within the context of the alliance.
Frustration mounted even more when de Gaulle suggested that France, the United States and Britain be put on equal footing within NATO in terms of nuclear strategy. The proposal failed, and as a result de Gaulle began slowly reducing French participation in NATO. He withdrew France from the Mediterranean fleet and refused to store nuclear weapons from other countries on French soil…
The situation reached a boiling point by 1963, when the U.S. and France clashed over a plan to have NATO nations man a North Atlantic nuclear fleet. De Gaulle and his military had planned their own North Atlantic nuclear fleet, and withdrew France’s participation as a result. Then, in 1966, de Gaulle struck a final blow. He announced that he was withdrawing France from the integrated military structure and that all foreign forces had to leave France.
And that was that, but not quite:
The withdrawal forced all member states to remove their French bases, and NATO itself had to move its military headquarters from France to Belgium. But France did not withdraw from the political alliance of NATO, and made behind-the-scenes assurances to the United States – the Lemnitzer-Ailleret Agreements – that it would support NATO in the case of nuclear war in Europe.
And then things slowly settled down:
It took 43 years for France to change course. By the time Nicolas Sarkozy announced that France would rejoin the military portion of the NATO alliance in 2009, the USSR no longer existed, the Cold War was over and France had participated in NATO peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
“We send our soldiers onto the terrain, but we don’t participate in the committee where their objectives are decided?” said Sarkozy. “The time has come to end this situation. It is in the interest of France and the interest of Europe.”
France was accepted back into the fold – a powerful reminder that the alliance has so far managed to sustain itself despite vehement differences among its member states.
That’s nice. But that’s a long wait. And that was a stupid move in the first place. Someone has to prevent Trump from doing this himself, and the Washington Post reports that someone is doing just that:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is joining with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other congressional leaders to extend a rare bipartisan invitation to NATO’s secretary general to address a joint session of Congress next month.
McConnell and Pelosi held quiet talks about the idea of an invitation to Jens Stoltenberg as they eye ways to honor NATO as it celebrates its 70th anniversary in April and underscore the U.S. commitment to the group’s values and importance in securing global order, according to three people familiar with the discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.
But the message here is clear. Trump does NOT speak for most Americans. He’s just too strange:
The invitation to Stoltenberg comes as President Trump’s nationalistic foreign policy has rattled U.S. allies and NATO members – and as he has pushed them to pay more for having U.S. troops stationed on their territory and framed the alliance in transactional terms.
In particular, Trump has told his aides in recent weeks that he has devised an eye-popping new formula for U.S. allies, including NATO countries, although he has not implemented it.
Under his proposal, countries would pay the full cost of stationing American troops on their territory, plus 50 percent, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the idea, which could have allies contributing five times what they now provide.
Trump calls the formula “cost plus 50,” and it has struck fear in the hearts of U.S. allies who view it as extortionate.
Perhaps the idea is that the United States would finally turn a profit on its diplomatic efforts. The Department of State could be a profit center. Think of America as a business. It’s about time the government started making money, not losing it, but even the daughter of Lord Voldemort finds this stupid:
Republicans such as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), a member of party leadership, have criticized the suggestion. “It would be absolutely devastating,” Cheney said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“It’s going to be very important for us to make sure that people understand the danger that will do to our relationships and to our fundamental security,” Cheney said. “Our security, we’ve been able to protect it because of our alliances and because we have been able to work with countries. We should not look at this that we need to charge them rent for the privilege of having our forces there.”
Perhaps so, but perhaps this is just another way to dismantle NATO for Putin or whoever else frightens Donald Trump a bit. Either way, those folks should stay away:
NATO declined to say whether Stoltenberg would accept the invitation, saying that his schedule during his Washington trip in April “will be announced in due course.”
The invitation could put the NATO leader in a slightly awkward position. Stoltenberg has gone to great lengths to foster a positive relationship with Trump. If the congressional invitation were seen as too direct a rebuke to the White House, it could suck him into a domestic U.S. political battle he has been eager to avoid.
Trump is personally friendly with Stoltenberg and has praised him, making frequent comments about the former Norwegian prime minister’s efforts to increase members’ financial contributions to NATO in exchange for U.S. military operations. And even as many European leaders cringe at Trump, Stoltenberg has strained to give Trump credit for shaking up negotiations over NATO finances and the U.S. military’s support.
He holds his nose and does what he can to calm Trump, but Trump is who he is:
McConnell has been a defender of NATO and has split with Trump over the president’s skepticism of the alliance, beginning with the candidate’s assertion during his 2016 presidential campaign that he wouldn’t automatically come to the defense of NATO allies if they were attacked.
The majority leader also aligned himself with former defense secretary Jim Mattis when he abruptly resigned in December, urging Trump to nominate a successor who shared Mattis’ support for global alliances.
And his counterpart in the House has been doing the same:
Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Brussels in mid-February, where she and her colleagues met with NATO leaders, including Stoltenberg.
During the visit, Pelosi said she was asked repeatedly by NATO and European officials whether the United States was having second thoughts about its membership given reports that Trump repeatedly floated withdrawing from the alliance. She promised them the U.S. was not considering an exit, arguing that Trump controlled only one branch of the government and that NATO had bipartisan support.
“Over 50 members of Congress were there – House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans – reasserting our commitment to the transatlantic relationship between the U.S. and Europe, as well as our commitment to NATO to strengthen it,” Pelosi said following the trip. “People seemed very happy to see such bipartisanship, House and Senate, with a very positive message of the importance of that region to us.”
So, as McConnell suggests, don’t listen to the big guy:
Trump broke with past U.S. presidents by omitting a pledge to common defense from his first address to NATO leaders in 2017.
Speaking last month in Poland, Vice President Pence highlighted the administration’s commitment to the NATO alliance and its core mission of a united front against Russia on Wednesday, with a caveat that American interests will always come first.
He doesn’t really mean that. Trump really doesn’t mean that. But they do. The issue now is swagger:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday that $13 billion in proposed budget cuts for his agency won’t hurt America’s “swagger” abroad.
The Trump administration’s budget plan, released Monday, would slash the budget for the State Department and international programs by more than 23 percent, from $55.8 billion to a proposed $42.8 billion.
In an interview Monday with McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, Pompeo said he was deeply involved in preparing the budget and would support it before Congress.
“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”
It’s not the money, it’s the swagger:
The people who work at the State department “understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.
“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”
Trump’s proposed cut is consistent with past reductions he has pursued. In the first year of his presidency, under Pompeo’s predecessor, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he asked Congress for a 30 percent reduction. GOP lawmakers described the proposal at the time as reckless.
When he became Secretary of State last year, Pompeo pledged to help the agency “get its swagger back.” Asked on Monday how that would be possible in the face of such deep cuts, Pompeo was unfazed.
“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of the world,” he said.
And you can tell our NATO allies that if any of them want our troops around then they have to pay us – big time – all the costs of each soldier or sailor or Marine – plus a fifty percent surcharge, just because. Otherwise, we’re gone. We will leave NATO. Charles de Gaulle did it. Trump can too. And the world needs another Charles de Gaulle, right?
The world has one now.