Unaware and unprepared: What America’s allies see in Trump

Unaware and unprepared: What America’s allies see in Trump
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Last month, I led a bipartisan congressional trip to Ukraine and Estonia, two countries celebrating 25 years of independence since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Today, a quarter-century later, Ukrainian and Estonian leaders are gravely concerned about an increasingly aggressive and unrestrained Russia – and questioning whether America will uphold its decades-long alliances.

In conversation after conversation, military, government, and civilian leaders asked me the same thing: Is Donald Trump serious? Does he speak for your country?

It’s not hard to see why they’re concerned – even terrified. After all, Russia has already invaded and illegally occupied Ukraine. In Estonia, Putin’s regime conducted a major cyberattack 2007, and in 2014, kidnapped and illegally detained an Estonian border security guard.

Yet instead of reinforcing America’s commitment to defend and support our partners, Trump says these commitments are conditional. He praises Vladimir Putin as a “strong leader” and “smart cookie” who’s “doing a great job” and who gets an “A” for leadership.

For decades, the United States and our allies have stood for freedom, stability, and the rule of law. That’s why the world looks to us for leadership fighting terrorism, rallying the international community, and standing up for democratic principles. In America, these values have long transcended partisan politics.

Enter Trump, who appears to have little understanding of the relevant history or the complexities of diplomacy – or any interest in learning.

Trump questions America’s participation in NATO and suggests our obligations to stand by our partners are conditional – even countries like Estonia, a NATO ally whose troops have been fighting side-by-side with American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for years.

Trump hired Paul Manafort, a lobbyist with deep and possibly ongoing ties to the pro-Putin former president of Ukraine, to run his campaign.

Trump called on Russia to continue hacking and releasing the emails of Democratic Party staff – an unprecedented request for foreign meddling in an American election.

Trump’s campaign worked to weaken the Republican Party platform to remove a policy calling for the U.S. to help arm Ukraine to fight Russian-backed separatists, and he’s said he is willing to consider lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia that penalize it for its illegal invasion and occupation of Crimea.

It’s clear Trump doesn’t understand what’s at stake here. Even more ominously, he doesn’t seem interested in trying to figure it out.

Trump doesn’t understand that Russia wants to divide the U.S. from Europe, and divide NATO and the European Union internally.

Trump doesn’t understand that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and hacking of Democratic Party emails shows it will use all tools of national power, from land to sea to cyberspace, to pursue its ends.

Trump doesn’t understand that national sovereignty and the rule of law are priorities for which the United States has advocated and fought for decades. Defending Ukraine and its neighbors from Russian aggression is vital to standing up for these principles – a fact that should be common sense for any candidate for president.

Yet instead of standing up for these fundamental principles, Donald Trump says “we’ll be looking at” recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.

Instead of standing up for the Ukrainians who continue to fight valiantly for their independence, Trump dismisses their sacrifice, saying, “You know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

If Donald Trump were actually to take the time to visit our partners in Ukraine and Estonia, he might begin to grasp how dangerous and irresponsible his words have been.

He would see what Estonians see: thousands of Russian troops massing on the border of Estonia, testing the international community to see if we’ll support our NATO ally.

Trump would see what Ukrainians see: the memorials of citizens who died fighting for independence, and the commitment of thousands more determined to repel an illegal occupation.

He might also see what our allies have seen in America for generations: a nation founded on freedom and independence that has always stood by our allies and stood up for our principles.

In the meantime, here’s what I see: America’s bond with our allies and partners around the world is unbreakable. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is unaware of the world around him and unfit for the office he seeks.

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