The Washington Post headline blared, "Trump is bent on wrecking NATO. Prepare for catastrophe." The Post fears that President Trump's diplomacy will benefit Vladimir Putin to the detriment of American and European interests. European Council president Donald Tusk sniped, "Dear America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don't have that many."
The NATO countries are, indeed, among America's closest allies, but some of them appear more interested in oil, natural gas, and trade with Iran than in the Fulda Gap. Some of our "closest allies" have been working overtime to undermine America. If Mr. Trump is irritated with them, there is a reason.
Iran is preparing to take $300 million in cash out of German banks to get ahead of impending U.S. banking sanctions. While American intelligence officials are concerned that the money will finance terrorism, the German government says it has "no evidence" to that effect. According to the German newspaper Bild, "Iran ... says that they need the money 'to pass it on to Iranian individuals who, when traveling abroad, are dependent on euros in cash due to their lack of access to accepted credit cards.'" The German government appears to think that one million Iranian tourists might need $300 each – or perhaps 300 tourists might need $1 million each.
The plan to send dollars to Tehran is in line with European negotiations, led by Germany and France, to help Iran mitigate the economic fallout of the American withdrawal from the JCPOA – the Iran deal. The E.U. has also begun to update its "blocking statute," the rule that will prevent European companies from complying with impending Iran sanctions.
Germany is willing to run a multi-billion-euro trade deficit with Iran to keep the doors open, even as a 2018 German intelligence report confirms that Iran is currently seeking nuclear technology in there.
It is unclear why America's "closest allies" want to help the regime that sponsors Hamas and Hezb'allah, created a mercenary army of tens of thousands of Shiites to uproot the mostly Sunni population of Syria, sentences a women who doffed her head scarf to 20 years in prison (she will serve at least two years, likely more), bans homosexuality and hangs gay people from cranes in public – and is, in fact, behind only China in the number of executions it conducts annually – and imprisons foreign nationals. And that's before mentioning that Iran cheated on the JCPOA by hiding the military nature of its program and violated U.N. Security Council resolutions on ballistic missile development and the import and export of weapons.
As a practical matter, it may be irrelevant. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani went back to Iran in a snit because, he said, "The package from Europe does not meet all our demands." Iran makes "demands" on America's "closest allies," and the allies consider them?
Since NATO was designed to defend Europe from Russia, perhaps our interests are more closely aligned on the subject of an increasingly bellicose and aggressive Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post ran a story in which Germany's parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces "reached the conclusion that the German military is virtually 'not deployable for collective defense.'" The commissioner "also indicated in an interview that Germany was unprepared for the possibility of a larger conflict even though smaller operations abroad may still be possible."
Then perhaps Germany is preparing to spend the NATO-required 2 percent of GDP on defense to make it up. No, it is not. Germany's defense minister, on a visit to the Pentagon earlier this year, said Germany may get to 1.5 percent of GDP in 2026.
In the meantime, The Post reported that Germany has not one operational submarine, only half of its Leopard 2 tanks were operational in November 2017, and so many helicopters require repair that Bundeswehr pilots were using private helicopters for practice.
While Germany declines to spend 2 percent on defense, it appears to have enough money to build another natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany and beyond – this will be the third. Germany already imports about half of its oil and natural gas from Russia; the new pipeline will increase that to 60% and beyond. The pipelines also serve France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, among our "closest allies."
Russia-Germany NordStream pipeline
Remember how upset our European allies were by Russian meddling in Ukraine and the conquest and annexation of Crimea? They tossed Russia from the G-7 and imposed sanctions on Russian oligarchs and companies – though not on Putin himself.
Then, when Russia tried abruptly to cancel its gas transit contracts with Ukraine and Poland, Ukraine won its case to retain the shipping rights – and the associated fees – in the international arbitration court in Sweden. So, of course, Germany, et al. sided with Ukraine, which needs the fees in part to continue to resist Russian-inspired aggression. Right? No. Germany sided with Russia against Ukraine – offering to "mediate" between the invader and the invaded.
How much political influence will Russia have in Germany and other European countries when the thermometer dips next winter? How will our "closest allies" respond to Russian pressure?
A flashback from 2012 might be instructive:
Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it's important for him [Putin] to give me space.
Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you...
Obama: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.
Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.
Our European allies offered not a word of criticism. Now, six years later, who is actually "wrecking NATO"? Who is actually "colluding" with Russia? Who is actually weakening the Atlantic Alliance? Who is actually supporting Iran today – which threatens the United States (and Israel) directly and Europe by extension?
Hint: It is not Mr. Trump.
Shoshana Bryen is an expert on international and Mideast affairs at the Jewish Policy Center.