Before his half-assed endorsement of, and subsequent snub by, Paul Ryan yesterday, Donald Trump was on the road in Iowa spreading the Gospel of Small Thinking to his followers.
As has been his pattern of late, he turned his harshest fire not on our rivals/enemies on the world stage, North Korea, Iran, Russia, Communist China, but rather on our allies. In recent days, his target has been the NATO alliance. (See my posts here | here | here.) Each of his NATO pronouncements has two parts that are utterly predictable when dealing with Trump, a) he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about and b) he knows no more about the US Constitution than your typical hog knows about differential equations. And there is a third, more surprising, theme, he is pushing the Kremlin’s propaganda and story line about NATO.
In Iowa, it was Japan that drew his ire.
“You know we have a treaty with Japan, where if Japan is attacked, we have to use the full force and might of the United States,” he said.
“If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, OK?”
Mr Trump added that the US protects Japan, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia and other nations, and “they don’t pay anything near what it costs”.
“They have to pay. Because this isn’t 40 years ago,” he added.
“It’s got to be a two-way street.”
Even if it is not 40 years ago, somethings haven’t changed. First, Japan is constitutionally forbidden from having armed forces. Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution reads:
ARTICLE 9. (1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
How did this come to be? Well, the Japanese Constitution was drafted under the guidance of the American military occupation headed by General Douglas MacArthur. The Japanese have skirted this point by possessing “self-defense forces”, but the odds of the Japanese people changing the constitution isn’t all that great. The memory of World War II is very much alive there.
What the mutual defense treaty with Japan does is give the US access to strategically important Japanese bases if the need arises. It also governs the legal status of US servicemembers who are stationed in Japan or transit through it. Trump might think he will get a better deal if he tosses this treaty aside but the likelihood of that is slim. If you don’t believe that a US presence in the Western Pacific is important, none of this matters. But, regardless of what you believe, if you are basing US foreign and defense policy on shaking down our allies for a few extra dollars you are a flipping moron.
More to the point, it is the US Department of Defense that sets the troop levels in Japan. If Trump wants a more judicious share to be borne by the Japanese, all he has to do is reduce the troop levels. Now that, of course, brings a level of risk with it. But in Trump’s Bizarro World, that risk can be assumed away. Because we make great deals.
Like his broadside at NATO, this, too carries the unpleasant odor of being a gift to the Russians.
Russia and Japan have never been able to sign a peace treaty after World War II because of a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands. Both the US and Japan consider them to be illegally occupied by the Soviet Union. Over the past few years, Russia has ramped up miltary presence there and it has started making noises about enforcing totally debunked claims to historically Japanese islands near the Kurils. (See my post on the issue.)
At some point we have to start asking, with dead seriousness, to what extent Donald Trump is simply a moron who understands the price of everything and the value of nothing, and to what extent he is acting as a stalking horse for the strategic goals of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation.