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SAUNDERS: Trump is singing Putin’s song

Updated February 14, 2024 - 9:48 am

WASHINGTON — During an interview with Tucker Carlson, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he has no interest in expanding the war in Ukraine to Poland and Latvia.

So with former Polish President Lech Walesa speaking at a Friday event put on by the Victims of Communism Museum, I had a chance to get the Polish game-changer’s view of Putin’s designs.

What did Walesa make of Putin’s remark to Carlson?

“But he would like to invade the United States,” Walesa wryly responded. “That is why I am telling you, be careful.”

It was a savvy warning for Americans who have felt invulnerable since the Cold War ended and buy into former President Donald Trump’s apparent belief that Putin can invade Eastern European countries without affecting us.

The good news: Days after Walesa’s visit to Washington, 22 GOP senators joined most Senate Democrats to vote in favor of a $95 billion foreign aid bill that included $60 billion for Ukraine.

What is a life-or-death issue for many Eastern Europeans now serves as an opportunity for the former commander in chief to win the news cycle.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden urged House Republicans to pass the bipartisan measure quickly as he dismissed attempts to block passage as “dumb, shameful, dangerous” and “un-American.” Biden sounded like Walesa when he argued, “If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control of Ukraine, he won’t limit himself just to Ukraine.”

For years now, Trump has shown himself to be more hostile toward NATO than Putin.

In 2017, during a dedication ceremony to a 9/11 memorial in Brussels, Trump failed to embrace Article 5, which represents the alliance’s one-for-all and all-for-one mission. I was there, and, like most observers, taken aback.

“For some reason, Trump chose to treat NATO like a freeloader, even though the alliance is sending NATO troops to Iraq and likely will increase troop levels in Afghanistan,” I wrote for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

This latest Trump tidbit began during a weekend rally in South Carolina. Trump shared his version of a conversation he held with the unnamed leader of a “big” NATO nation. The leader asked Trump if the U.S. would protect NATO countries that didn’t pay their “bills.” (“Bills” is Trump’s shorthand for NATO members’ pledge to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Most NATO countries have fallen short of that goal.)

Trump said that he told the leader, “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

And here I am writing about it.

Sure, Trump’s criticism of NATO resonates with voters who are sick of Washington’s big spending, lack of accountability and failure to pay for emergency expenditures. But he’s singing Putin’s song.

Who does it hurt? NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded appropriately. “Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response. Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.”

And who does it help? The thug who annexed Crimea in 2014 and invaded Ukraine in 2022.

This is not a game.

Contact Review-Journal Washington columnist Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @debrajsaunders on X.

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