Trump’s NATO link has strings

WASHINGTON – Once in a while, in political campaigns filled with “definitive” incidents, there is one event that stands out as truly defining the character of the political figure in the spotlight.

Is he or she an angel in disguise? Simply a normal, nothing-special, nothing-awful sort of person? Or perhaps a truly mischievous scalawag?

Actually, this moment has already happened in Donald Trump’s bumptious campaign, offering so much clarity about his personality and thinking that it is well worth recalling in some detail.

Although many Americans would be hard put to explain exactly what NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – does, most would be familiar with the term.

NATO – it rings clear and it’s concise. Some might even know that it is essentially an alliance, born in the days following World War II, among the nations in the democratic West to keep totalitarian Russia out of our hair and out of our cities.

But few would probably know the 1949 treaty that established NATO stipulates in Article 5 that an attack on any one of the 28 members represents an attack on all.

The alliance is required to come to the defense of any member country attacked.

This stipulation has served the nations of Europe well, and it is downright precious to Eastern European nations like Poland and the small Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, who have long been victims of both brutal Nazi and Soviet occupation.

In fact, Article 5 was invoked in NATO headquarters in Brussels the morning after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11, and aid was immediately and urgently proffered to the United States.

NATO came up in an interview in The New York Times last week in which Trump stunned many in the foreign policy halls when he said he might reconsider America’s promise of immediate NATO response – and make it contingent upon whether the country under attack had paid its dues.

(It must be noted that the U.S. contributes a larger amount to NATO than the other countries, but the ideal is that every member pays 2 percent of its income on defense.)

Asked about aiding the vulnerable Baltic countries, Trump told the Times, “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

Asked then what he would do if not: “Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.”

One can almost imagine the scene:

Ministry of Defense, Riga, Latvia: “Washington … Washington … The Russians are coming … Russian planes attacking on the eastern border near … Rezekne …”

Trump’s office in the White House: “Hey, don’t try to stiff-arm me! Have you got that 2 percent in yet? I’m waiting for the check.”

Ministry of Defense, Riga: “What?”

Melania’s voice on Trump’s office phone: “Darling, this is my part of the world. You should help them … Please …”

Phone calls fade away.

What we have learned since then is that Trump’s business interests in Russia are far larger than many were aware of, from his Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in 2013 to scores of contacts with the corrupt world of Russian business.

His campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for years for Viktor Yanukovych, the disgraced pro-Russian ex-president of Ukraine, who was thrown out in 2014.

Trump seems strangely to be openly fond of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he is known for at least once tweeting, pleased and puffed up, that a new era of cooperation was possible because “Putin likes me.”

Actually, there is little question that strongmen like Trump and Putin not only tend to like each other, but that they also study each other.

While researching my biography of Fidel Castro, “Guerrilla Prince,” I soon discovered the degree to which Castro studied other demagogic strongmen, including Mussolini, Hitler and the many Spanish caudillos, not for their ideas but for their techniques.

What is new here, however, is what appears to be the Russian attempts to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s emails, which came close to destroying the opening ceremonies of the Democratic convention Monday night.

Presumably, their goal was an attempt to throw the election to Donald Trump, whom of course Putin “likes.”

In the end, though, what would be worse is sitting by and allowing a small, long-suffering land like Latvia to be handed the bill while Russian soldiers were invading yet again.

That’s why this story presents such an unforgettably revealing little bit of Donald J. Trump, candidate for president of the United States of America.