President Donald Trump attacked the pillars that NATO has been built on for more than 70 years and has “undermined the fundamental trust” needed to protect the United States’ national security, Leon Panetta said Thursday.
“We’ve never seen anything like this, certainly in my lifetime,” Panetta said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think the problem is in the end this is about protecting our national security. It is about our foreign policy abroad.”
That policy, he said, is built on “pillars of truth, pillars of respect, pillars of strength, pillars of willingness to cooperate with others,” but Trump attacked all of that with his comments to NATO leaders.
Panetta, former defense secretary and CIA Director, conceded that he raised the issue that has brought the most concern from Trump: the agreement for NATO nations to pay 2 percent of their countries’ gross daily product toward the alliance.
“But it’s an an alliance, a national security alliance,” said Panetta, former chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton. “It is not a country club where you pay fees and get rid of members.”
Trump said during his Thursday morning press conference that the United States’ commitment to NATO “remains very strong” after its Brussels summit, and that allies had made unprecedented commitments to increase spending on their own defense.
“The only reason they’re responding is because he is threatening them,” said Panetta. “That’s the act that the president is engaged in here, and my concern is it undermines the trust of those we need if we ever have to face a national security threat.”
He did admit, however, that Trump does “deserve some credit” for nations increasing their contributions, but he should have started out the conference by taking credit for it and then supporting the fact that NATO is strong and the United States is committed to providing security needs for the world.
Panetta said he is also worried about Trump’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I think this president walks into these meetings without looking at history, without looking at the fact that he is dealing with an adversary of the United States,” said Panetta. “The Russians are trying to undermine the stability of the United States. That’s been their goal.”
Panetta said he’s concerned that Putin will take advantage of Trump to show the world that he can have his way with the United States.
“We’ve shown weakness in the NATO conference and now we’re going to go to Russia and show weakness with Putin,” said Panetta. “That’s a terrible message to send the world.”
He added that the United States’ intelligence agencies have “clearly established” that Russia tried to interfere in the country’s election process.
“The intelligence that I’ve seen in the time that I was there, and I’m sure the president continues to see, show that Russia continues to try to undermine the security of our country,” said Panetta.
“Yet the president acts as if those threats are not serious … every president I served and worked for in the last 50 years, every president recognized the threat that Russia constitutes to us and to the world. This is the first president who denies that. I think I’m concerned by that fact.”
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