Even GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence has been at odds with Donald Trump on matters of national security – most notably over the importance of the NATO alliance to the United States, as well as the role of Russia in the hacking of American officials’ emails. And yet the Indiana governor is also on record defending Trump’s praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, even as Pence himself calls Putin a bully.
Tuesday night it will be Pence in the spotlight as he faces off with Democrat Tim Kaine in the lone vice presidential debate. Will Pence continue to defend Trump’s admiration for Putin? Will he contradict Trump on critical questions around cyber security? Here’s a quick recap of Pence’s take on these national security concerns since he joined the GOP ticket in July:
Trump has criticized the 28-nation-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization for months, telling The New York Times in July that he was “prepared to walk” away from treaties like NATO if other nations didn’t increase their payments. The day after that interview Pence outright contradicted Trump in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, declaring that if Trump were elected, “he would absolutely stand by our allies and treaty obligations.”
Perhaps Trump listened to his VP candidate? By the Sept. 26 presidential debate, Trump had flipped his position, saying he was “all for NATO.” NATO officials are skeptical, saying they can’t plan for Trump “because his position keeps shifting.”
What to watch for in Tuesday night’s debate: If the question of support for NATO comes up, expect Pence to attempt to reassure the world that Trump will uphold the alliance.
In July Trump literally invited Russia to hack American systems to search for 30,000 missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state. Trump’s invitation came as part of a discussion around the hack into the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which was likely instigated by the Russian government, U.S. intelligence officials say.
Pence, however, quickly condemned the cyberattack: “The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking. If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”
In the first presidential debate, Trump refused to acknowledge that Russia is the prime suspect in the DNC email attack.
The issue of cybersecurity gained new urgency last week when the Department of Homeland Security revealed that election systems in more than 20 states have been targeted by hackers. Previously, hacks into two state election systems had been linked to Russian hackers.
What to watch for Tuesday night: Pence has mostly steered clear of the DNC email hacking issue in recent weeks. If asked the question directly, expect him to stand by his previous statement condemning Russia interference in U.S. elections, which is still posted on the Trump campaign website.
Praise for Putin:
Trump has been remarkably consistent about his admiration for the Russian leader, but Pence has been struggling with this issue over the last month. At one moment he agrees with Trump, saying it’s “inarguable” that Putin is a stronger leader than President Obama. The next moment, he calls Putin “a small and bullying leader.”
What to watch for Tuesday night: Whatever Pence says about Putin, expect the Indiana governor to twist the question into a defense of Trump as a strong leader for the U.S. and to claim that Trump would be a president in the style of President Ronald Reagan – an argument he repeated in USA Today on Friday in a response to that editorial board’s scathing declaration that Trump is “unfit for the presidency.”
There is deep irony in Pence’s comparison, because Reagan was famously tough on Russia: As Hoover Institution fellow Michael McFaul puts it: “On foreign policy, there are almost no parallels whatsover. Aside from a pledge to increase military spending, Trump’s national security policies have nothing in common with Ronald Reagan’s.”
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
State-sponsored cyber-espionage infiltrating the U.S. election process. The integrity of America’s 70-year NATO alliance. These were the urgent national security concerns we expected would come up in the first Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton presidential debate – and the candidates stayed true to form in their responses Monday night. The facts behind these two critical issues matter to American security.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was specific in her condemnation of foreign hacking by state actors such as Russia, and unequivocal in her support for the 28-nation-strong NATO alliance. Donald Trump tried to deflect responsibility for recent election-related cyber attacks away from Moscow, saying he doubted that Russia was behind them. He also repeated his assertion that NATO was “obsolete.”
Instead of addressing the concerns, Trump sought to dodge most of the specifics on both of these issues. Here is a recap of some of the critical national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.
Moderator Lester Holt raised this question about cyber security: “Our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is, who’s behind it? And how do we fight it?”
In her response, Clinton pointed to President Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation: “The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee.”
She went on emphasize that the U.S. has the capacity to respond to cyber attacks: “And the Russians need to understand that. I think they’ve been treating it as almost a probing, how far would we go, how much would we do. And that’s why I was so — I was so shocked when Donald publicly invited Putin to hack into Americans. That is just unacceptable.”
For his part, Trump steered clear of his often-repeated support for Vladimir Putin. Instead, he said it was not clear who was behind the latest cyber attacks. “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
According to The New York Times, United States intelligence officials disagree: This most recent round of attacks, they concluded with “high confidence,” indeed originated from Russia.
And, as The Washington Post reported, the cyber security firm Crowd Strike, which investigated the breach, also determined that Russian government hackers penetrated the DNC – a fact, the Post points out, that Trump must surely know. “Trump, who has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, is going against the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community and private researchers in asserting that it’s unclear who hacked the DNC, as well as other political organizations.”
When the debate turned to the 28-nation NATO alliance — what Clinton called the longest military alliance in the history of the world — Trump was initially critical: “…Many of them aren’t paying their fair share…we’re defending them, and they should at least be paying us what they’re supposed to be paying by treaty and contract.”
“Just to go down the list,” Trump said later, “we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune. That’s why we’re losing — we’re losing — we lose on everything…We’re a country that owes $20 trillion. They have to help us out.”
Trump went on to repeat something he said he feels strongly about: “NATO could be obsolete, because…they do not focus on terror…I’m all for NATO. But I said they have to focus on terror.”
According to the New York Times, Trump was correct in asserting that many NATO countries do not contribute their full share to NATO — a complaint that Mr. Obama and a former secretary of defense, Robert Gates, have also voiced. But he was wrong about NATO failing to fight terrorism. NATO was in Afghanistan starting in 2003 — part of the battle against Al Qaeda.
Politico corrected another fact from Trump: how much of NATO’s budget is paid for by the U.S.:
“We pay approximately 73 percent of the cost of NATO. It’s a lot of money to protect other people…Trump is wrong…The United States pays just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO’s spending. Trump is confusing the numbers. President Barack Obama has also urged other NATO member-states to up their defense spending.”
Clinton’s response was aimed at statements by Trump that have alarmed NATO members and other allies. Trump has suggested the U.S. might not respond, for example, if Russia pounced on the Baltic states that are members of NATO unless they were paying their fair share of the alliance.
‘NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5,” Clinton said Monday night, “and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.”
She returned to the point about honoring the NATO alliance later: “Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them. It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.”
National security issues are expected to be an even bigger focus in the next presidential debate scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 9, moderated by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
“Securing America,” one of the scheduled topics in tonight’s presidential-candidate debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is also one of the top concerns for PutinTrump.org. We expect that either moderator Lester Holt or the candidates themselves will raise two key issues under this theme – and the responses will be worlds apart.
Here’s what we’re looking for, and the kinds of answers we are likely to hear:
1) Emails, cyber crime and the election. While we expect that questions around Clinton’s emails and servers during her time as Secretary of State will be raised in the debate, the security questions around her emails have already been vetted by Congress and the FBI, and no charges were filed. A far more serious risk should be discussed tonight: the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email system, as well as electoral systems in Arizona and Illinois.
The FBI is just beginning to investigate the Russian hacking and subsequent leaks of stolen emails from the DNC and officials such as former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell. It is believed that this unprecedented Russian interference into the U.S election is on behalf of Trump. The FBI has high confidence that Russia is behind the stolen emails.
Trump has explicitly welcomed hacking by a foreign state. According to the New York Times, Trump said “he hoped Russian intelligence services had successfully hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, and encouraged them to publish whatever they may have stolen, essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyber espionage against a former secretary of state.” Trump has suggested that additional hacked email revelations will emerge before the Nov. 8 election.
During the debate, Trump will either repeat his pro-hacking statements or try to deny what he said and distance himself from his previous often-repeated statements in praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and inviting more hacking. In that case, he makes a clear flip-flop on his position. No matter his response, Trump’s position on Russian interference in the U.S. election, as well as his flattery of Putin, raise critical national security questions, and moderator Holt should hold Trump to account.
For Clinton’s part, she has called Russian interference in U.S. elections “a threat from an adversarial foreign power.” Expect her to stay firm to this position in the debate: Cyber espionage and Russian hacking has no place in the U.S. election and should be appalling for all citizens.
2) NATO. We agree with The New York Times, which says Trump should be asked about NATO:
“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the alliance between the United States and 27 other countries, including the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Article 5 of its charter explicitly states that an attack on one member should be considered an attack on all. You have praised President Vladimir V. Putin, vowing to fashion better relations with Russia. But if, as he did in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Mr. Putin intervened militarily in one of the Baltic States, would you favor invoking NATO’s Article 5 and sending forces to counter Russia?”
Trump has implied that he might not honor the long-standing U.S. commitment to NATO members. And he has said his response to a possible Baltic invasion by Russia won’t be an automatic “we’ll protect you.” Instead, Trump’s actions would depend on whether or not the NATO member is current on its defense spending commitments. Such an approach would cripple speedy action by the NATO alliance, much to the delight of Putin.
Trump will either have to backtrack, and finally support NATO – a clear flip-flop – or stick with his position along lines that favor Putin and Russia’s national interests.
Clinton has consistently said the U.S. should honor its commitment to NATO members. NATO came to the aid of the United States after 9/11, after all. Such a clear posture of deterrence has largely kept the peace in Europe and the alliance strong for nearly 70 years.
Tonight, look for Trump is likely to resort to outright denials of his previous statements or to flip his positions entirely. Either way, where does Trump really stand on the issues that most impact U.S. security? What would he actually do in office? In terms of the most important questions around “Securing America,” voters can’t trust anything he says.
Russian government hackers are widely believed to be behind the cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee’s email system, which led to the release of 20,000 private emails just before the Democratic National Convention. Trump then invited the Russian cyber-thieves to do even more, to dig into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server to find supposedly missing emails. In effect, Trump was asking the Russians to become a player in the U.S. presidential election – on his behalf – an invitation that has been widely condemned.
As Foreign Policy Magazine reported, “Trump’s appeal to Russia to spy on the nation’s former chief diplomat is startling and unprecedented, to say the least. He’s appealing to a country now accused of trying to sway a U.S. presidential election in favor of Trump, a candidate of whom Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has spoken highly. Trump has done the same, and has also said some Baltic members of NATO might be on their own if Russia decide to invade.”
Evidence for the Russian hack includes:
Source: The New York Times