Sen. King on Trump's NATO Strategy: 'Like Turning a Family Squabble Into Divorce Proceedings'

By Susan Jones | July 11, 2018 | 8:11 AM EDT

President Trump ruffles feathers in Europe by criticizing Germany before the start of a NATO meeting. (Photo: Screen capture/White House video)

( - President Donald Trump has raised "legitimate" issues with our NATO allies, including Germany, but the way he's going about it is "like turning a family squabble into divorce proceedings," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told CNN’s "New Day" on Wednesday.

King said there's no reason for President Trump to insult our strongest allies.

King made the comments after President Trump slammed Germany by name for paying just a little over one percent of its GDP to NATO, while spending "billions" on oil and gas from Russia. Trump accused Germany of being "captive to Russia."

"But Germany, as far as I'm concerned, is captive to Russia because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said. “So we're supposed to protect Germany, but they're getting their energy from Russia. Explain that," the president told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a Wednesday morning breakfast in Belgium.

Sen. King, in reaction, noted that “presidents since Eisenhower have complained about the European countries not paying enough (for) their own defense through NATO, so there is no question that there is an issue there."

As for Germany’s natural gas deal with Russia, King said Trump "overstated" how much energy Germany gets from Russia. Trump said 60 to 70 percent; King said it's more like 20 percent.

"But clearly it's a concern," King continued, "and I think it's reasonable to raise it. The question is, how do you raise it. And the real overriding importance of this summit is unity in the face of newfound Russian aggression throughout Europe and the Middle East.

“So to take the 'how much are you paying argument'...and turn it into a make-or-break deal, it's like turning a family squabble into divorce proceedings. The most important thing we have now is to show the unity of the NATO alliance, not pick at pieces where there are criticisms."

King also noted that Germany's energy deal with Russia is not part of NATO. "It's an economic deal that Germany has made to get natural gas. I do think it's a concern.
I think it's something the Germans have been wrestling with, but again, I think this arrangement goes back to 2002 when everybody viewed Russia in more benign way."

Host John Berman asked Sen. King, "Do see any evidence the president is committed to NATO unity? Do you see any evidence that the president is committed to standing up to Russian aggression?"

"Well, I think it's a little early, all we've had is a breakfast, so let's see how the meeting goes the rest of the day," King responded. "But certainly his tweets on the airplane on the way over, criticizing the payments, and as I say, it's a legitimate issue, but do you threaten the underlying structure of a system, of the NATO system, that has preserved the peace in Europe?"

King said it's fine to "question it" and "push and pull," but not to the point of insulting our allies and threatening the unity of the entire enterprise.

King noted that Trump made some "worrisome" statements about NATO during the campaign, "So yes," his attitude toward the alliance is an "overall concern."

"The problem is, we're in an interdependent world and we need allies, and we particularly need allies against a rising China and a resurgent, aggressive Russia. Now is not the time to be undermining these arrangements."

King also said it's been a dream of Russian President Vladimir Putin to weaken and undermine European unity and the Western alliance.

"That's what he's trying to do. And he can smell weakness, and if he sees the weakness, the disunity between the U.S. and Europe, you know, who knows what happens in the Baltics, for example -- are we inviting aggression? That's the danger here."

King said he's afraid that Trump is "playing into Putin's hands."

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