During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump consistently attacked and undermined the NATO alliance. Now his team is engaging in an unprecedented campaign to remove a key NATO official.
President-elect Donald Trump's hostility toward NATO is manifesting even before his presidency begins. The Washington Post reports that Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, who only assumed her post in October, is being targeted by Trump's team:
Two Trump transition sources told me that a representative of the transition team met late last month with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels and delivered a private but deliberate message: The incoming administration would like Stoltenberg to replace Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller. Gottemoeller, who was nominated for the post by Obama this past March, started her job in Brussels only in October and has a multi-year contract. She works for NATO, not the U.S. government.
If NATO leadership agreed to remove Gottemoeller, it would set a new precedent for U.S. government control over American officials in top NATO positions. If the NATO leadership doesn’t agree, the incoming Trump administration could work to marginalize Gottemoeller and render her ineffective. Either way, her role is set to change when the new U.S. president comes into office.
So much for the idea of "one president at a time," a phrase that became a mantra during Barack Obama's 2008 transition, when then-President-elect Obama had to constantly remind people who wanted him to get started saving the economy that incoming presidents do not step on decisions made by the current president. Trump has done the opposite.
Gottemoeller has long been a target of Republican opposition for being "soft on Russia," and won confirmation to her State Department post after procedural wrangling by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
It is curious why a president-elect who just named a major business partner of Russia as Secretary of State would care if the number two at NATO is "soft on Russia." The possible explanation could have more to do with Trump's consistent enmity toward the alliance, which was a regular part of his stump speech:
They’re ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing. Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.
Trump has been given many opportunities to clarify his stance on NATO, and he has consistently said that he will make U.S. protection of NATO allies contingent upon monetary payment, including and specifically with regard to Baltic states threatened by Russia.
If Trump's picks to date are any indication, his move against Gottemoeller has little to do with Republican opposition to her, and everything to do with undermining NATO from within.
But possible motives aside, it is simply an outrageous intrusion and an abuse of power.