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How Trump's Rhetoric Against Allies Has Often Isolated Him

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So Donald Trump became president two years ago yesterday. And in that time, he has shown his approach to foreign policy is anything but traditional. While Trump says his push for "America First" does not mean America alone, his harsh rhetoric against allies has made him seem isolated on the world stage at times. And his supporters say that is by design. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe has more.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Trump says he's standing behind NATO. The transatlantic alliance has helped shape the post-World War II order.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to be with NATO 100 percent.

RASCOE: That's Trump speaking at the Pentagon last week. A pledge like that from an American president in the past wouldn't have been notable. But in that same speech, Trump made clear that he's not pleased with the way America has been treated by allies.

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TRUMP: We cannot be the fools for others. We cannot be. We don't want to be called that. And I will tell you - for many years, behind your backs, that's what they were saying.

RASCOE: Trump's view that countries have taken advantage of the U.S. has led to tense showdowns with allies at international forums over the past two years. At last year's NATO summit, Trump demanded other countries begin meeting the group's target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense immediately instead of the agreed-upon deadline of 2024.

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TRUMP: I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening, and they have substantially upped their commitment.

RASCOE: While Trump's not the first president to call for Europe to carry more of its weight, he's much more confrontational about it. He reportedly even talked about pulling out of NATO. European leaders are worried they won't be able to depend on the U.S., says Tarun Chhabra of the Brookings Institution.

TARUN CHHABRA: They are thinking seriously now about what their security would look like if the United States were to withdraw from our alliances.

RASCOE: Michael Anton is a former spokesman for Trump's National Security Council. He says it's not surprising that Trump has ruffled some feathers because he's going against the status quo.

MICHAEL ANTON: He was bound to be unpopular with a group of people and an elite consensus that he's taking on - that he has challenged fundamentally.

RASCOE: Anton says Trump campaigned on getting more out of these global institutions for the U.S., and that's what he's trying to do. He also says there's a bit of good cop-bad cop going on, where Trump takes a tough line to try to get countries to act. But detractors say Trump is actually harming long-term U.S. interests and weakening the nation's influence by pushing away partners and embracing adversaries. Again, Tarun Chhabra of Brookings.

CHHABRA: He's more interested in the mano a mano summits, like the ones he's had with President Putin, with President Xi, Kim Jong Un. And he's naturally gravitated to authoritarian figures.

RASCOE: Trump's backers defend his meeting with North Korea's leader and his decision to crack down on China with tariffs. They acknowledge they're risky, but they say they could pay off big time. Fred Fleitz was the former chief of staff for Trump's national security adviser John Bolton. He says it was the right move to meet with Kim.

FRED FLEITZ: My answer to critics is, like, what else are we supposed to try? Our relations with North Korea was on a very dangerous trajectory just when Mr. Trump came into office.

RASCOE: But Trump administration officials acknowledged that North Korea has not made any significant progress toward denuclearization since the two leaders met. With a second Trump-Kim summit now planned for late February, Trump's unconventional approach to foreign policy will once again be tested. Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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