Trump vows allies will no longer ‘take advantage’ of US military aid

President says he and Mattis disagreed on foreign defense spending, in likely reference to frequent target NATO

President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for criminal justice reform legislation in the Oval Office of the White House, December 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for criminal justice reform legislation in the Oval Office of the White House, December 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump vowed Monday that allies would no longer “take advantage” of the United States, taking a shot at Defense Secretary Jim Mattis who resigned over Syria.

Trump, turning to Twitter after days of criticism over his decision to pull US troops out of Syria, denied charges that he was rejecting allies.

But he said that “these same countries take advantage of their friendship with the United States.”

He said he planned to “fix” the fact that American military aid was being given to “VERY rich countries” who take “advantage of the US…on trade,” characterizing the issue as one of the points of contention between himself and Mattis who did “not see this as a problem.” He indicated this would be changing now that Mattis was leaving the position.

It was not clear which countries Trump was referring to, though he was most likely referring to member states of the NATO alliance, a favorite target of the president.

Trump has repeatedly berated close US friends and questioned the cost-effectiveness of NATO, the North American and European military alliance established seven decades ago as a bulwark against Moscow.

The US does not spend money on other NATO countries, but rather on its own military, regularly devoting hundreds of billions of dollars a year to defense. But Trump has bristled at other NATO members’ failure to meet the goal of spending at least two percent of the annual budget on defense, a minimum met by only five nations.

“We’re paying anywhere from 70 to 90% to protect Europe, and that’s fine. Of course, they kill us on trade” Trump said earlier this year. “We have $151 billion in trade deficits with the EU and on top of that, they kill us with NATO.”

He may also have been speaking of Mexico, one of the richest economies in the world, which — according to the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor — received over $2.7 billion in military aid from the US over the past decade.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and US President Donald Trump (R) make a statement to the press after a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit at the NATO headquarters, in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

Trump recently signed a new free trade deal with Mexico and Canada after excoriating the previous deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as a disaster.

Another strong economy that is a frequent target of Trump’s ire over trade is China, but Beijing received only some $16 million in military aid over the past decade.

Israel, ranked 53 in the world’s strongest economies by GDP (and 39 in GDP per capita) is the second largest recipient of US military aid in the past decade, having been granted $36.8 billion.

In 2016, Washington and Jerusalem signed a deal that would guarantee the Jewish state $38 billion in the next 10 years.

Trump has never accused Jerusalem of taking advantage of the US.

Amid open concern about the Syria pullout from allies including France and Germany, Trump tweeted in all capital letters: “AMERICA IS RESPECTED AGAIN!”

US President Donald Trump surrounded by staff, speaks from the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, remarking on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on October 1, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON)

Mattis, a battle-hardened retired four-star general widely seen as a moderating force on the impulsive president, in his resignation letter Thursday emphasized the need to respect allies.

Mattis took his criticism public after Trump suddenly announced the pullout of all 2,000 troops from Syria, saying that the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS, had been defeated.

Trump said he coordinated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who has been warning that he will attack US-allied Kurdish fighters who had seized ground from ISIS.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a usual ally of Trump who has been harshly critical of the Syria decision, on Monday tried a different strategy as he appealed to the president to work off his diplomacy with Erdogan.

Graham said that the United States could reduce, but not completely pull out, troops from Syria and “partner” with Turkey.

“‘Partnering’ with Turkey to destroy ISIS — and ensuring protection for the Kurds who fought so bravely — is a big win,” he tweeted.

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