Joint chiefs head says U.S. ‘credibility is at stake’ following Trump’s NATO remarks

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., said in an interview Monday that U.S. « credibility is at stake » with each of its alliances, including NATO, which former President Donald Trump disparaged in recent remarks.

In an interview with « Nightly News » anchor Lester Holt at the Pentagon, Brown was asked what he thinks about Trump suggesting that he would allow Russia to have its way with NATO members if they don’t contribute enough to the alliance.

« This year is the 75th anniversary of NATO, » Brown said. « And I think we have a responsibility to uphold those alliances. U.S. credibility is at stake with each of our alliances and U.S. leadership is still needed, wanted and watched. »

He said that’s the message he communicates to NATO countries, « realizing that each one of us has political leadership that we have to work with, and that they set the agenda, » he added.

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, defended Trump’s comments by reiterating a statement he made over the weekend: « President Trump got our allies to increase their NATO spending by demanding they pay up, but Joe Biden went back to letting them take advantage of the American taxpayer. When you don’t pay your defense spending you can’t be surprised that you get more war. »

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.NBC News

Asked if he was alarmed to hear Trump’s comments, Brown said: « What I do is I focus on continuing to build and strengthen our relationship with NATO. And I realize there’ll be various dialogue in discussions at the political level. My job is to make sure that we are doing everything we can with our NATO allies on the military aspect, and I’ll continue to do that throughout. »

Watch the interview on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m.

At a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump said he would urge Russia « to do whatever the hell they want » if it attacked a NATO country that didn’t pay enough toward the alliance.

« Let’s say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want, » he said. « You got to pay your bills. »

As president, Trump railed against NATO and countries that don’t pay the agreed 2% of their gross domestic product toward defense spending for the alliance. He also questioned NATO’s Article 5 of its charter, which is an agreement that an attack on one is an attack on all, and would be met with a collective response.

Separately, Brown defended President Joe Biden’s mental acuity after the special counsel overseeing Biden’s mishandling of classified documents suggested the president had a « poor memory » at times.

« He’s pretty sharp, » Brown said. « You know, he’s got a very good grasp of the issues. … I even got mentored as I came in and sat down with different folks that have worked very closely with the president ’cause I want to make sure I get it right. And I’ve seen him in the Oval [Office] call folks out if he’s not getting the information he needs. … He’s sharp. »

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