Vladimir Putin, seen here with Donald Trump grinning in the background.
Vladimir Putin, seen here with Donald Trump grinning in the background. Tidarat Tiemjai / Shutterstock.com

Searching for dumb things that Donald Trump has done is a bit like catching bugs by sticking your head out of a car traveling down a highway — it only takes a few minutes to accumulate far more debris than anyone could ever want.

But let's take a few minutes to talk about what he just said about NATO, because it is one of the many scenarios that could plausibly lead to the actual end of civilization. NATO, if you are unaware, is the organization that formed after World War II to prevent any further world conquest attempts by overly-ambitious nations (Soviet Union, we're looking at you).

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And for about seventy years, it's worked fairly well. It's crazy-expensive, but on occasion it's been helpful to have a military partnership with other countries. But now Donald Trump has said that he would disregard a provision that says an attack on one member is construed as an attack on all members.

In seven decades, this provision has been invoked only once, and it was to assist the United States.

It's called "Article 5," and the one time it's been used was after 9/11. Various countries sent resources to patrol American airspace and suspected terrorist/weapons passages in the Mediterranean. Hey, thanks guys.

So why, if this article has only ever helped us, would Trump be opposed? The answer might have something to do with his colleague — one might even call him a comrade — Vladimir Putin.

Putin's been tiptoeing around the edges of some of the little Baltic countries that only recently joined NATO. And whenever someone asks what he's up to, Putin's just like "nothing, tra la la," like Sylvester eyeing Tweety, or like Hoggle sneaking out of an oubliette. But it's clear that Russia has territorial ambitions, a concept that rightfully fills the world with some fear, and that NATO agreement is one of the barriers keeping him from marching into Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Trump is profoundly disinterested this arrangement, however. When asked by the NY Times if he'd come to their aid in the event of a Putin invasion, he shrugged that he'd only do so if the countries "have fulfilled their obligations to us." If not, he said, "I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, 'Congratulations, you will be defending yourself."

What obligations? Who knows. Maybe he is actually aware that member states are asked (not obligated) to send a certain amount of money to NATO each year. (Estonia is one of the few countries that actually meets the requested funding levels.) But I doubt he has a clue how any of this stuff actually works, because the people who DO are freaking the fuck out.

"Deeply dangerous," tweeted James Stavridis, an American four-star general and the former head of NATO. "Will dismay our closest Allies but great cheer in Kremlin: I can hear Vladimir Putin chortling from here." (Maybe that's what made Sarah Palin think Russia was so close to her house.)

"What he did was invite Vladimir Putin to invade the Baltics," said a Fox News personality. "Destructive and idiotic."

"Utterly disastrous," said Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger. "I have friends that, you know, serve in parliament in places like Estonia, that every day worry about the Russians deciding that this is the time to reannex and take them back."

"Too bad the Times didn't ask Trump if he would defend NATO member Slovenia if attacked," said a Latvian official, making reference to the country that Trump's wife is from.

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And of course, NATO officials are pretty upset. One commented that NATO provided "a third of the troops in Afghanistan for over a decade, where over one thousand soldiers from non-U.S. NATO allies and partners gave their lives."

Even Chris Christie refused to comment — "I haven't seen it, so I don't know the whole context of it, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to react until I read it," he said. Yeah, sure, of course Chris Christie didn't read an interview with the presidential nominee of his party in the New York Times, that's completely plausible.

It's pretty remarkable that for the entire duration of the Cold War, we never once had to call on Article 5. Somehow, against all odds, hostilities were kept under control and we avoided a world war. When the Soviet Union fell, a lot of us probably thought we'd made it, we'd won, and there was no more threat. Who could have predicted then that a future President of the United States might suggest a policy that would allow the Soviet Union to reunite?

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