RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump is putting his special imprint on the special relationship. He is in London meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth. His meeting with May comes after he trashed her Brexit plan in an interview with the British newspaper The Sun. And he praised one of her political rivals, the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think he's got what it takes. And I think he's got the right attitude to be a great prime minister.
MARTIN: This, of course, after Trump threatened that the U.S. would go it alone if NATO members didn't increase their defense spending. He said this at the NATO summit a couple days ago. Joining us in studio to talk about how President Trump is reshaping American alliances, Admiral Mike Mullen. He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents Bush and Obama. Admiral, thanks for coming in.
MIKE MULLEN: Good to be with you, Rachel.
MARTIN: What's your read on how the president's trip to Europe is going so far?
MULLEN: Well, it's actually, I think, sort of a follow-on to the G-7 trip in Canada from terms of engaging our friends and the alliances and the relationships that really make a difference.
MARTIN: Because that summit was tense.
MULLEN: It was. And it was sort of in your face to leaders that we've cared about - leaders of countries we've cared about for a long time. And so I'm watching, you know, very much the same kind of thing with respect to engaging NATO, which is an alliance we've depended on for 70-plus years that has - many people believe it's the best alliance in the history of certainly our country. And it is - from my perspective, we're literally watching it unravel right in front of our eyes almost live.
MARTIN: I want to play some of the president. This is audio from the interview that he gave to The Sun. Let's listen to this.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Some say the way you are approaching NATO - demanding people pay more, the Germans pay more, et cetera - is bullying. That's the word they use.
TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you what. We've had 40 years of presidents that have said the same thing in a nicer way, and they got nothing. So, I mean, call it what you want. They're taking advantage of the United States.
MARTIN: I mean, does he have a point? This is an issue that other administrations have brought up with NATO.
MULLEN: Certainly, it was one that we addressed back in the 2010-2011 timeframe - I, with my counterparts, Bob Gates, with his. And I think if you look at the numbers, the amount that they're spending has increased since that time. And it is a legitimate issue. But quite frankly, it's not the only issue. And NATO isn't all about money. NATO's about relationships that make a difference.
And one of the things that's happened, you know, in recent years is Russia has literally reversed where it seemed to be headed. And NATO was originally put in place to make sure Europe could be secure with respect to the Soviet Union. And I think we're in very much the same kind of position right now. And we have to be together, as opposed to see America pushing - seemingly pushing hard to break it up.
MARTIN: The president went into these NATO meetings, as you note, from his very adversarial position, haranguing allies, suggesting the alliance is irrelevant. But then when it was over, he actually came out and said, actually, NATO's great. And this was highly successful. He did the same thing in London. He's slamming Theresa May. Then hours later, after the state dinner, says, we have never had a better relationship than we do now. How do you read those reversals?
MULLEN: It's hard to read it. It really is hard to understand. I know how uncomfortable leaders around the world are with sort of the public admonition - I mean, any of us would be - and yet followed by apparently, you know, words that were in great shape. It's a very uncertain and confusing time. And when it gets to really difficult issues - are we going to deploy troops together, are we going to do the kinds of things that have made a huge difference to provide security particularly, in Europe? - I just can't imagine it's not going to be much more difficult for for Prime Minister May or President Merkel to say yes politically because they've been treated so badly.
MARTIN: Let me ask you about Monday. This is when President Trump is going to meet Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki. You say you believe that NATO's in the process of unraveling, which are pretty provocative words. Do you see this summit as feeding into that?
MULLEN: I don't think there's any question about that. It's - this is made for President Putin, what's happened leading up to it. I think we should remind ourselves how much Russia in general and Putin in particular despises NATO. It represents everything they can't tolerate, the kind - the way of life, our governments, how we treat our people. And it's in many ways the exact opposite of how Putin approaches it. And I still think Putin, you know, is a KGB intel individual who has seen people killed, and he needs to be treated that way.
MARTIN: Retired Admiral Mike Mullen. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
MULLEN: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.