Former NATO chief to Democrats: Cut a border deal to help Ukraine and beat Trump

He added: “President Biden has an interest in solving that issue before the election campaign starts in earnest.”

Democrats have been trying for months to unlock billions of dollars in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but Republicans refuse to budge on legislation unless it also includes key measures to strengthen the southern border.

Rasmussen said that Democrats should see it as being in their political interests to strike a deal on the border, in order to defuse a political vulnerability ahead of the next election. If there are Democrats standing in the way of a tougher border policy, Rasmussen said he hopes they will “come to their senses.”

“If I were in the leadership of the Democratic campaign, I would not hesitate to close this issue — to accommodate Republicans to make it a non-issue in the coming election campaign,” he said.

A former prime minister of Denmark, Rasmussen, 70, said Democrats should take a warning about immigration from European politics: There, governments seen as failing to control migration have faced serious blowback at the polls. That happened most recently in the Netherlands, where the immigration issue brought down a center-right government and helped the hard right surge to victory in a November election.

“If you do not address the immigration issue and the border issue effectively, then you will fuel extremists,” he said, adding: “On both sides of the political spectrum.”

Rasmussen spoke with POLITICO during a visit to Washington, where he intended to speak with hard-right members of the House Freedom Caucus to make the case for aiding Ukraine. It is the latest in a series of trips he has made to the United States to advocate for Ukraine.

Failing to continue Ukraine assistance “would be the withdrawal from Afghanistan on steroids,” Rasmussen said, invoking what is seen by many as the largest stain on the Biden administration’s foreign policy record.

The former military bloc leader said he planned to push back on Republican perceptions that Europe is relying on the United States to shoulder a disproportionate burden in the war effort. In fact, he’ll argue that Europe has spent more than the U.S. on military assistance to Ukraine — $59 billion versus $48 billion, he said.

Halting aid to Ukraine, which has been fending off Russian troops since February 2022, could pave the way for Moscow’s victory and weaken the United States, he added.

“It’s not true when they are arguing that Europeans do not step up to the plate and do not share a fair burden of support for Ukraine,” Rasmussen said.

In his bid to win over the GOP, Rasmussen — who led NATO from 2009 to 2014 — plans to draw on his deeper political roots as a conservative politician in Denmark. During his eight years as prime minister, Rasmussen governed from the right of center and described himself in the interview as deeply committed to free markets and supportive of the United States.

He suggested that some of the Freedom Caucus members might appreciate a book he authored in 1993 under the title, From Social State to Minimal State.

“I’m not a liberal in the American sense of the word,” he said. “I think I’m one of the most pro-American European politicians.”

Still, Rasmussen made plain that he is uncomfortable with the Republican Party’s turn toward Trumpism and the growing influence of isolationist ideas in the party. He spoke with POLITICO the day after Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses in a landslide.

Rasmussen said he took some encouragement from the resilience of Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, in the Republican race. He said he is following her candidacy closely, as “she’s very much in line with my thinking about world affairs.”

The former NATO chief then showed just how closely he is following the race, suggesting that Haley might be able to parlay a second place showing in the upcoming New Hampshire primary into an outright victory in South Carolina, where she served as governor.

Haley’s endurance in the race, Rasmussen said, shows that “in the Republican Party — despite Trumpism — there is a classical Republican sentiment that I think Trump should take into account.”