Soon after former President Donald J. Trump took office, his staff explained how NATO’s mutual defense obligations worked.

“You mean, if Russia attacked Lithuania, we would go to war with Russia?” he responded. “That’s crazy.”

Mr. Trump has never believed in the fundamental one-for-all-and-all-for-one concept of the Atlantic alliance. Indeed, he spent much of his four-year presidency undermining it while strong-arming members into keeping their commitments to spend more on their own militaries with the threat that he would not come to their aid otherwise.

But he took it to a whole new level over the weekend, declaring at a rally in South Carolina that not only would he not defend European countries he deemed to be in arrears from an attack by Russia, but that he would go so far as to “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” against them. Never before has a president of the United States — even a former one aspiring to reclaim the office — suggested that he would incite an enemy to attack American allies.

Some may discount that as typical Trump rally bluster or write it off as a poor attempt at humor. Others may even cheer the hard line against supposedly deadbeat allies who in this view have taken advantage of American friendship for too long. But Mr. Trump’s rhetoric foreshadows potentially far-reaching changes in the international order if he wins the White House again in November with unpredictable consequences.

What’s more, Mr. Trump’s riff once again raised uncomfortable questions about his taste in friends. Encouraging Russia to attack NATO allies, even if he were not fully serious, is a stunning statement that highlights his odd affinity for President Vladimir V. Putin, who has already proved his willingness to invade neighboring countries that do not have the protection of NATO.

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