A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Putin, himself, appears to be the cause for difficulties that  the Trump administration has encountered in improve relations between the US and Russia. One might accuse Putin of playing a cat and mouse game with Trump. Why Putin would act in this manner is uncertain. An assay of Putin from outside the box may provide a framework from which the Russian President’s complexities can be better understood.

According to a March 3, 2018 New York Times article entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts Meets an American Strategic Void”, US President Donald Trump has remained silent about his vision to contain Russian power, and has not expressed hope of luring Moscow into new rounds of negotiations to prevent a recurrent arms race. Indeed, the article, largely critical of the Trump administration, explains that “most talk of restraint has been cast to the wind” over the past few months. What purportedly envelopes Washington now is a strategic vacuum captured by “Russian muscle-flexing and US hand-wringing.” A cyberchallenge has enhanced the degree of tension between the two countries. The article reports that top US intelligence officials have conceded that Trump has yet to discuss strategies with them to prevent the Russians from interfering in the midterm elections in 2018. In striking testimony on February 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill, the director of both the US National Security Agency and the US Cyber Command, US Navy Admiral Michael Rogers explained that when he took command of his agencies, one of his goals was to assure that US adversaries would “pay a price” for their cyberactions against the US that would “far outweigh the benefit” derived from hacking. Rogers conceded in his testimony that his goal had not been met. He dismissed sanctions that the US Congress approved last year and those that Trump had not imposed as planned would not have been enough to change “the calculus or the behavior” of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

What was reported by the March 3rd New York Times article presaged a shaky future for US-Russian relations. At the start of the Trump administration, Putin convincingly projected an interest in working toward better relations through diplomacy. Areas of agreement and a degree of mutual respect between Trump and Putin have been found. Yet, agreements reached should have served to unlock the diplomatic process on big issues. Putin appears to be the causality for a figurative draw on the scorecard one year into the Trump administration’s exceptionally pellucid, well-meaning effort. Putin seems to be playing a cat and mouse game with Trump–constant pursuit, near capture, and repeated escapes. It appears to have been a distraction, allowing him to engage in other actions. While engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has observed hostile Russian moves such as continued interference n US elections, as well as other countries, and efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to tighten Moscow’s grip Crimea and the Donbass. Those actions greatly diverge with US policies on Syria and Ukraine. Putin and his officials have shown their hand too completely over time for anyone in Washington to allow themselves to be seduced by Putin’s guise of wanting to improve ties. In the recent greatcharlie post, it was explained that Trump and foreign and national security policy officials in his administration, who were good-naturedly referred to as “stone hearts”, were well-aware from the get-go that Putin and his government could more often than not be disingenuous.  If Putin truly does not want positive to change in relations, the Trump administration’s diplomatic project with Russia is likely moribund. If there were some touch that Trump could put on the situation right now that would knock the project in the right direction, he certainly would. At the moment, however, the environment is not right even for his type of creativity and impressive skills as a negotiator. For now, there may very well be no power in the tongue of man to alter Putin. Since no changes in relations are likely in the near future, it would be ideal if Putin would avoid exacerbating the situation between the US and Russia by suddenly halting any ongoing election meddling. The whole matter should have been tied-off and left inert in files in the Kremlin and offices in the Russian Federation intelligence and security services. However, Putin seems to going in the opposite direction. The threat exists that Putin, seeing opportunity where there is none, will engage in more aggressive election meddling, and will also rush to accomplish things in its near abroad, via hybrid attacks at a level short of all out war, with the idea that there is time left on the clock before the US responds with a severe move and relations with the Trump administration turn thoroughly sour. That possibility becomes greater if the Kremlin is extrapolating information to assess Trump’s will to respond from the US newsmedia.

Putin’s desire, will, and ability to act in an aggressive manner against the US, EU, and their interests must be regularly assessed in the light of new events, recent declarations,  and attitudes and behaviors most recently observed by Western leaders and other officials during face to face meetings with him. Undoubtedly, Trump is thoroughly examining Putin, trying to understand him better, mulling through the capabilities and capacity of the US and its allies to respond to both new moves and things he has already done. Since Trump is among the few Western leaders who have recently met with Putin–in fact he has met with him a number of times, there might be little unction for him to be concerned himself with meditations on the Russian President made in the abstract. Nevertheless, an assay of Putin from outside the box may provide a framework from which the Russian President’s complexities can be better understood. Parsing out elements such as Putin’s interests and instincts, habits and idiosyncrasies, and the values that might guide his conscious and unconscious judgments would be the best approavh.to take. A psychological work up of that type on Putin is beyond greatcharlie’s remit. However, what can be offered is a limited presentation, with some delicacy, of a few ruminations on Putin’s interior-self, by looking at his faith, pride, ego; countenance, and other shadows of his soul. What is presented is hardly as precise as Euclid’s Elements, but hopefully, it might be useful to those examining Putin and contribute to the policy debate on Russia as well. Credula vitam spes fovet et melius cras fore semper dicit. (Credulous hope supports our life, and always says that tomorrow will be better.)

Putin has publicly declared his faith and has been an observant member of the Russian Orthodox Church. By discussing his faith, Putin has developed considerable political capital among certain segments of the Russian public. Putin’s political opponents and other critics at home, however, would question where faith has its influence on him given some of his policy and political decision, particularly concerning territorial grabs, overseas election meddling, and reported human and civil rights violations in his own country.

Faith

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines faith as complete trust or confidence; a strong belief in a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof. Faith guides the mind. It helps the mind conclude things. Simple faith, involves trusting in people and things. Communists mocked faith in the church, but still had faith in Marx. In that vein, faith allows for the acceptance of the word of another, trusting that one knows what one is saying and that one is telling the truth. The authority being trusted must have real knowledge of what he or she is talking about, and no intention to deceive. Faith is referred to as divine faith when the one believed is God. In discussing Putin’s divine faith, greatcharlie recognizes that to convey a sense of religiousness makes oneself spooky to some. Writing publicly, one of course opens oneself up to constructive criticism at best and obloquy at worst. Still, a discussion tied to faith might be feared by readers on its face as being one more expression of neurotic religiosity, an absurdity. That presents a real challenge. Nonetheless, the effort is made here.

Putin has publicly declared his faith on many occasions. He has been an observant member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin was introduced, to religion, faiith, and the church early in his life. In Part 1 of Putin’s 2000 memoir, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000), Putin explains that his mother, Mariya Ivanovna Shelomova, attended church and had him baptized when he was born. She kept his baptism a secret from his father, who was Communist Party member and secretary of a party organization in his factory shop. Putin relates a story concerning her faith as well as his own in Part 1’s final paragraph. He explains: “In 1993, when I worked on the Leningrad City Council, I went to Israel as part of an official delegation. Mama gave me my baptismal cross to get it blessed at the Lord’s Tomb. I did as she said and then put the cross around my neck. I have never taken it off since.” Religious formation must start at childhood discussing ideas as being kind, obedient, and loving. They must be told of the world visible and invisible. Children are buffeted by many aggressive, strange, harmful ideas, and must able to surmount them by knowing what is right and doing what is right. Children tend to gravitate toward prayer, which strengthens their faith and helps their devotion grow. One tends to resemble those in which one is in regular conversation, and prayer helps bring children closer to God. The very brief life God bestows to one on Earth is lived more fully with faith. On his death bed, the renowned French philosopher, playwright, novelist, and political activist, Jean Paul Sartre, stated: ”I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here, and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” Est autem fides credere quod nondum vides; cuius fidei merces est videoed quod credis. (Faith is to believe what you do not see the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.)

Faith does not replace the intellect, it guides the mind. Whether Putin’s faith has shaped his views or his Ideology is unclear. By discussing his faith, Putin has developed considerable political capital among certain segments of the Russian public. It has allowed Putin to cloak him in something very positive, very healthy, and would provide citizens with a good reason to doubt and dismiss negative rumors and reports about his actions. Many Russian citizens have responded to Putin’s introduction of faith to the dialogue about his presidency by coming home to the Orthodox Church. Perhaps that is a positive aspect that can be found in it all. Members of Russia’s opposition movement and other critics at home, however, would question where faith has its influence on him given some of his policy and political decision, particularly concerning territorial grabs, overseas election meddling, and reported human and civil rights violations in his own country. They would claim that rather than shaping his policy decisions in office, his faith is shaped by politics. They would doubt that he would ever leverage influence resulting from his revelations about his faith in a beneficial way for the Russian people or any positive way in general. They could only view Putin’s declaration of divine worship as false, and that he is only encouraging the superficial worship of himself among the intellectually inmature who may be impressed or obsessed with his power, wealth, lifestyle, and celebrity.

Putin commemorates baptism of Jesus Christ in blessed water (above). On June 10, 2015, Putin was asked by the editor in chief of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “Is there any action that you most regret in your life, something that you consider a mistake and wouldn’t want to repeat ever again.” Putin stated, “I’ll be totally frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. It appears that the Lord built my life in a way that I have nothing to regret.”

Putin is certain that his faith has provided a moral backing for his decisions and actions as Russian President. On June 10, 2015, Putin was asked by the editor in chief of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, “Is there any action that you most regret in your life, something that you consider a mistake and wouldn’t want to repeat ever again.” Putin stated, “I’ll be totally frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. It appears that the Lord built my life in a way that I have nothing to regret.”

Having humility means to be honest about ones gifts and defects. The true source, the real hand in ones accomplishments, is God. Once one recognizes this, one can be honest about the need for God’s assistance. Putin’s, to a degree, seems to indicate that he has humility and appears assured that he has been placed in his current circumstances, and has given him the ability to do all that he has done, as the result of God’s will. However, Putin should keep in mind that evil can quiet all suspicions, making everything appear normal and natural to those with the best intentions. To that extent, his decision and actions could truly be the augur of his soul, but perhaps not in a positive way. Evil can go into the souls without faith, into souls that are empty. Once evil insinuates itself in one’s life, there is chaos, one becomes bewildered, confused about life, about who one is. Due to the threat of evil influence one must be willing to look deeper at oneself to discern flaws, to see what is lacking. Having a sense of balance in this world necessitates having an authentic knowledge of oneself, the acceptance of daily humiliations, avoidance of even the least self-complacency, and humble acknowledgement of ones faults. The virtue of temperance allows one to give oneself a good look. Once one gets oneself right, then one can get God right. Vitiis nemo sine nascitur. (No one is born without faults.)

Putin seemingly surmises that he is satisfying God through his religious observance and by obeying religious obligations. Yet, one cannot approach God simply on the basis of one’s “good deeds.” Indeed, simply doing the right things, for example, following the law does, not grant you salvation. It does not give you guidance. Approval, recognition, obligation, and guilt are also reasons for doing good. The motive behind your actions is more important than your actions. To simply believe also does not put one in a position to receive. Your heart must be right.

Putin celebrating Christmas in St Petersburg (above). Wrong is wrong even if everyone else is doing it. Right is right even if nobody is doing it. Putin’s conscience should be able to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong. It should urge him to do that which he recognizes to be right. It should restrain him from what he recognizes to be wrong. Ones conscience passes judgment on our actions and executes that judgment on the soul.

All those who have worked for Putin, and those who have come up against him, would likely agree that he has a wonderful brain, and his intellect must be respected. His talents were first dedicated to his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. The job took root in him. As a skilled KGB officer, he was proficient at lying, manipulation and deception. It was perhaps his métier.  Putin would likely say he engaged in such behavior for all the right reasons, as a loyal foot soldier. Subsequently, he would serve in a succession of political positions in the intelligence industry that were thrust upon him. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. Later that same year, he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Through those positions, he was educated thoroughly on the insecurity of the world. It was a world in which things in life were transient. He discovered the width of the spectrum of human behavior. Putin applies that knowledge of humankind, sizing-up, and very often intimidating interlocutors, both allies and adversaries alike. The 16th century English statesman and philosopher, Sir Francis Bacon said that “knowledge itself is power,” but Intellect without wisdom is powerless. One matures intellectually when one moves from seeking to understand the how of things to understanding the why of things. Through the conquest of pride can one move from the how to the why. One can only pray for the wisdom to do so. In The New Testament, Saint Paul explains: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Beatus attempt esse sine virtute nemo potest. (No one can be happy without virtue.).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the inclination toward sin and evil is called “concupiscence”. Baptism erases original sin and turns a man back towards God. However, the inclination toward sin and evil persists, and the man must continue to struggle against concupiscence. Sin leads to sin. Acts of sin tend to perpetuate themselves and result in additional acts of sin. Sin can become a way of life if it goes unchecked. When Putin approaches the altar of the Russian Orthodox Church, his purpose should be to expiate sin.

Wrong is wrong even if everyone else is doing it. Right is right even if nobody is doing it. Putin’s conscience should be able to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong. It should urge him to do that which he recognizes to be right. It should restrain him from what he recognizes to be wrong. For the spiritual, conscience is formed by God’s truth. God’s truth creates order. In addition to knowing God’s truth, one must embody His truth which is inspired by love. The truth is a great treasure, a satisfactory explanation of the world and heaven that should speak to the individual. One should love God, love one’s neighbor, and remain virtuous by choice because it is the right thing to do. The reason for ones existence is best understood once one connects with the Creator of life. One can be happy with what makes God happy. Sub specie aeternitatis. (Under the aspect of eternity.)

Ones conscience passes judgment on our actions and executes that judgment on the soul. One should not do things that do not fit one. Conscience will send warning signals ahead of time. One should not ignore ones conscience. One should not violate it. The conscience should serve as Putin’s protection. Despite everything, it could very well be that Putin has a seared conscience. A less sensitive conscience will often fail an individual. Perhaps his conscience is dead. In following, his ability to know what is right may be dead. Putin declared his faith. He did not declare that he was a moral paragon. Quodsi ea mihi maxime inpenderet tamen hoc animo fui semper, ut invidiam virtute partam gloriam, non invidiam putarem. (I have always been of the opinion that infamy earned by doing what is right is not infamy at all, but glory.).

Putin at the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade (above). Putin would likely be delighted to know there was a general understanding that his pride and patriotism go hand in hand. To that extent, all of his moves are ostensibly made in the name of restoring Russia’s greatness, to save it from outsiders who have done great harm to the country and would do more without his efforts. Some Russian citizens actually see Putin as ‘the Savior of Russia.”

Pride

Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae. (If the world should break and fall on him, it would strike him fearless.) The OED defines pride as a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from achievements, qualities or possessions that do one credit, or something which causes this; consciousness of one’s own dignity or the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself. Pride has been classified as a self-conscious emotion revolving around self and as social emotion concerning ones relationship to others. It can be self-inflating and distance one from others.

In terms of being conscious of the qualities, the positive nature of one’s country, surely national leaders must have a cognitive pride, an attitude of pride in their countries, their administrations, and missions. They will express their pride with dignity, regardles of how big or small, powerful or weak, that their countries are. Putin insists that all Russian have pride in their country. Putin wants all Russian citizens to be part of their country’s rise to greatness. Divisions based on race, ethnicity, religion and origin hinder that. It is worth repeating from the greatcharlie post, “Russia Is Creating Three New Divisions to Counter NATO’s Planned Expansion: Does Shoigu’s Involvement Assure Success for Putin?”, that much as the orator, poet, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, concluded about his Ancient Rome, Putin believes that loyalty to the Russian Federation must take precedence over any other collectivity: social, cultural, political, or otherwise. As noted by Clifford Ando in Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire (University of California Press, 2013), in the hierarchy of allegiances outlined by Cicero, “loyalty toward Rome occupied a superordinate position: her laws and her culture provided the normative fabric that would, to borrow a phrase of Rutilius Namatianus [Poet, Imperial Rome, 5th Century], ‘create from distinct and separate nations a single fatherland’.” Likewise, Russia’s laws and culture provide the normative fabric from which a united country is created from diverse peoples. Possession of citizenship should be the basis to cause individuals to identify with the concerns of others in widely disparate populations among Russia’s republics. Putin wants Russians to be in a “Russian state of mind,” a mental state created when diversity, creativity, and optimism coalesce. A citizen’s attitude, perspective, outlook, approach, mood, disposition, and mindset should stand positively Russian.

From a theological perspective, the prideful individual acts as if their talents, possessions, or achievements are not the result of God’s goodness and grace but their own efforts. When pride is carried to the extent that one is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God and refuses to submit ones will to God or lawful authority, it is a grave sin. While not all sins source from pride, it can lead to all sorts of sins, notably presumption, ambition, vainglory, boasting, hypocrisy, strife, and disobedience. In that vein, pride is really striving for a type of perverse excellence. That type of pride can be embedded deeply in ones being. 

1. Patriotism

Putin’s emotional pride is also expressed in the form of profound patriotism. Patriotism is defined as having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for ones country. In reading Part 1 of Putin’s First Person, one can begin to understand why patriotism permeates everything Putin does. Given the rich history of his family’s service to the homeland gleaned from his parents and grandparents, it is hard to imagine how he would think any other way. It was gleaned because according to Putin, much of what he learned about his family was caught by him and not taught directly to him. Indeed, he explains: “My parents didn’t talk much about the past, either. People generally didn’t, back then. But when relatives would come to visit them in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), there would be long chats around the table, and I would catch some snatches, so many fragments of the conversation.” Putin’s grandfather, Spiridon Ivanovich Putin, was a cook. However, after World War I he was offered a job in The Hills district on the outskirts of Moscow, where Vladimir Lenin and the whole Ulynov family lived. When Lenin died, his grandfather was transferred to one of Josef Stalin’s dachas. He worked there for a long period. It is assumed by many that due to his close proximity to Stalin, he was a member of the infamous state security apparatus, the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) or NKVD. Putin notes that his grandfather came through the purges unscathed unlike most who spent much time around Stalin. Putin also notes that his grandfather outlived Stalin, and in his later, retirement years, he was a cook at the Moscow City Party Committee sanatorium in Ilinskoye. As for Putin’s mother, she refused to leave Leningrad as the Germans were blockading it. When it became impossible for her to remain, her brother, under gunfire and bombs, took her out along with her baby, Albert, Putin’s brother, to Smolny.  Afterward, she put the baby in a shelter for children, which is where he came down with diphtheria and died. (Note that in the 1930s, Putin’s mother lost another son, Viktor, a few months after birth.) Putin’s mother nearly died from starvation. In fact, when she fainted from hunger, people thought she had died, and laid her out with the corpses. With God’s grace, she awoke and began moaning. She managed to live through the entire blockade of Leningrad.

Putin at the War Panorama Museum in St. Petersburg (above). Patriotism is defined as having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for ones country. Patriotism permeates everything Putin does. Given the rich history of his family’s service to the homeland gleaned from his parents and grandparents, it is hard to imagine how he would think any other way.

As for Putin’s father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin, he was on the battlefield, serving in a NKVD demolitions battalion, engaged in sabotage behind the German lines. There were 28 members in his group. Recounting a couple of experiences during the war that his father shared with him, Putin explains that on one occasion after being dropped into Kingisepp, engaging in reconnaissance, and blowing up a munitions depot, the unit was surrounded by Germans. According to Putin, a small group that included his father, managed to break out. The Germans pursued the fighters and more men were lost. The remaining men decided to split up. When the Germans neared Putin’s father, he jumped into a swamp over his head and breathed through a hollow reed until the dogs had passed by. Only 4 of the 28 men in his NKVD unit returned home. Upon his return, Putin’s father was ordered right back into combat. He was sent to the Neva Nickel. Putin says the mall, circular area can be seen, “If you stand with your back to Lake Ladroga, it’s on the left bank of the Neva River.” In his account of the fight, Putin said German forces had seized everything except for this small plot of land, and Russian forces had managed to hold on to that plot of land during the long blockade. He suggests the Russians believed it would play a role in the final breakthrough. As the Germans kept trying to capture it, a fantastic number of bombs were dropped on nearly every part of Neva Nickel, resulting in a “monstrous massacre.” That considered, Putin explains that the Neva Nickel played an important role in the end.

That sense of pride and spirit Putin seeks to instill in all Russians echoes the powerful lyrics of Sergei Mikhalkov in the National Anthem of the Russian Federation. They are not just words to Putin, they are his reality. As if the vision in Verse 3 could have been written by Putin, himself, it reads: “Ot yuzhykh morei do poliarnogo kraia Raskinulis nashi lesa i polia. Odna ty na svete! Odna ty takaia – Khranimaia Bogom rodnaia zemlia! (Wide expanse for dreams and for living Are opened for us by the coming years Our loyalty to the Fatherland gives us strength. So it was, so it is, and so it always will be!) Putin would likely be delighted to know that there was a general understanding that his pride and patriotism go hand in hand. To that extent, all of his moves are ostensibly made in the name of restoring Russia’s greatness, to save it from outsiders who have done great harm to the country and would do more without his efforts. Some Russian citizens actually see Putin as “the Savior of Russia.”

2. Self-esteem

Pride can cause an individual to possess an inordinate level of self-esteem. They may hold themselves superior to others or disdain them because they lack equal capabilities or possessions. They often seek to magnify the defects of others or dwell on them. The Western country that has been the focus of Putin’s disdain, far more than others, is the US. An manifestation of that prideful attitude was Putin’s response to the idea of “American Exceptionalism” as expressed by US President Barack Obama. In his September 11, 2013 New York Times op-ed, Putin expressed his umbrage over the idea. So important was his need to rebuff the notion of “American exceptionalism”, that he sabotaged his own overt effort to sway the US public with his negative comments about it. The op-ed was made even less effective by his discouraging words concerning US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would not be his last effort to sway the US public on important matters, nor the last one to backfire. Putin is not thrilled by the Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again,” or the concept “America First.” He has expressed his umbrage in speeches and in public discussions. Subordinates such as Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Federation Presidential Spokesperson Dimitry Peskov, using florid rhetoric, have amplified Putin’s views on the matter.

As an officer in the KGB, the main adversary of Western intelligence and security services during the Cold War, Putin would naturally harbor negative sentiment toward his past, now present, opponents. Perhaps if there were some peace dividend at the end of the Cold War that Russia might have appreciated, and his ears were filled by Donna Nobis Pacem (Give US Peace), his attitude may have been different. In fact, the world might never have known Putin, or would known a different one. However, that was not the case. Putin did not inherit an ideal situation in Russia when he became president. While on his way to the top of the political heap, Putin saw how mesmerising “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts drastically impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reforms recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially. In the West, alarming statistics were reported for example on the rise of alcoholism, drug addiction, birth defects, HIV/AIDS, a decreased birth rate, and citizens living below the poverty line. Russia’s second war in Chechnya which was brutal, and at times seemed unwinnable, had its own negative impact on the Russian psyche. As Russia’s hardships were publicized internationally, perceptions of Russia changed for the worst worldwide. However, Putin saw no need for Russia to lose any pride or surrender its dignity as a result of its large step backward. Putin believed Russia would rise again, and that some acceptable substitute for the Soviet Union might be created, and never lacked faith about that. Putin was loyal and obedient while he served Yeltsin, but saw him tarry too long as Russia strained in a state of collapse.

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right). Intelligence professionals might say that the correct and expected move in response to a covert operation that has failed very publicly, so miserably, would be to “tie it off”. Instead, as reported by US Intelligence agencies and the White House, Russia’s effort to meddle in the US elections has become recursive. Putin declined to be upfront with Trump about the matter. Russia must exit any roads that could lead to disaster.

Putin has not hesitated to use force when he believed there would be some benefit in doing so. Still, he has shown that he would prefer to outthink his rivals in the West rather than fight them. That notion may in part have influenced his responses in contentious situations. It may also account for the sustained peace with the US that Russia has enjoyed under his stewardship. However, it may be possible that this line of thinking was born out of necessity rather than by choice. Except for its long-held, unquestioned ability to engage in a nuclear war with the US, Russia has lacked the capability and capacity to do other big, superpower-type things successfully for nearly three decades. True, Moscow’s Crimea-grab and moves in Eastern Ukraine were swiftly accomplished and significant. Russian Federation military operations in Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia garnered the full attention of the West. However, both moves, though important, actually caused more disappointment than create a sense of threat to the interests of the US and EU. To that extent, the US, EU, and NATO were not convinced that there was a need for direct military moves in Ukraine to confront Russia, no positioning of NATO troops in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine to counter Russia’s moves, to make things harder for Moscow. To go a step further, there is no apparent balance between Russia’s self-declared role as a superpower and the somewhat moderate military, diplomatic, economic, political, and communication tools available to it. The more territory Moscow acquires through conquest, the less capable it is to care for territory already under its control as well as tend to Russia’s own needs. In particular, greater economic pressures will be placed on Russia’s already fragile economy. Despite his efforts to make things right in Russia, Putin must spend an inordinate amount of time mitigating existing hardships and the effects of malfunctions across the board in Russia’s government system and its society.

3. Chasing the Unattainable

Perhaps the type of success Putin really wants for Russia is unattainable, not by some fault of his own, but rather because its problems are too great, run too deep. He may have run out of answers to put Russia on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country. Not being remiss, he has used all tools available to him, yet big improvements have not been seen. Putin’s pride may have been a bit marred by this reality. He, better than anyone, knows what Russia is and what it is not. For all that he has done, he has not led Russia, to use a phrase from John Le Carré, “out of the darkness into an age reason.” In a significant endeavor, there is always the potential to become lost. It would seem, consciously or unconsciously, Putin may simply be moving at a deliberate speed or even procrastinating a bit. When he cannot swim forward, he would prefer to tread water than sink. By continually displaying the strength, and the will, to keep his head above water in tough situations, Putin has become an inspiration to those around him. Most senior Russian officials are unwilling or are unable to take a complete look at the situation. Rather, they seem enamored with Putin, and would likely follow him no matter what. Knowing that has perhaps fed into his sense of accomplishment and confidence

Putin once said that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He believes Western governments are driven to create disorder in Russia and seek to make it dependent of Western technologies. Theories propagated by Moscow that the struggle between East and West is ongoing have been energized by the whirlwind of anger and aggressive verbiage concerning the 2016 US Election meddling issue. The story of the meddling, confirmed and revealed by US intelligence community and political leaders on the national level, has been propelled by a strong, steady drum beat of reports in the US news media. Perhaps the election meddling, a black operation, should have been considered an unsurprising move by Putin. Perhaps due to his experience in the the intelligence industry, hseems to lead him to turn to comfortable tactics, technique, procedures, and methods from it when confronting his adversaries. The Kremlin vehemently denies any interference in the US elections. That may simply be protocal. Russian officials, such as Lavrov and Peskov, have gone as far as to say that insistence of various US sources that the meddling took place is a manifestation of some mild form of hysteria or paranoia. Yet, the Kremlin must be aware that such denials are implausible, and in fact, unreasonable. To respond in such a brazenly disingenuous manner in itself raises questions not just about the conduct Russia’s foreign and national security policy, but the true motives and intent behind Moscow’s moves. It appears that Putin’s personality and feelings influence policy as much as well-considered judgments.

Putin, better than anyone, knows what Russia is and what it is not. Perhaps the type of success Putin really wants for Russia is out of reach, unattainable, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are too great, run too deep. He may have run out of answers to put Russia on a true upward trajectory. His pride may have been a bit marred by this reality. Despite his aptitude as a leader, he has failed to lead Russia, as a whole, “out of the darkness into an age reason.”

4. Tying-off the Election Meddling

Intelligence professionals might say that the correct and expected move in response to a covert operation that has failed very publicly, so miserably, would be to “tie it off”. Instead, as reported by US Intelligence agencies and the White House, Russia’s effort to meddle in the US elections has become recursive. This would mean that Putin, himself, wants it to continue. Although the meddling operation has been almost completely exposed, and one would expect that those responsible for it would feel some embarrassment over it, Moscow seems gratified about how that matter has served as a dazzling display of Russian boldness and capabilities. To that extent, the carnival-like approach of some US news media houses to the issue well-serves Moscow. Perhaps Putin has assessed that successive meddling efforts will last only for so long until US cyber countermeasures, awareness programs, retaliatory actions, and other steps eventually blunt their impact or render such efforts completely ineffective. Thus, he may feel that he has no need to stop the operation, as the US will most likely do it for him. Still, continued efforts to interfere in US elections may not end well. Russia must exit any roads that could lead to disaster.

Putin at 2018 campaign rally (above). Putin can be proud of his many accomplishments, of his rise to the most senior levels of power in Russia, eventually reaching the presidency, and of being able to make full use of his capabilities as Russia’s President. Yet, having an excessively high opinion of oneself or ones importance, is not conducive to authentic introspection for a busy leader. Putin’s unwillingness or inability to look deeply into himself has likely had some impact upon his decisions on matters such as Russia’s meddling in US elections.

Ego

The OED defines ego as a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance; in psychoanalysis, it is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious mind, and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity. Ego, as first defined in the OED, can be useful in calibrated doses. A bit of an ego is needed in order for one to believe that new or far-reaching objectives can reached and tough, difficult things can be achieved. When it gets beyond that, problems tend to ensue. The ego is the voice inside an individual that really serves one purpose, and that is to make one feel better about whom one is, to lift oneself up. It will do whatever it needs to do to make that happen. The ego is also the voice inside of an individual that may drive one to kick another when he or she is down, causing them to feel bad about themselves. An example of Putin’s ego pushing beyond what some experts might call the normal parameters was the October 7, 2015 celebration of his 63rd birthday. Putin participated in a gala hockey game in Sochi, Russia, alongside former NHL stars and state officials. Putin’s team reportedly included several world-renowned players, such as Pavel Bure, formerly a member of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks. Putin’s team won the match 15-10. Putin scored 7 of his team’s 15 goals!

From a theological  perspective, ego, much as pride, separates one from God. s the work of the devil, it is his tool that is used to separate us from God. The ego (Edging-God-Out) is considered the most powerful tool the devil has. It is deceiving in its ways, and makes one feel that one is serving others, when in reality one is serving oneself. Ego has no home is God’s creation. It is a distractive, impure thought, that leads to the destruction of self and others.

Putin can  proud, in the ordinary sense, of his many accomplishments, of his rise to the most senior levels of power in Russia eventually reaching the presidency, and of being able to make full use of his capabilities as Russia’s President. With no intention of expressing sentimentality, it can be said that Putin went from a working class to middle class background in the Soviet Union to very top of Russia’s elite. As he recounts in First Person, and as his critics in the West remind without fail, Putin spent his spare time as a child hunting rats in the hallways of the apartment building where his family lived. To a degree, he was an upstart who alone, with the legacy of honorable and valorous service of his father and grandfather in the intelligence industry only available to inspire him, struggled to the highest level of the newly established Russian society. The arc of his story is that the professional and personal transformation of his life came with the fall of the Soviet Union. That event created the circumstances for his life to be that put him on the path to his true destiny. All of that being stated, humility would require that Putin recognize that his achievements are the result of God’s goodness and grace, not simply his own efforts. Ego would urge him not to think that way.

Perhaps Putin would be better able to understand the source of all good things in his life if he engaged in true introspection, a look within from the context of his faith. It appears that Putin’s unwillingness or inability to look deeply in himself has allowed him to develop an excessively high opinion of himself, a potent confidence that he alone is responsible for all positive outcomes. Holding a distorted sense of self-importance certainly would not facilitate introspection by a busy leader. His attitude of pride has also likely influenced his responses in contentious situations. All of this should not be used to conclude that Putin’s declarations about his faith have been counterfeit. Rather, there appears to be an imbalance between the influence of faith, particularly the restraining virtue of humility and the influence of a willful pride, an seemingly unruly desire for personal greatness. In time, a through his faith, he may find his value in God alone. God can work in mysterious ways.

Often, moves by Putin against the West resemble responses in a sport where there are challenges made and the challenger gains points when able to stand fast against his opponent’s counter moves and gains points based on the ability to knock the challenger back. In that vein, Russia’s move into Ukraine appeared to represent a dramatic victory. There was no military effort to push back against his move. There was no available capability among Western countries to defeat Russia’s challenge in Ukraine short of starting a war. Putin remains adamant about the correctness of that action. His position was amply expressed in his March 14, 2014 speech, declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He noted that Russia’s economic collapse was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple his country.  However, Putin’s moves in Ukraine likely brought him only limited satisfaction. He still has been unable to shape circumstances to his liking. He would particularly like to  knock back moves by the West that he thinks were designed to demean Russia such as: the Magnitsky law, NATO Expansion (NATO Encroachment as dubbed by Moscow), the impact of years of uncongenial relations with Obama, and US and EU economic sanctions. His inability to change those things, and some others, has most likely left his ego a bit wounded.

An example of Putin’s ego pushing beyond what some experts might call the normal parameters was the October 7, 2015 celebration of his 63rd birthday. Putin participated in a gala hockey game in Sochi, Russia, alongside former NHL stars and state officials. Putin’s team reportedly included several world-renowned players. Putin’s team won the match 15-10. Putin scored 7 of his team’s 15 goals.

1. Magnitsky

In the West, particularly the US, there is a belief that in recent years, Putin has simply been reactive to the Magnitsky Act. It was not only a punitive measure aimed at Russia’s economy and business community, but struck at the heart of Putin’s ego. Through Magnitsky law, the West was interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs, good or bad, as if it were some second or third tier country, not as a global superpower with a nuclear arsenal. In retaliation, he would do the best he could to harm Western interests, even those of the US, not just over Magnitsky but a lot of other things. Counter sanctions would be the first step. Suffice it to say, election meddling took that retaliation to a new level. The Magnitsky Act, the official title of which is the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who in 2008 untangled a dense web of tax fraud and graft involving 23 companies and a total of $230 million linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the government. Due to his efforts, Magnitsky became the target of investigations in Russia. When Magnitsky sued the Russian state for this alleged fraud, he was arrested at home in front of his kids, and kept in prison without charges, in filthy conditions, for nearly a year until he developed pancreatitis and gallstones. In November 2009, Magnitsky, at 37 years old, was found dead in his cell just days before his possible release. The Magnitsky Act was signed into law by Obama in December 2012 in response to the human rights abuses suffered by Magnitsky. The Magnitsky law at first blocked 18 Russian government officials and businessmen from entering the US froze any assets held by US banks, and banned their future use of US banking systems. The Act was expanded in 2016, and now sanctions apply to 44 suspected human rights abusers worldwide. William Browder, a US hedge fund manager, who at one time the largest foreign investor in Russia and hired Magnitsky for the corruption investigation that eventually led to his death, was a central figure in the bill’s passage. Two weeks after Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, Putin signed a bill that blocked adoption of Russian children by parents in the US. Russia then also imposed sanctions on Browder and found Magnitsky posthumously guilty of crimes. Supporters of the bill at the time cited mistreatment of Russian children by adoptive US parents as the reason for its passage. What made Russian officials so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was an obstacle to collecting profits from illegal activities home. Money acquired by rogue Russian officials through raids, extortion, forgery, and other illegal means was typically moved out of Russia were it was safe. Magnitsky froze those funds and made it difficult for them to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. The situation was made worse for some officials and businessmen close to Putin who had sanctions placed on them that froze their assets. All news media reports indicate that getting a handle on Magnitsky, killing it, has been an ongoing project of Russian Federation intelligence agencies.

2. NATO

Regarding NATO, in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin essentially explained that he felt betrayed by the actions taken in Eastern Europe by the US, EU, and NATO at the end of the Cold War. Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putn further stated in the Bild interview: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Putin also quoted West German Parliamentarian Egon Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin’s view has not changed much since the interview. However, despite Putin’s certainty on this position, no former-Soviet republic wants to return to Russia or Moscow’s sphere of influence. Putin appears unwilling to accept today’s more complex reality. Pro-Russian movements and political circles in former Soviet republics do not represent the modern day trend.

Putin with binoculars at Zapad 2017 Military Exercises (above). Putin perceives the US and EU as having turned their backs on promises made to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. Despite Putin’s certainty of the West’s intrusive behavior, actually, no former-Soviet republic wants to return to Russia or Moscow’s sphere of influence. Putin appears unwilling to accept today’s more complex reality.

3. The EU

Putin has always viewed the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Even today, certain Russian actions indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries from joining it. Joint projects with European countries have allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. A goal of such efforts has also been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. Even away from the former Soviet republics, Russia has engaged in efforts to undermine democratic processes in European countries. One method, confirmed by security experts, has been meddling in elections in a similar way to that widely reported to have occurred in the US.

4. Obama-Putin

Poor US-Russia relations were exacerbated by the uncongenial relationship between Putin and Obama. Indeed, Putin clashed repeatedly with the US President. Sensing a palpable weakness and timidity from Obama, Putin seemed to act more aggressively. The Russian military move that stood out was the capture of the Crimea and movement of troops into Eastern Ukraine to support pro-Russia separatists. There was nothing to encourage Putin to even try to negotiate beyond Magnitsky after Crimea. There was no room for him to turn back with ease or he would be unable to maintain his sense of dignity in doing so. Crimea would prove to be a useless chip to use in bartering a deal on Magnitsky. The US still views Magnitsky and Crimea as separate issues. Putin recognized from the attitudes and behavior of Obama administration officials that even the extreme measure of using subtle threats with nuclear weapons would not be emphatic enough to elicit a desired response from Washington because Obama administration officials would unlikely accept that such weapons could ever be used by Russia which was a projection of a view, a mental attitude, from their side. The Obama administration insisted that Putin negotiate them in the summer of 2013 and when he refused to do so, the administration cancelled a September 2013 summit meeting in Moscow between Putin and Obama. From that point forward, there was always “blood in water” that seemed to ignite Putin’s drive to make the Obama administration, and de facto the US, as uncomfortable and as unhappy as possible short of military confrontation.

5. US and EU Sanctions

As far as Putin sees it, painful sanctions from the US and EU, on top of the Magnitsky law, have damned relations between Russia and the West. Putin rejects the idea that the Trump administration is pushing for additional sanction against Russia and has explained new sanctions are the result of an ongoing domestic political struggle in the US. He has proffered that if it had not been Crimea or some other issue, they would still have come up with some other way to restrain Russia. Putin has admitted that the restrictions do not produce anything good, and he wants to work towards a global economy that functions without these restrictions. However, repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU will place additional pressure on Putin’s ego and prompt him to consider means to shift the power equation. Feeling his back was against the wall, he has previously acted covertly to harm US and EU interests. A very apparent example of such action was his efforts to meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election process. The US and EU must be ready to cope with a suite of actions he has planned and is prepared to use.

Convinced his behavior was an expression of ego, some Western experts believe that Putin may have succumbed to the vanity of his metaphoric crown. In effect, to them, Putin has been overwhelmed by his sense of the great power that he wields in Russia, and that he wants to convince other countries that he can wield power over them, too!

6. Succumbing to the Vanity of “His Crown”

Convinced his behavior is an expression of ego, some Western experts believe that Putin may have succumbed to the vanity of his metaphoric crown. To that extent, Putin has been overwhelmed by his sense for the great power that he wields in Russia, and wants to convince other countries that he can wield power over them, too! If Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces were snatched from Kiev and fell firmly under the control of pro-Russian quasi-states of those entities and Russia, perhaps Putin would erect a statue of himself somewhere there or in Crimea much as one was erected of Zeus in Jerusalem by the Greek ruler of Syria, Antiochus IV. As for the people of those territories, and others in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, they may become the 21st century version of the malgré-nous, with many perhaps serving in the military against their will under the control of Russia. These scenarios are viewed by greatcharlie as long shots. It would surely raise Putin’s ire if he ever heard it. Although he is a dominant leader, he would likely prefer that his power was accepted, understood, and feared if need be, than depicted in such a monstrous or preposterous fashion. Yet, Putin may have behaved in a similar way recently when he announced an array of new “invincible” nuclear weapons.

On February 27, 2018  in a Moscow conference hall, with the back drop of a full-stage-sized screen protecting the Russian Federation flag, Putin gave one of his most bellicose, militaristic speeches since his March 14, 2014 regarding Crimea’s annexation. He told an audience of Russia’s elites that among weapons either in development or ready was a new intercontinental ballistic missile “with a practically unlimited range” able to attack via the North and South Poles and bypass any missile defense systems. Putin also spoke of a small nuclear-powered engine that could be fitted to what he said were low-flying, highly maneuverable cruise missiles, giving them a practically unlimited range. The new engine meant Russia was able to make a new type of weapon, nuclear missiles powered by nuclear rather than conventional fuel. Other new super weapons he listed included underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon and a laser weapon. Putin backed his rhetoric by projecting video clips of what he said were some of the new missiles onto the giant screen behind him. Referring to the West, Putin stated, “They have not succeeded in holding Russia back,” which he said had ignored Moscow in the past, but would now have to sit up and listen. He further stated, “Now they need to take account of a new reality and understand that everything I have said today is not a bluff.”

Putin was speaking ahead of the March 18, 2018 Russian Federation Presidential Election. He has often used such harsh rhetoric to mobilize voter support and strengthen his narrative that Russia is under siege from the West. Yet, oddly enough, Putin emphasized that the new weapons systems could evade an Obama-era missile shield, which was designed to protect European allies from attacks by a specific rogue country in the Middle East and possibly terrorist groups, not Russia’s massive nuclear arsenal. He spoke about Moscow being ignored which was really a problem he had with the Obama administration. Indeed, most of what Putin said seemed to evince that lingering pains were still being felt from harsh exchanges with Obama. With Obama off the scene, and apparently developing military responses to cope with a follow on US presidency under former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Putin simply projected all of his anger toward Trump. Metaphorically, Putin seemed to “swinging after the bell.” So hurt was his ego that he has acted by building Russia’s nuclear arsenal up in a way the no US leader could ever deny the threat to US security that Russia poses. Being able to make that statement likely soothed his ego somewhat.

Religious scholars might state that Putin’s strong, perceptible ego contradicts his declaration of faith. The ego does not allow for the presence of God in ones life. Many have self-destructed as a result of their veneration of self. The ego needs to be overcome and removed from ones heart in order to allow God to fill that space.

In the form of Putin’s face can be found much that is telling about the Russian leader. As of late, its countenance has been far from serene and kindly. The countenance of ones face, smiling or frowning, can effortlessly communicate to others how one is feeling, thinking. Photos of Putin’s face more often reveal a deep, piercing, consuming stare, reflecting the strong, self-assured, authoritative, no nonsense personality, of a conscientious, assertive, and aggressive leader.

Putin’s Countenance

Imago animi vultus est, indices occuli. (The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intentions.) In the form of Putin face can be found much that is telling about the Russian leader. As of late, its countenance has been far from serene and kindly. The countenance of ones face, smiling or frowning, can effortlessly communicate to others how one is feeling, thinking. The face can also convey essential characteristics that make individuals who they are. In photos of President Putin in 2000, his eyes appear similar to those of the very best students of a fine university, watching and peering, learning and discerning constantly in order to best prepare himself to lead Russia into the future. It was before he had the eyes of an experienced, battle-scarred leader. Now, photos of Putin’s face more often reveal a deep, piercing, consuming stare, reflecting the strong, self-assured, authoritative, no nonsense personality, of a conscientious, assertive, and aggressive leader. Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae. (If the world should break and fall on him, it would strike him fearless.)

1. The Conscientious Leader

The inner voice of individuals meeting with Putin may not sound an alarm immediately. After all, if Putin is anything, he is a conscientious leader and one would expect to see it reflected in Putin’s face. Conscientiousness is the personality trait of being careful, or vigilant. It implies a desire to do a task well, and to take obligations to others seriously. Conscientious people tend to be efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. They exhibit a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; they display planned rather than spontaneous behavior; and they are generally dependable. It is manifested in characteristic behaviors such as being neat and systematic; also including such elements as carefulness, thoroughness, and deliberation. The absence of apprehension, even anxiety, among some who meet with Putin is understandable, reasonable given that in social, as well as business situations, one can usually assume interlocutors mean what they say, are also personally invested in their interactions, and will display certain of manners, in some cases by protocol. Wanting to think well of others, wanting to connect with them, appearance, facial expressions, are looked upon benignly. Responding in this way is also a defense mechanism. Given his reputation, earned or not, aggression discerned in Putin’s face likely becomes sensate among his more worldly interlocutors. He might even be perceived through his countenance as being physically threatening without actually using any other part of his body to make gestures that could reasonably be identified as aggressive.

Somewhere in between, Putin can often appear to be what might be casually called “poker faced”, seemingly unresponsive to events swirling around him. During those moments, he is most likely evaluating everything and everyone, but keeping all his thinking and assessments locked inside himself. He may also be looking beyond the moment, considering what his next steps would be. Interlocutors will typically respond with faces of puzzlement and sometimes terror. Having the confidence to “face” foreign leaders in such a manner is a reflection of Putin’s assertiveness. (In the case of Trump, the response was likely disappointment, which masked a cauldron of intense rage. That should concern Putin and will become something to which he will need to find an answer.)

Putin gestures to a reporter at a press conference (above). Given his reputation, earned or not, aggression discerned in Putin’s face likely becomes sensate among his more worldly interlocutors. He might even be perceived as being physically threatening without actually making any aggressive gestures.

2. Putin’says “Assertiveness”

According to Fredric Neuman, Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Center at White Plains Hospital, being assertive means behaving in a way that is most likely to achieve one’s purpose. Under that definition, most successfully assertive individuals will have a suite of ways to act in given circumstances. Neuman explains that there are times when the right thing to do is to be conciliatory, and other times when resistance is appropriate. When one is actually attacked, verbally or otherwise, it may be appropriate to respond by resisting forcibly. Surely, there is a balance in Putin’s behavior in situations, but he has never been a wilting flower before anyone. A KGB colleague would say about Putin: “His hands did not tremble; he remained as cool as a mountain lake. He was no stranger to handling grave matters. He was expert at reading and manipulating people, and unfazed by violence.” Many foreign policy and human rights analysts in the West, and members of Russia’s opposition movement would say that Putin has amply demonstrated that he has no concern over sacrificing Russians’ well-being to satisfy his to further his geopolitical schemes and the avarice of colleagues. They report that he regularly persecutes those who protest. All of this runs contrary to image of Putin as a patriot. Those who study Putin would also point to the deaths of the statesman, politician, journalist, and opposition political leader, Boris Nemtsov; journalist Anna Politkovskaya; and, former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.  Attention might also be directed to the deaths of 36 generals and admirals from 2001 to 2016. In the majority of cases, the causes of death listed were listed as suicides, heart attacks, or unknown. Among those who died are former Russian Federation National Security Adviser and Army Major General Vladimir Lebed and the Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Russian Federation Army Colonel-General Igor Sergun.

3. Putin the Predator

Certainly, Putin prepares for his meetings or any other official contacts in advance, by mining available information about his scheduled interlocutors and by considering all possible angles of how they might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Such is the nature of politics as well as diplomacy. However, there are reportedly times when Putin, after considering information available, will simply declare his superior position relative to his interlocutor and let them know that they must accept what he says. His success in a meeting relies heavily upon how well he does his homework. Clearly, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. To explain further, when Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing ones vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual frame for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. They can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalize get. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassed or be an annoyance if caught. They train themselves to give off no such tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

When immobilized or in a controlled “silence,” Putin’s face can also manifest a type of ambush predation in his thinking. He may be attempting to conceal his preparation to strike against a “troublesome or even threatening” party, if not at that moment, eventually. Ambush predators are carnivorous animals or other organisms, that capture or trap prey by stealth or by strategy, rather than by speed or by strength.

When immobilized or in a controlled “silence,” Putin’s face can also manifest a type of ambush predation in his thinking. He may be attempting to conceal his preparation to strike against a “troublesome or even threatening” party. Ambush predators or sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals or other organisms, that capture or trap prey by stealth or by strategy, rather than by speed or by strength. In animals and humans, ambush predation is characterized by an animal scanning the environment from a concealed position and then rapidly executing a surprise attack. Animal ambush predators usually remain motionless,  sometimes concealed, and wait for prey to come within ambush distance before pouncing. Ambush predators are often camouflaged, and may be solitary animals. This mode of predation may be less risky for the predator because lying-in-wait reduces exposure to its own predators. If the prey can move faster than the predator, it has a bit of an advantage over the ambush predator; however, if the active predator’s velocity increases, its advantage increases sharply.

There is a Christian religious allegory warning of the inner spiritual decay manifested by an outer physical decay presented in a historical framework that includes Leonardo da Vinci. As told, when Leonardo da Vinci was painting “The Last Supper”, he selected a young man, Pietri Bandinelli by name as the person to sit for the character of the Christ. Bandinelli was connected with the Milan Cathedral as chorister. Several years passed before Da Vinci’s masterpiece painting was complete. When he discovered that the character of Judas Iscariot was wanting, Da Vinci noticed a man in the streets of Rome who would serve as a perfect model. With shoulders far bent toward the ground, having an expression of cold, hardened, evil, saturnine, the man’s countenance was true to Da Vinci’s conception of Judas. In Da Vinci’s studio, the model began to look around, as if recalling incidents of years gone by. He then turned and with a look half-sad, yet one which told how hard it was to realize the change which had taken place, he stated, “Maestro, I was in this studio twenty-five years ago. I, then, sat for Christ.”

Perhaps Putin is simply making the most of what is. Putin may just be living life and doing the most he can for his country and the Russian people, no matter how limited. Satisfaction might come in the fact that he firmly believes things in Russia are better than they would be under the control of anyone else.

Other Shadows of Putin’s Interior

Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio, cumque nihil impedit, quo minus id quo maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet, ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic. Tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequator aut preferendis dolorbus asperiores repellat. (In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammelled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.) Although thngs may go wrong, Putin knows that disappointments in life are inevitable. Putin does not become discouraged or depressed nor does he withdraw from the action. Putin knows he must remain in control of himself as one of his duties as president, and as a duty to himself.

1. Risky Moves

As mentioned earlier, Putin may very well be simpy making the most of what is. Putin may just be living life and doing the most he can for his country and the Russian people, no matter how limited. Some satisfaction might come with the fact that he firmly believes things in Russia are better than they would be under the control of anyone else. Despite his optimism and confidence in his abilities, Putin must be careful of risky moves, creating new situations that may lead to discord, disharmony. For example, interfering in Ukraine was a move that felt he could keep a handle on. Regardless of how positive, professional, and genuine Trump administration efforts have been to build better relations between the US and Russia, it would seem Putin has decided that entering into a new relationship with US would have too many unknowns and possible pitfalls. Putin knows that the consequences of missteps can be severe. He has the memory of what former Russian President Boris Yeltsin experienced in the 1990s to guide him. 

Although he holds power, Putin must always labor with the loneliness of leadership, the anxiety of decision making, and an awareness of threats to his well-being. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that there can be any real happiness for one who is under threat, in a country riddle with corrupt officials and a somewhat fragile system of law and order.

Dionysius and Damocles

Although he holds power, Putin must always labor with the loneliness of leadership, the anxiety of decision making, and an awareness of threats to his well-being. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that there can be any real happiness for one who is under constant threat, in a country riddle with corrupt officials and a somewhat fragile system of law and order. The ancient parable of Dionysius and Damocles, later known in Medieval literature, and the phrase “Sword of Damocles”, responds to this issue of leaders living under such apprehension. The parable was popularized by Cicero in his 45 B.C. book Tusculan Disputations. Cicero’s version of the tale centers on Dionysius II, a tyrannical king who once ruled over the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the 4th and 5th centuries B.C. Though wealthy and powerful, Dionysius was supremely unhappy. As a result of his iron-fisted rule, he had created many enemies. He was tormented by fears of assassination—so much so that he slept in a bedchamber surrounded by a moat and only trusted his daughters to shave his beard with a razor. Dionysius’ dissatisfaction came to a head one day after a court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments and remarked how blissful his life must be. “Since this life delights you,” an annoyed Dionysius replied, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” When Damocles agreed, Dionysius seated him on a golden couch and ordered a host of servants wait on him. He was treated to succulent cuts of meat and lavished with scented perfumes and ointments. Damocles could not believe his luck, but just as he was starting to enjoy the life of a king, he noticed that Dionysius had also hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. It was positioned over Damocles’ head, suspended only by a single strand of horsehair. From then on, the courtier’s fear for his life made it impossible for him to savor the opulence of the feast or enjoy the servants. After casting several nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he asked to be excused, saying he no longer wished to be so fortunate.

Having so much hanging over his head, Putin has no time or desire to tolerate distractions. He does not suffer fools lightly. Putin’s ability to confound insincerity has been key to his ability to remain power. Early on as president, Putin effectively dealt with challenges posed by ultra-nationalists who were unable to temper their bigoted zeal, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the extreme right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party of Russia. The challenges posed by them lessened every year afterward. To the extent that such elements, and those far worse in Russia, could potentially react more aggressively to Putin’s efforts to maintain order, he most remain ever vigilant. Putin has also become skilled in implementing what critics have called “charm offensives,” explaining his ideas and actions in a manner that is easy, comfortable, assuring, and logical. Still, such moves are sometimes not enough. Indeed, during significant crises, it is very important for Putin to have advisers who fully understand his needs. For an overburdened, embattled leader, the encouragement of another, a paraclete, may often prove comforting.

Putin undoubtedly strives for a gesamtkunstwerk: a harmonious work environment. At the present, Putin is probably working with the best cabinet he has ever crafted both in terms of the quality of their work and chemistry. They may occasionally antagonize the overworked leader with a report not crafted to Putin’s liking, or worse, report on a setback. On such occasions, in contrast to his usual equanimity, Putin allegedly has become spectacularly incandescent.

Putin has sought to take on qualified ministers, directors, and other officials to handle specialties. That effort was hampered to an extent during Putin’s early years in power given the need to respond to the wishes of certain patrons. Yet, Putin never hesitated to fire those foisted upon him or his handpicked hires, whether former KGB or not, when they failed to perform. Putin has known what advice, prognostication, and proposals to accept in order to promote his efforts at home and internationally and develop a coherent set of policies. Since he brings his “A-game” to his office everyday, striving for perfection and hungering for improvement, and he expects the same from his cabinet. There are never any spectators, passengers along for the ride. All must be able to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of issues they cover, because that is what Putin will demand. Among his advisers, Putin undoubtedly strives for a gesamtkunstwerk: a harmonious work environment. At the present, Putin is probably working with the best cabinet he has ever crafted both in terms of the quality of their work and chemistry. They may occasionally antagonize the overworked leader with a report not crafted to Putin’s liking, or worse, report on a setback. On such occasions, in contrast to his usual equanimity, Putin allegedly has become spectacularly incandescent with them.

When speaking about what is important to him, Putin does not use throw away lines. He is straightforward and to the point. When he was declared the winner of the 2012 Russian Federation Presidential Election, Putin publicly wept. It is impossible to know what was happening inside Putin to bring that on, but his emotional expression was clearly genuine. To that extent, Putin is not a man without emotion or innermost feelings.

3. Breathing Space

Every now and then Putin stops to take a rest to regroup, and probably to take inventory of his life, determine what he wants, and consider where things are headed. Speculation over Putin’s whereabouts for 10 days in March 2015 became a major news story worldwide. Some sources argued Putin was likely the subject of a coup. Others claimed that his girlfriend had given birth in Switzerland. There were even reports suggesting he had health problems. Putin good-naturedly dismissed it all. Putin’s main outlet for relaxation is sports of all kinds, particular judo and ice hockey. Since the days of his youth, Putin’s involvement in the martial arts, sports in general, had a strong influence on him, impacting his lifestyle. Sports provided Putin with a chance “to prove himself.”However, when he wants, Putin can also display an enjoyment of life and good times, and be quite gregarious, outwardly happy, full of smiles.

Putin, an experienced judoka, displays an element of his nage-waza (throwing technique) with a sparring partner (above). Since the days of his youth, Putin has been involved in the martial arts. Sports of all kinds have been Putin’s main outlet for relaxation. Sports have also provided Putin with a chance “to prove himself.”

When he wants, Putin can also display an enjoyment of life and good times, and be quite gregarious, outwardly happy, full of smiles. Putin undoubtedly understands the importance of having a sense of humor despite any difficulties he may face. Humor is beneficial for ones physical and emotional health. It reinforces ones relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Physically, laughter can improve resistance to diseases by declining the stress hormones and increasing infection-fighting antibodies in the human body according to some research. Laughter can ease physical tension­ and help muscles relax. Emotionally, humor helps you to release stress and to keep an optimistic attitude. When one feels anxious or sad, a good laugh can lighten ones mood. The positive feelings emitted when one laughs will increase energy for the brain and body. That allows for greater focus and will allow one to look at the problems from less frightening perspectives. Humor helps one remain optimistic and humor communication boosts the emotional connection that will bring people closer together and increases happiness as well. Sharing a good-hearted laugh may serve in part to smooth out rough times. Putin’s sense of humor is evinced when he tells jokes. Putin told the following joke publicly in response to a question about the economic crisis in Russia.: Two friends meet up, and one, Person A, asks the other, Person B: “How are things?” Person B says, “Well, things right now are like stripes, you see, black and white.” Person A asks, “Well, how are things right now?” Person B says, “Black!” Half a year passes before they meet again. Person a asks Person B, “Well, how are you – wait, I remember, like stripes, how are things right now?” Person B says, “Right now, they’re black.” Person A says, “But back then it was also black!” Person B says, “Nope, it turns out it was white back then.” Putin has also often told a joke from the Soviet-era that humorously depicts the KGB’s bureaucracy. The goes as follows: “A spy goes to Lubyanka, KGB Headquarters, and says: “I’m a spy, I want to turn myself in.” He is asked, “Who do you work for?” The spy says, “America.” He is told, “OK, go to room 5.” He goes to room 5 and says: “I’m an American spy. I want to turn myself in.” He is asked, “Are you armed?” The spy says, “Yes, I’m armed.” He is told, “Go to room 7, please.” He goes to room 7 and says: “I am an American spy, I’m armed, I want to turn myself in.” He is told, “Go to room 10.” He goes to room 10 and says: “I’m a spy, I want to turn myself in!” He is asked, “Do you have any communication with the Americans?” The spy says, “Yes!” He is told, “Go to room 20.” He goes to room 20 and says: “I’m a spy, I’m armed, I’m in communication with America and I want to turn myself in.” He is asked, “Have you been sent on a mission?” The spy says, “Yes!” He is then told, “Well, get out and go do it! Stop bothering people while they’re working!”

Putin undoubtedly understands the importance of having a sense of humor despite any difficulties he may face. Humor is beneficial for ones physical and emotional health. It reinforces ones relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Putin’s sense of humor is evinced when he tells jokes. When he wants, Putin can also display an enjoyment of life and good times, and be quite gregarious, outwardly happy, full of smiles.

The Way Forward

In Act II, scene i, of William Shakespeare’s play, A Comedy of Errors, Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, and, Luciana, her sister, wait at home for him to return for dinner. Antipholus of Ephesus, a prosperous Ephesus citizen, is lost the twin brother of Antipholus of Syracuse who coincidentally has been searching worldwide for him and his mother, is in Ephesus. Even more of a coincidence, the father of both men, Egeon, a merchant of Syracuse, is condemned to death in Ephesus for violating the ban against travel between the two rival cities. He avoids execution after telling the Ephesian Duke that he came to Syracuse in search of his wife and one of his twin sons, both lost 25 years ago. While waiting, Adriana and Luciana have an exchange. Luciana proffers that men are freer than women because their work and responsibilities take them out of the home, and she thinks Adriana should just wait patiently for her husband to return and understand that she cannot control him. Adriana, chastising Luciana for preaching patience and servitude when she has not experienced marriage, declares: “A wretched soul, bruised with adversity, We bid be quiet when we hear it cry; But were we burdened with like weight of pain, As much or more would we ourselves complain:.” If Trump could have unwound the labyrinthian Putin and found success in improving relations with Russia, it would have been sublime. As a complex leader himself, self-reflection would naturally lead him to consider that the key to working with Putin would be to get to know him from the inside. It has been a bold effort, given failed attempts of previous US administrations, and brave, considering the degree in which the effort would open himself up to further attacks by critics. The benefits of improved relations with Russia would have been enormous. It would also be a magnificent diplomatic achievement by the Trump administration. It was Sartre who said, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” For the most part, Trump’s critics find nothing desirable and everything loathsome about Putin, and impute upon him a lust for power and the intent to acquire greater territory and control in Russia’s near abroad. They consequently claim that Trump has a somnolent conscience when it comes to Putin. It is a segment of an ugly picture critics have painted of Trump fumbling on Russia and issues concerning the rest of the world. Their view of Trump is a far cry from reality. As it was explained in the recent greatcharlie post, Trump and his experienced foreign and national security policy officials had reservations about the whole matter. Faster than a canary in a coal mine, they were able to detect what was wrong and disingenuous about Putin’s approach. Putin’s lack of desire for that change is perhaps best evinced by Russia’s persistent efforts to meddle in US elections. If that unconstructive behavior continues, there will be little reason left than to recognize and deal with him not just as an adversary, but as an anathema. There is always hope. After all, along with all the bad, hope was also an element released from Pandora’s Box. However, US foreign policy cannot be simply based on hope and the unverifiable. It must be based on pragmatic choices with the expectation of certain outcomes. At this juncture, only an exceptional optimist among Trump’s most ardent supporters would hope with aplomb that he might be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat by having a few more ideas that might create real prospects for success.

Putin may feel some degree of temporary satisfaction over the arguable accomplishment of ensnaring previous US administrations in artificial diplomatic efforts by feigning interest in improving relations, by offering little steps that are nothing more than bromides. (Perhaps the Obama administration was an exception. Putin displayed little interest in working with it to achieve anything.) Taking that course has required a delicate balance of actions, and so far Putin has managed to avoid creating a greater danger for civilization. (In a way, meddling in US elections has brought things to the edge of the envelope of safety.) Putin unlikely vehemently desires to build up Russia’s nuclear arsenal. His announcements of new weapons systems reflect highly of the efforts of his country’s advanced defense research, and provide notice to world the Russia still has “deterrent” power. Still, important here, its impact has also been to deny interest in, and signal his rejection of, efforts to rebuild US-Russia relations. Looking at Putin from the inside, as was attempted here, it would appear that pride and ego had much to do with that choice. He has tied the entire matter to Russia’s dignity, as much as his own. By placing himself in a position of control, being able to reject US diplomatic efforts, he undoubtedly has temporarily satisfied his ego, has built himself up a bit. Expostulating on what Putin should be doing with his presidency, or what his duty is, would be a mistake. Putin would unlikely be interested in the ministrations of greatcharlie. However, it would certainly be serendipitous if Putin would move beyond such derivative thinking. For one settled in certain ways, that would require an epiphany of a sort, a degree of  personal growth: from insecurity to complete confidence over Russia’s place in the world. With future generations of Russians in mind, it is hard to image how keeping it separate from the rest of the world would be to their benefit. Much as the conservative US President Richard Nixon opened relations with Communist China, only under Putin will ties with the US reality take shape, could it be made sustainable. Russia would certainly remain strong, competitive, and self-sufficient. Looking at the hypothetical decision holistically, nothing would be lost. To use a sports metaphor, the ball is really in Putin’s court. For now, Trump appears to be available for talks. Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determination of nature and of truth.)

Trump Delivers a Mixed Message on His National Security Approach: Judge His Strategy by Its Qualities and Results, Not Inference

US President Donald Trump (above). On December 18, 2017, US President Donald Trump presented the 2017 National Security Strategy.  It requires the US government to put “America First”. US borders will be fortified, unfair trade agreements will be voided, and US military power will be enhanced. Critics claim a disconnect exists between Trump’s discussion of the new strategy and the analysis in it, consequently confusing the US public and foreign governments over its meaning. Nevertheless, the document is a clear expression of Trump’s vision for his administration’s approach on national security.

According to a December 18, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump Delivers a Mixed Message on His National Security Approach”, US President Donald Trump that day presented the 2017 National Security Strategy which warned of a treacherous world in which the US faces rising threats from China and Russia, as well as rogue governments such as North Korea. The December 18th article explains the new strategy requires the US government to put “America First”. US borders will be fortified, unfair trade agreements will be voided, and US military power will be strengthened. However, the December 18th article also proffered that there was a disconnect between Trump’s discussion of the new strategy and the analysis in the new document. The article insists that the breach between Trump’s speech and what is written in the new document attests to a broader challenge his national security advisers have faced in their struggle “to develop an intellectual framework that encompasses Mr. Trump’s unpredictable, domestically driven and Twitter-fueled approach to foreign policy.” Additionally, the article offers the opinion that “The same confusion has confronted foreign governments trying to understand Mr. Trump’s conflicting signals.”

As explained by the White House, the 2017 National Security Strategy builds on the first eleven months of Trump’s action to restore respect for the US internationally as well as renew the confidence of US public in their country. It is directly in line with Trump’s vision statement of “America First” which was first made during his presidential nauguration on January 20, 2017. The term encapsulates his belief that the US can still reach new heights, and is the idea that would guide his transformational initiatives by setting a defined direction for its growth. ”America First” has been explained by top administration officials as signaling “the restoration of American leadership and our government’s traditional role overseas—to use the diplomatic, economic and military resources of the US to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world.” Administration officials had already commented that “the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” Trump’s declaration of “America First” was intended “to send clear message to our friends and partners: Where our interests align, we are open to working together to solve problems and explore opportunities.”

Quod cibus est aliis, aliis est venenum. (What is food to some is poison to others.) Although the 2017 National Security Strategy is a clear expression of Trump’s vision for his administration’s approach on national security, many questions have been asked about the document in the US and internationally. Much also has already been assumed, hypothesized, and surmised about it. As illustrated by the December 18th New York Times article, critics of Trump and his administration insist that the validity of the new strategy should be placed in question due to its inconsistency with Trump’s own words and actions on foreign and national security policy. That distorted picture of the new strategy is fully in line with perspectives and positions being propagated by a very emotional and sometimes irrational, counter-Trump milieu. It is presented with such dynamism and high spirit that it creates the impression among many in the US public and internationally that there is some movement forward in the effort to push Trump from office.  It has all become very ordinary, gewöhriche. For the better part of 2017, greatcharlie has been focused on the Trump and US foreign and national security policy. The intention of greatcharlie was not to become a blog that was ‘“all Trump, all the time.” However, US foreign and national security policy is of interest to the US public and is of great importance in all capitals worldwide. This assay looks at the new strategy in a constructive, more balanced, and fresh perspective of Trump’s concepts, intentions, and decisions. Hopefully, it may help, even if only bit by bit, to establish a more positive dialogue on the administration’s new strategy, and the overall foreign and national security policy debate. Post tenebras spero lucem. (I hope for light after darkness.)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (center), US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford (right). The 2017 National Security Strategy is the product of the collaborative process of Trump’s national security team. In Trump’s administration, interdepartmental cooperation is not insisted upon as a bromide for parochialism or for mere appearances. The collaborative process brings together the talents of the extraordinarily experienced leaders of the relevant departments and agencies to produce something better than any independent effort by one.

The Thinking Behind the 2017 National Security Strategy

Respice, adspice, prospice! (Examine the past, examine the present, examine the future!) In analyzing Trump’s thinking and decisions on foreign and national security policy, there is a usefulness in looking at the spiritual qualities of his efforts, the integration of mind and craft into his work. Trump possesses a certain mental agility. His strengths of flexibility, adaptability, and originality, are applied particularly on priority issues. Critics, however, frown upon Trump’s use of those strengths, and they would hardly dub any of his attributes as anything so lofty as “strengths”. Trump may make strong statements to figuratively shake the trees, rustle the reeds, and beat the bushes with the goal of testing a competitors’ metal and getting to the crux of his competitors’ thinking. He may take a stand on an issue off middle ground in order to drive competitors to offer better terms to bring the US back to a mutually satisfying path. Indeed, he has sought to shape his environment. Although he may have expected, and may have been willing to accept, complaints and rebuffs from foreign capitals in response to his efforts, he was undoubtedly taken aback somewhat by the harshness of attacks of critics from home. In many cases, they equalled or surpassed anything expressed by the worst foreign adversaries. An empirical analysis of comments of critics and statements emanating from US adversaries, side-by-side, would cause one to believe those adversaries are feeding off of the critics words. Critics of Trump, whose ranks include US newsmedia members, think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the Obama administration, have developed a perceptible negative ideation about Trump. That ideation apparently impels them to insist that all reactions to his work, especially on foreign and national security policy, must be negative. However, critics have not stifled Trump’s dreams, his resolve, his will. With a face like thunder on occasion, he powers forward with a sense of zuversicht, a sense of confidence for all to see. His activities are high tempo. Critics often seem shocked by Trump’s pace. With audacity, and at times brashness, Trump is always looking up front, pushing forward, while being well aware of what is behind.

Nemo timendo ad summum pervenit locum. (No man by fearing reaches the top.) Typically on an issue, Trump starts lightly and then extends from his ideas, his moves, his unanticipated actions. He initially summarizes his ideas in speeches, and many times on Twitter, while administration officials may expiate on them a bit in statements, policy briefs, and even op-ed pieces. While taking action, or while engaged in action, he seeks counsel from his top advisers to ensure that there is an effective integration of knowledge and action. Working with them, he polishes those ideas much as marble. Administration policy makers have come to expect and make provision for his swift, decisive moves. Those in the administration who craft foreign and national security policies and strategies accept those strengths as an advantage and not as a drawback. Trump’s interaction with his advisers is akin to that of the renowned 18th century Prussian Army Marshal Leberecht von Blücher–a hero at Waterloo in close second to the Duke of Wellington–and his chief of staff General August Gneisenau. In Clausewitz: (Scarborough, 1979), Roger Parkinson quotes von Blücher’s explanation of his relationship with his brilliant chief of staff as follows:  “Gneisenau, being my chief of staff and very reliable, reports to me on the manoeuvres that are to be executed and the marches that are to be performed. Once convinced that he is right, I drive my troops through hell towards the goal and never stop until the desire goal has been accomplished–yes, even though the officers trained in the old school may pout and complain and all but mutiny.” Parkinson further quotes von Blücher noting that he said after being offered an honorary degree at Oxford University following the Napoleonic War: “Well, if I am to become an doctor, you must at least make Gneisenau an apothecary, for we two belong together always.”

US National Security Adviser US Army Lieutenant General H.R McMaster (above). To the extent that critics might find something false or misleading about the new strategy, perhaps greater assurance that it can be relied upon as an authentic, guiding document on US policy is the fact that McMaster was responsible for its construction. He is an exceptional military officer, who exudes the values of duty, honor, country. It could be said colloquially of McMaster that he is “As straight up as twelve o’clock!” To assert that anything produced by him would be some form of deception would manifest a mindset as distant from reality as east is to west.

Malum consilium quod mutari non potest. (It is a bad plan that cannot be changed.) When Trump acts on an issue, his goal is to exploit success, preserve his freedom of action on immediate matters, and reduce vulnerability from action by his competitors. He acts in a manner designed to gain advantage, surprise, and momentum over his competitors, achieving results that would normally require far more time and would be more costly to the US. Even more, Trump does it all avec brio, with a certain panache. This has been witnessed repeatedly in his interactions with foreign leaders. Trump’s discernment of events and situations as well as his planning and execution of actions against competitors greatly resembles what military thinkers define as maneuver. He rushes to place himself in superior position in order to overcome and defeat his opponents efforts. Trump’s approach is very similar to what was once taught at Germany’s Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin before World War II. It was emphasized that commanders needed a superior understanding of maneuver at all points to ensure they would always be stronger than an opponent at the decisive point, which they referred to as the Schwerpunkt. Military science scholars and historians may recall two classic examples of this being applied by German commanders during World War II: the Battle of Flanders during the German invasion of France in May 1940; and, the Battles of the Minsk and Smolensk Pockets during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. One could surmise that these hints of a pattern of thinking and decision making similar to that of military commanders historically and a pattern of action a tinge in a military fashion on foreign and national security policy issues, that provides current and former military commanders in the administration a unique insight, a special edge, in understanding their president’s choices. Indeed, they can certainly see and better discern far more than any of Trump’s critics.

The Construction of the 2017 National Security Strategy

The 2017 National Security Strategy is saturated with meaning and purpose. It reflects Trump’s concept and intent on formulating and implementing his administration’s foreign and national security policies and strategies, and his overall vision on US national policy. Indeed, in its published summary of the new strategy of December 18, 2017, the National Security Council explained that the document “articulates and advances the President’s concept of principled realism.” It was further explained: “It is realist because it acknowledges the central role of power in international politics, affirms that strong and sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interests. It is principled because it is grounded in advancing American principles, which spreads peace and prosperity around the globe.” With these ideas in mind, the administration seeks to authentically gain and retain the initiative in advancing its concept of principled realism while reestablishing a strong, positive image of the US worldwide.

Trump’s national security team at Camp David (above). Before taking action, or while engaged in action, on an issue, Trump seeks counsel from his top advisers to ensure that there is an effective integration of knowledge and action. Working with them, he polishes those ideas much as marble. Administration policy makers have come to expect and make provision for Trump’s swift, decisive moves. Those in the administration who craft foreign and national security policies and strategies accept those strengths as an advantage and not as a drawback.

Trump has a good idea of what is “out there in the dark” that might harm the US, its interests, and its allies. It would appear that Trump’s examination of those threats worldwide has been of biographical nature, with a focus on national leaders, political leaders, and nongovernmental actors such as terrorist leaders and organized crime bosses. Indeed, the National Security Council’s summary of the new strategy takes special note of: “regional dictators”; “jihadist terrorists”; and, “transnational criminal organizations.” While not mentioning Chinese President XI Jinping and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin by name, the strategy notes “revisionist powers, such as China and Russia” present challenges to the US. He wants to cope with their past and present actions and threats posed by adversaries to the interests of the US and its allies. In a way, as US President, coping with the behavior of mankind has become Trump’s business.

The new strategy is the product of the collaborative process of Trump’s national security team. In Trump’s administration, interdepartmental cooperation is not insisted upon as a bromide for parochialism or for mere appearances. The collaborative process brings together the talents of extraordinarily experienced leaders of the relevant departments and agencies to produce something better than any independent effort by one. A density of knowledge, power of intellect was brought to bear during the strategy’s development given the participation of .senior officials such as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, and US National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R McMaster, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn. To the extent that critics might find something false or misleading about the new strategy, perhaps even greater assurance that the document can be relied upon as an authentic guiding document, is the fact that McMaster was responsible for its construction. In addition to his impeccable qualities and the amazing capabilities he brings to his job, he is an impressive individual, an exceptional military officer, who exudes the values of duty, honor, country. It could be said colloquially of McMaster that he is “as straight up as twelve o’clock!” To assert that anything produced by him would equate to some form of deception, a hoax, or a fig leaf, as some critics have, would manifest a mindset as distant from reality as east is to west. McMaster could be accepted as a measure to understand all other members of Trump’s national security team. Nullum saeculum magnis ingeiius clausum est. (No generation is closed to great talents.)

US Navy aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (bottom), USS Theodore Roosevelt (center), and USS Nimitz (top) in the Pacific. The Trump administration’s National Security Strategy is not simply a long range plan for the development and use of US military power and other security elements. As crafted, the new strategy encompasses all tools of US power available and brilliantly integrates them into a seamless web with a single, defined goal: the advancement and prosperity of the country.

The Four Pillars of the 2017 National Security Strategy

The 2017 National Security Strategy is not simply a long range plan for the development and use of US military power and of other security and law enforcement elements. As crafted, the strategy encompasses all tools of power available to the US and brilliantly integrates them into a seamless web with a single, defined goal: the advancement and prosperity of the country. The new strategy identifies four vital national interests, or “four pillars” as: 1) “Protect the homeland, the American people, and American way of life”; 2) “Promote American prosperity”; 3) “Preserve peace through strength”; and, 4) “Advance American influence.”

1) Protect the Homeland

Patria et communis omnium parents. (Our native land is the common parent of us all.) The new strategy reiterates the administration’s determination to stand up for our people and our way of life. Trump has been unequivocal in declaring that the primary interest of the US government is the safety and security of its citizens.  Before the UN General Assembly, on September 19, 2017, Trump stated: “Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens — to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.” Administration officials believe that the display of that commitment deepens the respect of friends toward the US. Vital US interests will be protected and advanced while greater cooperation will be fostered, and relationships will be strengthened, with our allies and partners.

Under ”Protect the Homeland”, the National Security Council’s summary of the new strategy explains the following actions will be taken: “We will strengthen control of our borders and reform our immigration system to protect the homeland and restore our sovereignty. The greatest transnational threats to the homeland are: Jihadist terrorists, using barbaric cruelty to commit murder, repression, and slavery, and virtual networks to exploit vulnerable populations and inspire and direct plots. Transnational criminal organizations, tearing apart our communities with drugs and violence and weakening our allies and partners by corrupting democratic institutions. America will target threats at their source: we will confront threats before they ever reach our borders or cause harm to our people. We will redouble our efforts to protect our critical infrastructure and digital networks, because new technology and new adversaries create new vulnerabilities. We are deploying a layered missile defense system to defend America against missile attacks.”

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (left) and White House Economic Adviser Gary Cohn (right). Senior Trump administration officials have emphasized that US economic prosperity is critical to the country’s national interests. They have explained that a strong economy will protect the US public, supports their way of life, and sustain US power.

2) Promote Economic Prosperity

Culpa par odium exigit. (The offense requires a proportional reaction.) Senior Trump administration officials have emphasized that US economic prosperity is critical to the country’s national interests. They have explained that a strong economy will protect the US public, support their way of life, and sustain US power. The administration has sought to breakout from under lopsided agreements and do some open field running, showing what it can really do and get not only fair but better deals. The country will come first, hence “America First”. Trump does not want the US to get bogged down on bumpy roads with competitors, mired in one slug fest negotiation after another in an attempt to rectify the bad deals made by the prior administration. In 2017, the administration secured defense investments that would strengthen regional and American security and create American jobs. Efforts to solidify relationships with other countries included getting them to stand firm against all unfair trade practices and foster a truly level playing field.

In its summary of the new strategy, under ”Promote American Prosperity”, the National Security Council stated that the administration would pursue the following: “We will rejuvenate the American economy for the benefit of American workers and companies, which is necessary to restore our national power. America will no longer tolerate chronic trade abuses and will pursue free, fair, and reciprocal economic relationships. To succeed in this 21st century geopolitical competition, America must lead in research, technology, and innovation. We will protect our national security innovation base from those who steal our intellectual property and unfairly exploit the innovation of free societies. America will use its energy dominance to ensure international markets remain open, and that the benefits of diversification and energy access promote economic and national security.”

A US Air Force B-2A “Spirit” Stealth bomber (above). The Trump administration has promised to greatly increase the capabilities and capacity of the US military. Additionally, it has sought to bolster US power by strengthening its alliances and its partneships with economically thriving partners. It has done so while ensuring  that those alliances and partnerships are based on mutual respect and shared responsibility.

3) Preserve Peace through Strength

Qui desiderat pacem praeparat bellum. (Who desires peace [should] prepare [for] war.) In 2017, the Trump administration explained that taking the lead internationally and advancing US military, political and economic strength is a third vital US interest. To that extent, the Trump administration has promised to greatly increase the capabilities and capacity of the US military. Additionally, it has sought to bolster US power by strengthening its alliances and its partnerships with economically thriving partners. It has done so while ensuring that those alliances and partnerships are based on mutual respect and shared responsibility. This approach was evinced when Trump reconfirmed the US commitment to NATO and Article 5. At the same time, he challenged NATO allies to share equitably the responsibility for our mutual defense. Regarding partnerships, in Israel, for example, Trump affirmed that a secure, prosperous and democratic Jewish state is central to US interests in the region. In an effort to be equitable, the administration also explained to the Palestinian authorities that it fully intends engagement in the pursuit of a historic peace deal between them and the Israelis. As for those countries that may choose to remain or become US adversaries and to threaten vital US interests, the US will become their worst foe.

In the National Security Council’s summary under, ”Preserve Peace Through Strength”, steps the administration plans to take were outlined as follows: “We will rebuild America’s military strength to ensure it remains second to none. America will use all of the tools of statecraft in a new era of strategic competition–diplomatic, information, military, and economic—to protect our interests. America will strengthen its capabilities across numerous domains–including space and cyber–and revitalize capabilities that have been neglected. America’s allies and partners magnify our power and protect our shared interests. We expect them to take greater responsibility for addressing common threats. We will ensure the balance of power remains in America’s favor in key regions of the world: the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.”

Trump (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right). Under the new strategy, US diplomatic and development efforts will compete to achieve better outcomes in all arenas–bilateral, multilateral, and in the information realm–to protect our interests, find new economic opportunities for Americans, and challenge our competitors. The US will seek partnerships with like-minded states to promote free market economies, private sector growth, political stability, and peace.

4) Advance American Interests

Clara pacta, boni amici. (Clear agreement, good friends.) The Trump administration would explain that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. To that forum, the US brings unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Unlike the previous administration, the Trump administration embraces that reality, rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs. The administration has already let adversaries know that the US will not only take their measure, but will deter conflict through strength, and will defend US interests and values. Still, at the same time, the US will look for areas of common interest that allow us to work together to solve problems and explore opportunities. Indeed, those countries that may prove to share our interests will find no friend more steadfast than the US. As two senior administration officials explained in a May 30, 2017 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “We engage with the world not to impose our way of life but to ‘secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.’ “

Under “Advance American Influence”, the National Security Council summary indicates the administration will act accordingly: “We must continue to enhance our influence overseas to protect the American people and promote our prosperity. America’s diplomatic and development efforts will compete to achieve better outcomes in all arenas–bilateral, multilateral, and in the information realm–to protect our interests, find new economic opportunities for Americans, and challenge our competitors. America will seek partnerships with like-minded states to promote free market economies, private sector growth, political stability, and peace. We champion our values–including the rule of law and individual rights–that promote strong, stable, prosperous, and sovereign states. Our “America First” foreign policy celebrates America’s influence in the world as a positive force that can help set the conditions for peace, prosperity, and the development of successful societies.”

Trump (right) and Chinese President XI Jinping (left). The Trump administration recognizes that the world is not a “global community” but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. The US brings to that forum unmatched military, political, economic, cultural and moral strength. The Trump administration seeks to embrace that reality, rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs as the previous administration had.

The Way Forward

In Act IV, Scene i of William Shakespeare’s play, The Life of King Henry the Fifth, Henry is at the English camp, before the Battle of Agincourt. Wrapped anonymously in a borrowed cloak and pretending to be an ordinary soldier, Henry sits by the common campfire,and talks with whoever wanders by. Eventually he encounters John Bates, Alexander Court, and Michael Williams at the campfire. Henry discusses with them the English troops’ odds in the coming battle. They also discuss the righteousness of the king’s cause, whether they should give consideration as to whether the king is right or wrong side of the war, and nature of their obedience to the king. Still disguised, Henry offered a defense of the king’s position. However, experienced in war and understanding what the experience of war can amount to in the hearts and minds of some soldiers in its aftermath, Henry states the following: “Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience: and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained: and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, He let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare.” The 2017 National Security Strategy presented by the Trump administration is not the water and milk of the previous administration and does not merely regurgitate on paper what was useful from earlier strategies without real intent to implement provisions. The ideas within the new document are those to which one can take a firm grip upon and to which one can dedicate oneself. The strategy was developed by those who truly understand first hand what it means to execute actions required under the strategy, and have freely offered their own lives in service to their country. That priceless massing of wisdom and experience gives extra meaning to all of the strategy’s aspects. Those contributors want to ensure not only that the US is prepared and protected, but that those who are now asked to commit themselves to the country’s security know that their cause is righteous and not based on political expediency. In foreign capitals, it would behoove those stewards of their nations foreign and national security policy to take heed of what is actually provided in the strategy and to examine the plethora of negative critiques of the new document with caution, and even suspicion.

Qui nimium probation, nihil probat. (One who proves too much, proves nothing.) Interpretations of Trump by critics do not appear to be softening. Critics do not want to make Trump’s life easy. Yet,. having been proven wrong on occasion after occasion, critics have been left, time and time again, grasping at thin air. There will likely be frustration and despair for the majority of Trump’s critics in the end. Unless they decide to go as far as to believe some deus ex machina will be suddenly introduced that will provide a solution of their very liking to their insoluble difficulty, the grand illusion, that Trump somehow will be deposed, will be shattered. At some point, critics must take a comprehensive look at what has transpired so far. After placing so much emphasis on Trump’s defeat, destruction, and defenestration, critics must consider why their path has been one of confusion, bewilderment, and missteps and why Trump, as with time, marches on. They must examine their motives, and look into their own personal and private histories. The time has come for many to change their ways. In a recent essay, the Catholic priest and theologian Father George Rutler reminds that the famed US novelist George Orwell presented the idea of “doublethink”, which means holding out contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accepting both of them. The intolerance of Trump’s critics is called tolerance but it is the false kind of tolerance which, as the renowned English writer G.K. Chesterton said, is the virtue of the man without conviction. In changing one’s ways, one must go through a psychological transformation. In previous posts, greatcharlie has suggested that many of Trump’s critics consider changing their approach to him and his administration, not only because their efforts have brought little success–and have actually done some harm to US diplomatic efforts, and not to merely surrender, but to redirect their energies to the more positive pursuit creating positive change. They could try to offer real solutions—and not old, failed ones—that may be useful to the very dedicated officials of the administration. As Individuals, they must assume the responsibility of making things better. If they can work together, as a group, they can focus their combined energy to actually make things better. A wealth of goodness would certainly be created by constructive behavior bent on bringing success to the US via worthy endeavors as opposed to engaging in actions to defeat the administration’s efforts. The eminent US civil rights leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, once said “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.” Spero melior.  (I hope for better things.)

A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump: It May Be Provided Outside the Counter-Trump Milieu

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US President Donald Trump has not projected the sort of geniality toward Europe that would relax its leaders. Insecurity over populism and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has overwhelmed European leaders, officials, analysts, academicians, and journalists, but Trump seems to worry them almost equally. They do not get him. Perhaps the best hope now would be for European leaders and officials to step away from the current environment and try to quietly examine Trump from a different angle for the sake of transatlantic relations.

According to a February 19, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump’s Plans,” diplomats, generals, policy experts, and security officials traveled to the 2017 Munich Security Conference from all over the world seeking clues to US President Donald Trump’s ideas and intentions on foreign and defense policy, but left without much reassurance. The highest ranking members of the Trump administration that attended the conference, held from February 17th to February 19th, were US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Both addressed the conference, but reportedly adhered to prepared statements. Pence’s presentation, in particular, was eagerly awaited. In his address, he explained that he carried a direct message of reassurance from Trump, but his words received little approval from keen observers of Washington present. R. Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor and former US Under Secretary of State gave Pence credit. Burns said, “The vice president said what he had to say, and I applauded.“ He went on to explain, “But there were very few specifics, and everyone noted that Mr. Pence did not once mention the European Union, which for most Europeans is the central institution, not NATO. Europe is going through a very tough time, and they expected a big public embrace of these institutions from the leader of the West, the United States.” Burns went on to explain, “They know that President Trump has repeatedly questioned the relevance of both NATO and the EU and has encouraged Brexit, and many Europeans fear he may work for a weakening of the EU itself.” He continued, noting, “All this ambivalence makes them very nervous, and it’s hard for Pence to overcome.” US Senator John McCain, referred to in the New York Times article as a conference regular, said that the administration was “in disarray,” and added,“The president, I think, makes statements and on other occasions contradicts himself. So we’ve learned to watch what the president does as opposed to what he says.”

Europe has managed to promote multilateral cooperation under difficult circumstances in the past 70 years. Perhaps the best example of that cooperation was the formation of NATO in 1949.  There was a sense of uncertainty, a degree of instability, and a real threat from the Soviet Union. Foreign policy and global strategy were not well-coordinated among Western capitals. However, with the leadership role of the US, but also with distinctive leading roles played by European countries, what is the now well-known as the Western perspective grew. Pragmatic and patient efforts were to coordinate the policies of Western European countries together with the US and Canada until a new system of European security was developed. Currently, there is increased anxiety in European capitals with regard to EU unity, a rise in populism, and the threat posed by Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and his armed forces. Uncertain of the new US administration’s intentions and plans regarding the support of Europe, European leaders and officials have been turning left and right, asking questions, searching for useful answers. Finding genuine, constructive answers in what could called a counter-Trump milieu has proven most difficult. Indeed, with all of the news media stories, and the nonstop rebuke of Trump by political opponents at home and pundits worldwide, there hardly seems space available in the current environment to introduce into the discourse other facts or evidence about the US president other facts or evidence about the Trump administration without obstruction.

Perhaps the best hope now would be for European leaders and officials to momentarily step back from the current discourse and during that pause, try to quietly examine Trump from a different angle for the sake of Europe. That reexamination might include new research and bilateral meetings with senior US officials. Europe must bridge the growing gap in relations with the US. False appearances and errors in judgment can be dispelled by the truth. To simply take the approach du jure, engage in groupthink, or succumb to the angry mob about Trump, is a misuse of intellect, a misuse of will. Demands cannot be so great, tied so much to the dignity of a nation or movement, or their own pride and ego, that European leaders and officials would allow themselves to become the impediment to finding a way to work with Trump. Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. (Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.)

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At the 2017 Munich Security Conference, US Vice President Mike Pence’s address was eagerly awaited. He offered reassurances from Trump. However, the Europeans wanted a public embrace of their institutions by the US, but they say it was not given. There hardly seems space available in the counter-Trump milieu in Europe for anyone to introduce other facts or evidence about Trump and his administration without obstruction.

Prominent Europeans’ Responses to Trump at Munich

Animus quod perdidt optat atque in præterita se totus imagine versat. (The mind yearns for what is gone and loses itself dreaming of the past.) National leaders are expected to project a certain geniality. In democracies, that geniality can boost a candidate’s appeal to the public in elections. Once in power, that geniality makes for great optics, and to a degree may still help shape public opinion, but the main task of a leader is to perform one’s duty and responsibilities well. Trump has not projected the sort of geniality toward Europe that would relax leaders in Brussels or any of the national capitals. There has been a tumultuous clamor in Europe over him. The most apparent causality for the Europeans are the ties of a few senior members of the Trump administration might have with the Russian president. Europe’s expression of  such irritation and concern exposed the considerable degree of insecurity, and to a degree, fear, that overwhelms the latest generation of European analysts, academicians, and journalists not only over populism, Putin, and Russian military power, but the US almost as much. They appear unable to read Trump and discuss him in a way that cannot seem to avoid use of obloquy. The nascent days of the Trump administration certainly contrast in this way with those of administration of US President Barack Obama. Obama seemed to specialize in studied ambiguity on foreign policy, speaking comfortable words to address urgent and important issues as well as outright provocations. It was in line with what then Vice President Joe Biden called “the new tone” of US foreign policy at the 2009 Munich Security Conference. The Obama administration held the promise of a kinder, more thoughtful US than was observed with the administration of his predecessor US President George Bush. Biden urged Europe to ramp up its efforts and partner with the US in an effort to re-establish a workable world order. Those early days with Obama in office appear sorely missed by the Europeans. However, waxing nostalgically about the Obama administration will not serve European leaders well. Moreover, with nostalgia, one more often remembers the best and filters out the worst. Some might recall that Europe voiced concern over how passively Obama responded to provocations such as Russia’s threat to deploy weapons against former Soviet republics and cut natural gas supplies to Europe, and Iran’s launch of a satellite and development enough uranium to fuel a nuclear bomb.  Now, concerns are being expressed about another US president’s response concerning European security.

When he addressed the 2017 Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, the former German ambassador to Washington who organizes the conference, queried whether Trump would: “continue a tradition of half a century of being supportive of the project of European integration, or is he going to continue to advocate EU member countries to follow the Brexit example? If he did that, it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the U.S. wants? Is that how he wishes to make America great again?” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault expressed his displeasure with the fact that Pence had not sent a message of support for the EU, something Ischinger had suggested Pence provide before the conference. Elmar Brok, head of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament and a party ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “Pence and Mattis and Tillerson can come here and talk about the importance of the transatlantic relationship and NATO–and that is all good.” However, Brok went on to state, “But we don’t know what’s coming on Twitter tomorrow morning.” Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the German Council on Foreign Relations stated without ornament, “People were not reassured.” She continued, “They think that Trump is erratic and incalculable. We all want to hear what we want to hear. But everyone knows that any Trump official could be gone tomorrow, or undercut in another tweet.” Still, Schwarzer intriguingly stated that words were also deeds. She explained, “What he says also changes reality.” In that vein, she proffered, “If you put NATO or the European Union into doubt, it changes their credibility and damages them.” Ulrich Speck, a foreign policy analyst at the Elcano think tank in Brussels, said the conundrum that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger evoked when he famously asked who he should call when he wanted to talk to “Europe” seemed to have been “turned on its head.” Speck continued, “Now Europe is asking who it should call if it wants to talk to the United States.” One unnamed European diplomat reportedly likened the challenge of figuring out who to listen to in the Trump administration to the task of “Kremlinologists” during the Cold War. Major ignotarum rerum est terror.  (Apprehensions are greater in proportion as things are unknown.)

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US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the 2017 Munich Security Conference (above). No benefit will be derived from undermining the US leadership when a response from the US against Russia might prove crucial to Europe’s well-being. European leaders and officials must recall that the ties between the US and Europe have a long history. It is a bond which no US administration would genuinely desire to ignore or want to break. In time, Europe will likely understand that the relationship is still of great value to the US and is appreciated.

News Media Reports and Their Possible Impact on the Matter

When one is less certain about the objective truth, the possibility that one might be drawn elsewhere for answers increases. Lacking any formal statements from the the Trump White House or State Department to analyze US policies, it appears that some in European capitals have turned to the US news media interpretations of political events and decisions of the Trump Administration. In the US, the news media serves as a watchdog over government power and political activity. It is a source from which the public can inform itself on the decisions and actions of elected leaders and appointed officials. The news media is at its best when it can provide the public with a look inside government bodies and operations. Its role in the society is sacrosanct. “Freedom of the press” is one the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution listing specific prohibitions on government power. The implications of comments emanating from the Trump administration about the “fake news media” being the “enemy of the American people” are considerable. Ignoring the “fake,” Some have gone as far as to say that denunciation of the news media is the “greatest threat to democracy” they have seen. The news media, the unofficially recognized “Fourth Estate” or fourth branch of government given its importance to the democracy, is not the enemy of the US public. Such comments were unlikely fully considered before spoken, and eventually became fodder in an ongoing struggle between the Trump administration and certain US news media houses. It appears the aim of those grave words initially was to reject and certainly sting some in the news media in response to reports questioning the character of Trump administration officials, but not to be destructive, or to indict the news media as a whole. Events surrounding the Trump administration have gained increased attention. There is a reality that news media houses would like to present attention grabbing headlines to promote readership and viewership, which helps them fill advertising space and increases profit. Indeed, it must be noted that the news media, while a sentinel for democracy, is also a major industry, and managers in  houses seek to satisfy the appetites of their customer base. To patronize in order to connect with the customer is a business practice. In the case of reporting on Trump, most journalists in newspapers of record, to their credit, have written articles that are often measured in composition, providing ample qualifications alongside each postulation. Due to the doubts attached, it stands to reason that information presented in this way should neither be viewed as weighty nor reliable. Others have sought to convince readers that stories are bigger than they are. Such articles exaggerate the truth to the exclusion of it subtleties. Even more, some journalists’ judgments of matters they report about the Trump administration have often insinuated themselves into their articles. That approach on occasion has very likely served to inflame passions and appeal to the lower nature of many readers and viewers, domestically and internationally. What has been stated here may appear as a foray by greatcharlie into media criticism, but actually the intent is to highlight the current environment surrounding the US news media from which many European leaders and officials may be collecting information on the administration.

Recent examples of the type of reports described, include a February 16, 2017 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Spies Keep Intelligence From Donald Trump on Leak Concerns,”  stated: “US intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. The officials’ decision to keep information from Mr. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies.” The Wall Street Journal article further stated: “In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.” However, within the article, the following qualification was provided: “A spokesman for the Office of Director of National Intelligence said: ‘Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true.’” Further clarity on the matter was provided in the article with the following: “It wasn’t clear Wednesday how many times officials have held back information from Mr. Trump. The officials emphasized that they know of no instance in which crucial information about security threats or potential plotting has been omitted.”

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German soldiers in formation (above). Lacking any formal statements from the the Trump White House or State Department to analyze US policies, some in European capitals may have turned to the US news media interpretations of political events and decisions of the Trump Administration. Some of those reports may served to inflame passions and convince them that their worst fears regarding US relations were being realized. That would include facing Russia alone.

In a February 14, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence,” stated verbatim: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials. The New York Times article continued: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.” The article created greater intrigue with the following: “The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls. The article went on to explain: “The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the F.B.I. is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the hacking of the D.N.C., according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.”

In a similar way to the February 16th Wall Street Journal article, the February 14th New York Times article provided qualifications on this intriguing information, explaining: “The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.” The New York Times article also disclosed: “Mr. Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the officials’ accounts in a telephone interview on Tuesday. ‘This is absurd,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.’ He added, ‘It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’” Additionally on the matter of contacts, the article continued: “Several of Mr. Trump’s associates, like Mr. Manafort, have done business in Russia. And it is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society. Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts might have been about business.” The article added: “The officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who participated, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself. There was also mention in the article of an FBI effort to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former intelligence operative of the United Kingdom. The New York Times article stated: “The dossier contained a raft of allegations of a broad conspiracy between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.” However, that information came with a qualification, which stated: “The F.B.I. has spent several months investigating the leads in the dossier, but has yet to confirm any of its most explosive claims.”

Even the February 19th New York Times article that impelled the writing of this greatcharlie post projected a negative tone. Some unfavorable judgments of the Trump administration infiltrated the article’s description of European responses to remarks made by US officials. The articled noted: “An audience anxious for signals about the Trump administration’s stances on NATO, the European Union, Germany and the Russia of President Vladimir V. Putin, whom Mr. Trump so openly admires, was only minimally soothed. It mostly heard boilerplate assurances about United States commitments of the kind that previous American administrations had rarely felt the need to give.”

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A NATO meeting in Brussels (above). There are considerable incongruences between what is being assumed today about the Trump administration’s approach to Europe and what has been US policy over 70 years. Europe should be hopeful over its future with the US, not anxious or intimidated. Years of success should not be forgotten by Europe over the prospect of working with the new US president to firm up some aspects of the relationship. 

Demonization and Confirmation Bias

Poenam irae saepe videmus. (We often see the penalty of anger.) In the February 19th New York Times article, Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian foreign and defense minister and now a member of the European Parliament, was quoted as saying “The Cold War was won not just by weapons but by propaganda and soft power.” Pabriks then offered the observation, “And on German television, Trump is a joke for everybody. We’re concerned also about American prestige.” In Western media, particularly social media, sites that encourage or present hostile assessments of celebrities, political figures, or those who may have drawn the spotlight to themselves for one reason or another, grab more attention than all other. The attention and approval one can gain from engaging such commentary has made it may in part help make it commonplace.  Indeed, there is a tendency for many, perhaps even most, to demonize those with whom there is disagreement. Demonization has often morphed into hatred. This behavior was both very apparent and very virulent in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. Going back as far as the 18th century, many said worse. Often such hostile talk led to duels. Still, the intensity and sheer volume of exchanges and reports of exchanges that jammed social media and news media streams made what was expressed not only pervasive, but practically unavoidable. The environment has not improved, but perhaps has become worse since then. There is still the punch and counterpunch between political opponents, pundits, and the news media, itself, with the Trump administration. Disagreements seem to have become endless feuds. For European leaders and officials, the danger lies in stepping into this struggle, taking one side or another in the exchange in the US  about the Trump administration because they believe the status of the US president falls with their interests and their constituencies want to know where they stand on such a popular and controversial, yet also delicate matter.

There are considerable incongruences between what is being assumed today about the Trump administration’s approach to Europe and what has been US policy over 70 years. Europe should be hopeful over its future with the US, not anxious or intimidated. Years of success should not be chucked out by Europe over the prospect of working with the US to firm up some aspects of the relationship. There are insistent efforts to advertise Trump’s perceived weaknesses. Some news media houses have approved stories that include unwarranted extrapolations. Only European leaders and officials would know what moves them to believe one thing or another about Trump. It may be experience, intuition, or mores. Despite the importance of relations with the US, it could be hypothesized that some may harbor negative beliefs in general about their ally. In any event, confirmation bias can be a result of the direct influence of desire on beliefs. Confirmation bias suggests that individuals do not perceive circumstances objectively. An individual extrapolates bits of data that are satisfying because they confirm the individual’s prejudices. Therefore, one becomes a prisoner of one’s assumptions. If European leaders and officials want certain ideas about Trump to be true, they end up believing them to be true. Such an error could have lead them to cease collecting information when the evidence gathered at a certain point confirms the prejudices they may feel are true. After developing that view, for the most part, they would embrace any information that confirms it while going as far as to ignore or reject information that makes it unlikely.

Attempting to confirm beliefs comes naturally to most individuals, while conversely it feels less desirable and counterintuitive for them to seek out evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This explains why opinions survive and spread. Disconfirming instances must be far more powerful in establishing truth. Disconfirmation requires searching for evidence to disprove a firmly held opinion. With regard to their understanding of the Trump administration, European leaders and officials must appropriately verify their conclusions. One approach is to postulate facts and then consider instances to prove they are incorrect. This has been pointed to as a true manifestation of self-confidence: the ability to look at the world without the need to look for instances that pleases one’s ego. For group decision-making, one can serve a hypothesis and then gather information from each member in a way that allows the expression of independent assessments.

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United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump (above). Political and social pressures to conform to a counter-Trump outlook may exist in Europe, but relations with the US are too important for European capitals to allow the situation to deteriorate so acutely. European leaders must not embrace any information that confirms any individual biases or prejudices they might have about Trump. The thinking that may have caused them not to consider alternatives must be subtracted.

Groupthink in Europe on Trump

With all of the news media stories, and his nonstop rebuke by political opponents at home and pundits worldwide, an environment that would welcome an unobstructed examination or public discussion of other facts or evidence about Trump is practically nonexistent. Antipathy may strong enough in some European leaders and officials that they may be disinclined to take a second look at anything pertaining to Trump. Indeed, among them may be cynics who are uninterested in the truth. They may wrongfully view any effort rectify the situation as obsequiousness in the face of US power, placing political pressure on colleagues who may want reconsider some issues. Some may claim seeking to work with Trump would pose some moral dilemma. However, such could exist only when one knows the objective truth, disapproves of the course of events and is constrained from conforming to external demands. Enumerated here are many of the symptoms of groupthink. Groupthink occurs when a group makes faulty decisions due to group pressures lead to a deterioration of ”mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.” The term was coined by social psychologist Irving Janis in Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (Houghton Mifflin, 1972). Groups affected by groupthink will tend to ignore alternatives and take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. Groups become especially vulnerable to groupthink when members are similar in background, the group is insulated from outside opinions, and there are no clear rules for decision making.

The eight symptoms of groupthink documented by Janis include: the illusion of invulnerability which creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks; a collective rationalization, by which group members shrug off warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions; a belief in inherent morality by which members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions; stereotyped views of “out-groups” or negative views of “enemy” make effective responses to conflict seem unnecessary; direct pressure on dissenters by which group members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views; self-censorship which thwarts the expression of doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus; the illusion of unanimity which creates the assumption that the majority view and judgments are unanimous; and, self-appointed “mindguards” who are group members that protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and decisions.

Decisions shaped by groupthink have a low probability of achieving successful outcomes.When the above symptoms, and such conditions by all indications exist to some degree among foreign policy officials in European capitals making decisions on the Trump administration, there is a reasonable chance that groupthink will happen. However, it does not need to be so. Groupthink occurs when groups are highly cohesive and when they are under considerable pressure to make a quality decision.  Within respective capitals that might be the case, but among countries cohesion is attenuated. The political and social pressures to conform to counter-Trump outlook may exist, but relations with the US relationship is too important for too many countries to inexcusably allow the situation to deteriorate so acutely.  European leaders and officials should drive themselves to realistically appraise courses of action available to them. Any carelessness and irrational thinking that led to the failure to consider all alternatives along the wrongful path to  groupthink must be subtracted.

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A US F-22 Raptor (above). Ensuring Europe’s well-being is in the interest of the US. If grave harm ever came to any US ally or partner in Europe, the impact in all quarters in Washington would be shattering. It would guarantee a devastating, immediate response by Trump.  Europe faces no danger of abandonment by the US despite how Trump or his senior officials may sound. Trump only speaks of pruning the leaves and branches of the tree, he does not want to poison the root.

European Leaders and Officials Must Act under Pressure

Diu in ista nave fui et propter tempestatem nubesque semper mortem expectabam. (I was on board that ship for a long while, and I was constantly expecting death on account of the storms and clouds.)  Among Trump’s immediate thoughts about Europe have been to make some changes with regard to security. The big issue is failure of some European countries to meet their financial commitments to NATO. In reality, some European countries have been remiss, consistently failing to meet a 2 percent GDP goal agreed to by alliance members. Trump wants to resolve that issue with the Europeans. However, Europe faces no danger of abandonment by the US despite how his words or those of his senior officials. To use a soft metaphor, Trump only speaks of pruning the leaves and branches of the tree, he does not want to poison the root. (Certainly, if Trump’s goal was to get Europe’s full attention with his statements, he has succeeded in that.) Yet, many in Europe have formed opinions that contrast with this reality. They may not be disposed to pursuing the truth, fearing what the truth may be. Worrying about US actions and intentions is a new type of stress, posing unfamiliar and unimaginable challenges.

University of Chicago Executive Vice Provost and Professor of Psychology, Sian Beilock, has spent years investigating how people perform under pressure and avoid failure. She has published more than 100 papers on the subject, and recently won the 2017 Troland Research Award from the National Academy of Sciences for her research. Her most recent book, How the Body Knows Its Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2015), discusses what scientists have learned about the influence of body movement on brain activity. It includes tips such as pacing around a room for a creativity boost. At the Human Performance Laboratory, where she is director, Beilock and her colleagues explore the physiological mechanisms by which people buckle under pressure. They have measured the amount of cortisol in a person’s saliva to gauge stress levels and have used neuroimaging to see which areas of the brain are activated during high-pressure situations. Beilock has found that individuals are capable of making just about anything become a stressful, high-stakes activity. She explained, “Some of the greatest chokes are on the Olympic stage, but they also happen when you can’t say eloquently what you want to say in a meeting.” Overthinking often trips people up. “It’s paralysis by analysis,” Beilock says. Individuals can get confused when they think too much, worry too much, about what they are doing.

Beilock also tests subjects’ reaction times and accuracy at the Human Performance Laboratory to understand performance failure. She often includes golfers in her research. Many golf pros claim the sport is 90 percent mental making it an ideal forum for her research. At the professional level, some golfers fail to perform well in front of spectators. Beilock has found golfers easily become stressed when caused to think about the technical aspects of their swing. She explained,  if you really want to mess with a golfer’s game, you could just say, “That was a great shot! What were you doing with your elbow?” On her blog, Beilock calls attention to Bruce Ollstein, a former drill instructor and US Army Psychological Operations officer, who delved into the effects of stress on golfers in his book, Combat Golf: The Competitor’s Field Manual for Winning Against Any Opponent (Viking, 1996). Ollstein explains that a few choice words will typically have a deleterious effects on a golfer’s morale and performance. Among those methods, Ollstein listed: hand out some “gimmies”; plant seeds of doubt; leave them “hanging”; and, silence is golden.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence (above). European leaders and officials must no longer fall prey to attention grabbing news stories about Trump, some of which have supported very wrong notions in Europe about his plans. They must be wary of experts who postulate on very important matters from the abstract. Additionally, they must guard against self-deception.

It may very well be that, albeit unintentionally, US foreign policy experts in discussing Trump with their European colleagues as well as with European leaders and officials, they may have had a deleterious effects on their perspective, morale, and performance. Leaders and officials may have been thrown a bit off-kilter, and delayed getting both involved and into a working rhythm with the Trump administration after learning of US news media reports and comments from the Obama administration in its waning days. Consider that from the start of 2016 Presidential Election, uncertainty was created about what a Trump victory would mean for Europe given some harsh campaign comments on NATO. It likely had a chilling effect on them. However, assurances also came from all quarters that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the election. After the election there was more turmoil, and before the Europeans could formulate an approach to Trump, they encountered a flurry of reports detailing his inexperience and how unprepared he was to appropriately handle foreign policy decisionmaking. Doubts were expressed about his advisers perspectives and abilities. Questions were raised about Russia’s influence on the election result and Trump’s campaign. Stories were told of a war between Trump and the US Intelligence Community, and rumors swirled that Trump might face impeachment.

At Munich, US  foreign policy experts were reportedly making statements that perhaps may have unwittingly done even more to plant seeds of doubt and undermine the confidence of European leaders and officials in their abilities to reach out to, or work with, Trump. Consider the comments by Julianne Smith, a former principal Director of European and NATO Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Adviser to former US Vice President Joe Biden in the February 19th New York Times. Smith reportedly explained people would be reassured “for about five hours, or maybe through the weekend.” What remains unresolved, she said, is who will come out on top in what she called a battle among the three centers of power in the White House: Trump, Bannon and White House Special Adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. On Pence, Derek Chollet, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Obama administration, who is now with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, proffered, “His [Pence’s] mission was always going to be hard, but it was made even more so by the questions about his lack of influence inside the White House.” As for beginning a story that has no end, and letting one “hang,” doubt was left by US experts at Munich left as to what lies ahead with the Trump administration.   Smith went on to explain in the New York Times that Europeans were disturbed when retired US Navy Vice Admiral Robert Harward turned down an offer to replace Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn because he would not be given autonomy over his staff.  She said, “Our allies don’t know who is their interlocutor and what phone number to call.” She went on to state, “And talk of hedging NATO commitment on financial contributions did rattle the alliance,” even if European members acknowledge that they need to pay more for collective defense. As for convincing the Europeans that Trump has basically been silent on his intentions and letting them dwell on their inabilities, anxieties, US experts explained to them that they were not told enough in Munich still to understand or plan for relations with the administration. The US historian and foreign policy commentator Robert Kagan dismissed Pence’s address in Munich as a “robotic salute to the man in power.” Although Pence tried to tackle the doubts of European leaders and officials head-on by explaining at the start that he was speaking for Trump, Kagan reportedly noted disapprovingly that he went on “to mention the president 19 times in the course of the 20-minute speech.”

U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a translation during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington

With a second look at Trump, European leaders and officials may recognize an intriguing duality. In business, he engaged in high stakes negotiations and hefty transactions, but also displayed talent as a builder, a man who created things.  Designing and constructing buildings was an art for Trump. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained. During the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, Trump’s capabilities seemed to coalesce in an interesting and effective way.

Knowing the Real Trump

Quid enim est stultius quam incerta pro certis habere, falsa pro veris? (What, indeed, is more foolish than to consider uncertainties as certain, falsehoods as truths?) The renowned 19th century Prussian statesman, Otto von Bismarck said “Politics is the art of the possible.” To better understand Trump and improve relations with the US, European leaders and officials must set aside their personal preferences. There are some solid reports that present positive perspectives on Trump. Those reports as well as any that may even appear feeble, must be examined. The analytical process in the current environment must be akin to a crucible in which irrelevancies are burned off and result is the truth. If European leaders and officials could disassociate themselves from the mixed, very often negative, signals emanating out the political milieu in the US, they might recognize an intriguing duality about Trump. In business, Trump for decades engaged in high stakes negotiations and hefty transactions. He displayed talent as a planner, manager, and builder, a man who created things. The German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling said, “Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music.” The architecture of Trump’s buildings and music would have things in common such as rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion, and dynamics. For Trump, designing and constructing buildings was an art. He could become lost in it. That was Trump’s world, too. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained and bedazzled. During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Trump’s varied capabilities and interests appeared to coalesce in an interesting and, albeit, effective way. On the surface, Trump was self-confident, audacious, brash, and bombastic–some might add boorish, yet in his planning, he was humble, meticulous, perceptive, and innovative. European political leaders might take special note of how Trump, facing constant waves of invective, even calumny, dug deep inside himself and always found a way, leaving other candidates trailing in his wake. This stands in stark contrast to the notions of Trump’s alleged vacuity, which is more often deceitfully served up by a variety angry, aggressive, envious, and ambitious sources camped in all directions. They all certainly have reasons for their positions. The presidency represents a huge change for Trump and he continues to recurvate from being a very successful businessman and celebrity known worldwide to a more potent, more formal, and in many ways, more narrow role. Regarding all of the opprobrium, Trump has seen other winds and has faced other storms.  He has no reputation for faltering in adversity.

When Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address on January 20, 2017, he was presenting the term as a concept, a guiding principle indicating that his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. Trump will unlikely be disposed to subordinating the interests of the US to the wishes of any country. However, ensuring Europe’s well-being is in the interest of the US. If grave harm ever came to any US ally or partner in Europe, the impact in all quarters in Washington would be shattering. It will guarantee a devastating, immediate response by Trump. The Trump administration continues to evolve. Recently, US Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, a renowned military strategist and national security expert, became Trump’s new National Security Adviser. Looking toward the future with optimism, the US president will most likely find his stride very soon on relations with Europe. A new balance may be observed and perhaps many European leaders and officials will appreciate Trump’s very formidable, comprehensive capabilities. After all that has been said and done, some Europeans remain optimistic. Thomas Matussek, a former German ambassador to the United Kingdom and the UN, said that “people will be reassured to some degree, because they want to be.” He contrasted Trump and White House Special Adviser Stephen Bannon: “Trump’s not an ideologue, like Bannon, but pretty pragmatic and innovative, subject to discussion.” Robin Niblett, the director of Chatham House, a London-based research institution, expressed optimism saying: “Trump does not come in with a fixed foreign-policy agenda on many issues, so there is contested space and room for influence and maneuver.” Niblett recalled Trump’s early “flip-flops” on Israel and NATO, but then explained: “Trump’s fixated on certain things, like trade and jobs and America’s place in the world, but there seems to be room for influence.” Artis Pabriks, a Latvian member of the European Parliament mentioned earlier, said that he trusted Mattis and McCain, and applauded the recent introduction of US and other NATO troops into the Baltic States and Poland.  He expected Trump will keep that policy approach in place.

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The Trump administration continues to evolve. Recently, US Army Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster (above), a renowned military strategist and national security expert, was named Trump’s National Security Adviser. Looking toward the future with optimism, Trump will likely find his stride soon on relations with Europe. A new balance may be observed and European leaders and officials may come to appreciate him. Many times, from bad beginnings, great friendships have sprung up.

The Way Forward

In Act I, Scene iv of William Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, Lucio, a man living the “sporting life” in Vienna, was urged to speak with Isabella, a St. Clare nun, about her brother Claudio’s arrest by Angelo, the very officious, upstanding acting executive of the city.  Lucio sought to convince Isabella that she could successfully use her wit and influence to have her brother released. In that effort, Lucio speaks to famous lines to Isabella: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” Man-made dilemmas are not mysteries, but puzzles. While one may be confused, or tested by a puzzle, they have solutions. For now, the solution to strengthening Europe’s relationship with the US is temporarily hidden, temporarily misunderstood. Talk about Trump in Europe has absorbed not only regional and national leaders and other officials, but the public’s attention in every country of the continent. Due to what will eventually be recognized as misunderstandings, there have been some bouts of words, albeit a bit attenuated, which have created some disturbance, hurt some feelings, caused some wounds, on both sides of the Atlantic, but they must be soothed and healed. European leaders and officials must act before a numbness sets in, before Europe is inured by the idea that it cannot work with the Trump administration, that it must face challenges such as a resurgent Russia alone. With obstinacy, they must seek to regularly engage with Trump and administration officials in rational, concrete discussions to find agreement or a satisfactory middle ground on issues.

The process of changing the current environment should begin with the application of the objective truth to analyses of the new US administration. Europe must reexamine what it knows about Trump. Being readily available, the US news media should naturally be seen as an open, overt source of information on Trump and his administration. However, not all news media houses produce news the same way. Mistakes are also made. While it albeit serves as a watchdog for the democracy, admittedly, some US news media have  propagated very negative perspectives of the Trump administration. European leaders and officials must not fall prey to attention grabbing lines about Trump, some of which have supported very wrong notions in Europe about his plans. They must also be wary of experts who postulate on very important matters from abstractions. Additionally, they must guard against self-deception. All of the plans and actions of European leaders and officials must be directed toward benefiting the lives of their people. Certainly this prescription cannot be more grievous than the danger of poor relations with the US.

Many times, from a bad beginning, great friendships have sprung up. Until Europe sets forth to establish firm ties with the Trump administration, there is only the prospect of receding into a gloomy world, in which the potential of the transatlantic relationship will be frozen. To escape from it, some might deny reality and create a substitute reality in which they might concede that the only prospect for peace is a concordance with their most likely adversary, Russia. The idea of wanting to turn desperately to false reality reminds of the poem Ode to a Nightingale by the English poet, John Keats. In this 1819 ode, Keats emphasizes the difference between the gloomy physical world and the dreamlike, spiritual world of the nightingale. In the fifth stanza, Keats stimulates the reader’s senses by describing that very fragrant, floral, gossamer imitation of reality:

“I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;

White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;

And mid-May’s eldest child,

The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”

Russia, Turkey and Others Agree on Syria Truce Monitoring: Moscow Asks US to Join Its Efforts, But How It Will Respond Is Unclear

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War-torn Damascus (above). Following Russian Federation-led peace talks between representatives of Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Opposition Movement on January 24, 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Moscow’s envoy, Alexander Lavrentyev, welcomed the US to take a more active role in efforts to resolve the conflict. The administration of US President Donald Trump will act regarding Syria when it chooses, in an appropriate, measured way. Moscow appears eager to know Trump’s plans for Syria. It seems to be engaging in a bit of guessing on it.

According to a January 24, 2017 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Russia, Turkey and Iran Agree on Syria Truce Monitoring,” officials from the Russian Federation, Turkey, and Iran met in Astana, Kazakhstan for two days with representatives of Syrian Arab Republic and the Syrian Opposition Movement. On the second day, January 24, 2017, the officials agreed to jointly monitor a fragile ceasefire between the warring parties established on December 30, 2016. The latest deal was called a possible step toward a political solution to end the six-year war. The UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura was also present at the January talks. At a news conference in Astana, de Mistura said, “When we came here to Astana, our immediate priority was to ensure the consolidation of the ceasefire.”  He went on to say that in the past that previous cease-fires broke down because of a lack of monitoring and agreement on how to implement them. Under the new agreement, the monitors are to ensure full compliance with the truce and prevent provocations, according to a joint statement issued by three sponsors. The arrangements for monitoring the cease-fire and enforcing it would be decided at later meetings. The Assad regime and Syrian opposition both said they supported the plan. However, significantly different views were expressed by the Assad regime and opposition rebels over what those systems to monitor and enforce should be. The parties planned to reconvene a month later in Geneva for UN-sponsored talks.

Russia, which supports the Assad regime, and Turkey, which supports some rebel groups, explained last week they hoped the talks would begin to map the outlines of a political settlement to end the conflict. As the talks progressed, however, both sides tempered expectations, saying the aim in Astana was to buttress the fragile truce as a foundation for more political talks later. The administration of former US President Barack Obama was a primary supporter of Syrian Opposition Movement and the effort by its armed rebels to shape events on the ground to force Assad regime to talks to discuss the transition to a new government. That effort has largely been unsuccessful. The new administration of US President Donald Trump did not push for a role in what were albeit at the Russian-led talks. Instead, the Trump administration chose not to send a delegation, and the US was represented by the US ambassador to Kazakhstan. Moscow’s envoy to the talks, Alexander Lavrentyev, told reporters that Russia would welcome the US taking a more active role in attempts to resolve the conflict. This was ostensibly an invitation for the Trump administration to fully participate in what Russia hopes will be on-going talks. Russia’s invitation “to take a more active role” on Syria appears to reveal a change of heart in the Kremlin on the US with the advent of the Trump administration. Perhaps it may even serve as evidence that at least on some foreign policy issues, Putin is not locked into a single intent, immutable. By the end of the Obama administration, the US-Russia relationship stood in ruins. So enervated was former US Secretary of State John Kerry, and other officials, with the search for common ground with Russia on Syria that the effort was essentially suspended.

While the invitation from Lavrentyev is laudable and was likely appreciated by the Trump administration, there is far more involved in repairing the broken relationship between the US and Russia than opening the door with an invitation to participate in Russian-led Syria talks. There is also far more to Syria than the talks. US administrations do not formulate their policies and action based on invitations or exchanges of short public statements but through the work of federal employees engaged in the daily task of analyzing situations, the development of policies and policy approaches, and the formal implementation of those policies through diplomacy, and when appropriate, the utilization of other tools of national power. That process has been somewhat disrupted by the resignation of the entire senior level of management officials at the US Department of State during the last week of January 2017. Reportedly, it was part of a spate of retirements by senior Foreign Service officers.  There was boldness going forward with Syria peace talks without the US and working with Turkey and others instead to secure a sustainable peace. However, it seems Russia has found that the dynamics of bringing the warring parties in Syria together for anything is daunting. What Russia may really be doing is inviting the Trump administration to further tie the US to the morass in Syria beyond the anti-ISIS fight. That would be a step of significant consequence, requiring considerable review. There has been some mumbling in the US news media and in social networks about an unverified draft executive order that indicates Trump plans to use the US military, in tandem with the State Department, to establish and protect refugee camps in Syria and neighboring countries. Syria was genuinely broached in a telephone conversation on January 28, 2017 between Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.  According to the Kremlin, the most tangible outcome of the phone call was an understanding that jointly fighting international terrorism was a priority and that the two countries should cooperate in Syria. While admitting that Syria was discussed, the White House characterized the call more casually as “a congratulatory call” initiated by Putin. The Trump administration will act regarding Syria, but it will do so when it chooses, in an appropriate, measured way. A policy with varied approaches to the many aspects of the Syria issue will eventually be articulated. However, most intriguing has been Russia’s interest in connecting with Trump on Syria rather than any other faced by both countries. That is the focus of the discussion here.

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Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). It should have behooved Putin to consider how significant cooperation between the US and Russia in the fight against Islamic militant groups during the administration of US President Barack Obama then might set the stage for close and effective cooperation between the two countries in the next administration, especially regarding the peace talks and postwar reconstruction in Syria. Now cooperation is somewhat uncertain.

Russia in Syria

On September 15, 2015, at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe Tajikistan, Putin explained Russia’s military support and intervention in Syria.   He stated, “We support the government of Syria in its opposition to terrorist aggression. We have provided and will provide necessary military and technical support and call on other nations to join us.” Putin explained the exodus of refugees toward Europe and the crisis in Syria was a result of the support foreign powers provided the Syrian Opposition rebels. He said, “I would like to note that people are fleeing Syria because of the military actions that were largely imposed externally by deliveries of weapons and other special equipment. People are fleeing to escape the atrocities committed by terrorists.” Putin went on to state, “[The refugees] are fleeing from radicals, above all. And if Russia had not supported Syria, the situation in this country would have been worse than in Libya, and the stream of refugees would have been even greater.” Encouraged by advisers, Putin sensed not only a chance for Russia to shore up one of its remaining allies in the Middle East, but the chance to reassert Russia’s role as a global power. He was able to demonstrate that Russia could succeed where the Obama administration had floundered.

Since September 2015, Russia, along with its allies, have destroyed ISIS units, material, command, control, communication and intelligence and training facilities and has returned a considerable amount of Syrian territory back into the hands of Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad. True, there are many foreign military forces operating in Syria, but the effort of Russia and its allies is a very visible, full-scale, multidimensional military operation. Russia has managed to shape events on the ground in Syria in order to “stabilize the legitimate authority” of Assad. Russia also seeks to defeat ISIS by annihilating its military formations in the field, eliminating its leadership, and eviscerating its so-called Islamic Caliphate to the extent that the organization will never be able to resurrect itself. In the process, the fighting has claimed some of the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ most capable soldiers. Most recently, Russian Federation Army Colonel Ruslan Galitsky was killed in Aleppo, Syria. Putin personally announced that Galitsky had suffered fatal wounds when a Russian military field hospital in Aleppo’s al-Furqan neighborhood was struck by artillery fire on December 2, 2016. According to the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency, Galitsky was acting as a military adviser to the Syrian Arab Army during its rapid three-week advance through about 75 percent of East Aleppo. It was reported that Galitsky was due to be promoted to the rank of major-general on December 12, 2016.

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Since September 2015, Russia, along with its allies, have destroyed ISIS units, materiél, command, control, communication and intelligence and training facilities and has returned a considerable amount territory back into the hands of Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad. In the process, the fighting has claimed some of the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ most capable soldiers. Counted among those lost is Russian Federation Army Colonel Ruslan Galitsky (above).

A Russian Invitation for Cooperation on Syria: A Lot to Consider

Praeterita mutare non possumus, sed futura providere debemos. (We cannot change the past, but we anticipate the future.) Certainly, Moscow would be very pleased if its interactions with the Trump administration could begin at a point where it had any positive, constructive interactions the administration of former US President Barack Obama. That would require ignoring the overall tenor of the relationship it has had with Washington on Syria and many other urgent and important issues. The Obama administration was unsupportive of Russia’s intervention from the get-go. On September 30, 2015, then US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter forecasted about Moscow’s military involvement in Syria, “The Russian approach here is doomed to fail.” Obama stated on October 2, 2015: “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work.” Almost immediately after Russia began military operations in Syria in September 2015, Obama administration officials were already regularly reproaching Russia over its repeated airstrikes upon “moderate” anti-Assad groups while ostensibly seeking to attack ISIS. Obama’s disappointment could be discerned in his statements. Concerning Syria, on August 6, 2016, Obama went as far as to say about Putin and Russia: “I’m not confident that we can trust the Russians or Vladimir Putin.” He continued: “Whenever you are trying to broker any kind of deal with an individual like that or a country like that, you have got to go in there with some skepticism.”

In diplomacy, words and behavior matter absolutely, and there must be a certain amiability and gentleness in communications and interactions in order to create the environment for the development of mutual respect and understanding. It seems very uncharacteristic of Moscow in the midst of what Russian officials touted as a foreign policy success to invite the Trump administration to become more engaged with it on Syria. Still, even knowing it would mean sharing the limelight with the US, Russia appeared to have the desire to include the US in the process. To make perfunctory or platitudinous gesture for the US to become more engaged in Syria without any real desire for such cooperation could have potentially created a negative situation. The Russia could have convince the US to work with it, only to discover that the approaches of the two countries were not compatible. Far worse than both of those possibility would be the discovery that the invitation was a hoax. Certainly, Moscow had to expect that although Lavrentyev spoke with such comfortable words, it could not be acted upon immediately. Trump administration undoubtedly has it own thoughts and plans for Syria, but at the same time, it would very likely want to discern the full meaning of Russia’s “suggestion.” The decision was based on some rationale.

There is the possibility that Moscow’s invitation for the US join the Syria talks was a trial balloon floated off with the hope that if the Trump Administration might be interested in investing itself in Syria as part of its policy planning on the Middle East, counter terrorism, and possibly its Russia policy. Moscow seems very open to engagement. On counterterrorism, specifically, perhaps it would like to secure a pledge from the Trump administration that it would work directly with Russia to destroy Islamic militant groups in Syria. Russia has been able to put significant pressure on ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and other Islamic militant groups using its special operations forces–Spetsnaz–and airpower.

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A Russian Federation Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber (above). Moscow appears very open to engagement with the Trump administration on counter terrorism. It seems Moscow would like to secure a pledge from the Trump administration that it would work directly with Russia to destroy Islamic militant groups in Syria. The Russian Federation Armed Forces have already been able to put significant pressure on ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and other Islamic militant groups using its special operations forces and airpower.

Leap of Faith?: No Firm Basis for Moscow’s Hopes on Trump and Syria

On one occasion, Putin has mentioned the 1973 comedy, science-fiction film from the Soviet Union, “Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession.” Putin would quote one of the film’s characters as saying to another: “How am I supposed to understand what you’re saying if you don’t say anything?” This really is the case with Moscow and Trump administration. To an extent, the January 28, 2017 telephone conversation between Trump and Putin confirmed essence of Lavrentyev’s statement in Astana. Yet, there were no details discussed that would indicate cooperation on Russia’s terms.  More specifically, the statement generated by the White House after the conversation noted that “The positive call was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair.”  It stated further simply, “Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern.”

There has been no formal articulation of a Syria policy and immediate approaches for its implementation by the Trump White House or State Department. That makes it difficult to see what could have impelled Russia to suggest greater US involvement in Syria. Lacking any formal statements from the Trump administration on Syria to analyze, it could very well be that some in the Kremlin have turned to US news media interpretations of political events and decisions of the Trump Administration. For example, on January 26, 2017, the Guardian reported: “Trump had earlier also appeared to fall into line with Russia’s approach towards Syria, which had been to bomb the anti-Assad opposition into submission, before turning its attention towards a mutual foe, ISIS.” As for taking an unconventional, high profile approach to diplomacy, it may have been an effort to match the idea popularly promoted in the US media that it is the Trump administration’s preferred foreign policy tack. When one is less certain about the objective truth, the possibility that one might be drawn elsewhere for answers increases.

In addition to the fact that no formal policy documents exist that could have caused Moscow to believe the Trump administration’s policy on Syria, once articulated, would be compatible with its own. No publicized contact has taken place between Trump administration and the Kremlin, particularly one that would even approximate a complex conversation on bilateral relations. As mentioned, there was the late-January 28, 2017 Trump-Putin telephone call. However, no other conversations during the campaign or in the period before Trump’s inauguration could have reasonably caused Moscow to be certain of what his administration’s policy approaches would be on Syria. Additionally, decisions that might be made by the Trump administration on Syria at this point would be made with every fact, every judgment, the US government has available. Eventually, a formal policy on Syria will be presented.  Verba volant, scripta manent. (Spoken words fly away, written words remain.)

Diplomacy via Public Statements: Russia’s Effort to Bypass the US Policymaking Process

It is unclear how Moscow thought Lavrentyev’s invitation would be processed within the US foreign policy apparatus. Most recently, there have been significant changes in the US Department of State. According to the Washington Post, on January 25, 2017, Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary for Management, Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond, and the Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Ambassador Gentry Smith resigned from their posts. In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired January 20, 2017, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. While the Trump might have eventually replaced these officials, career Foreign Service officers as them are crucial to the State Department’s many functions, particularly the implementation of an administration’s agenda.

Officials in the Kremlin or the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not hope to impact US foreign policy by just making statements and expecting a reaction. Foreign policy is still formulated at the White House and US Department of State as a result of a thorough examination of facts by policy analysts.In the current environment, the analytical process on Russia must be akin to a crucible in which social media rumors, falsehoods, and fake news must be burned off. Those facts are analyzed, with the concepts and intent of senior department officials and those of national leaders firmly in mind. Then others, enlightened with truths, based on real facts presented by the analysts, formulate policy options. US Department of State uses diplomacy to implement policies. Employees in other departments whose work concerns US external relations engage in a similar processes utilizing their particular tools of national power.  For example, in the US Department of Defense, employees formulate policies entailing the possible use of the military power. It is a daily enterprise in which thousands of federal employees are engaged. In verbis etiam tenuis cautusque serendis dixeris egregie, notum si callida verbum reddiderit iunctura novum. (When putting words together it is good to do it with nicety and caution, your elegance and talent will be evident if by putting ordinary words together you create a new voice.)

U.S. President Donald Trump walks through the Colonnade to the Oval Office after returning to the White House in Washington.

When Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address, he was not presenting a policy plan for any region. Rather, he presented “America First” as a concept, a guiding principle, indicating that his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. An explanation of the concept was posted on the White House website on January 20, 2017 as the “America First Foreign Policy.”

A US-Russia Relationship on Syria:Thinking It Through in Moscow

Faced with the predicament of having no formal articulation of a Syria policy and immediate approaches for its implementation by the Trump White House or State Department from which it could work, Moscow’s decision to authorize Lavrentyev’s  invitation may have been based on assessments developed from the abstract by Russian foreign policy analysts of the Trump administration’s most likely Syria policy or greater Middle East policy. If anything, from what Trump has stated, analysts admittedly might have gleaned and constructed his likely key foreign and national security policy concepts on which his decisions might be based. True, when Trump stated “America First” during his inaugural address, he was not presenting a policy plan for any region. Rather, he presented, “America First” as a concept, a guiding principle indicating that his administration would consider the interest of the US over anything else. An explanation of the concept was posted on the White House website on January 20, 2017 as the “America First Foreign Policy.” It reads in part: “Peace through strength will be at the center of that foreign policy. This principle will make possible a stable, more peaceful world with less conflict and more common ground.” It further states: “Defeating ISIS and other radical Islamic terror groups will be our highest priority. To defeat and destroy these groups, we will pursue aggressive joint and coalition military operations when necessary. In addition, the Trump Administration will work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyberwarfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.”

It could very well be that policy analysts in Moscow, as much as policy analysts in other national capitals, may have used their analysis of the “America First Foreign Policy” to base conclusions on prospective Trump administration policies. Judgments made would need to have been deemed satisfactory enough to take action on. Given the statement’s mention of counterterrorism and the determination to pursue the issue vigorously, it would naturally follow that the judgments on which Russian analysts would have been most confident would concern counterterrorism and how it might relate to Syria. Absent this possibility, what impelled Russia to suggest greater US involvement in Syria truly becomes a mystery.

Ut desint vires tamen est laudanda voluntas. (Even if it is beyond one’s power, the will [to try] is still worthy of praise.) Surely, Moscow would prefer that Western foreign policy analysts saved their ministrations for officials  of their own countries. Nevertheless, how Moscow may have perceived relations with the Trump administration on Syria before authorizing Lavrentyev’s invitation, what it perceived the US footprint in Syria would be following a renewed investment there, and how the US role might impact Russia, as well as its current partners on Syria is worth considering. If Russia’s decision on cooperating with the US on Syria was based on conclusions reached by Russian analyst as postulated here, it would be interesting to consider gaps that likely existed in their understanding of Trump’s concepts and prospective decisions on US foreign policy. The list of issues which Russian analysts would need to consider and for which they would need the right answers would be lengthy. Some of the important considerations for Moscow would likely have been: 1) bridging the diplomacy gap on Syria; 2) connecting on counterterrorism and safe zone; 3) establishing an understanding on Assad; 4) handling the Syrian rebels; 5) managing the peace talks; 6) getting the US to accept Iran’s role in Syria; 7) discerning US-Turkey cooperation; and, 8) postwar peace-enforcement and reconstruction.

1) Bridging the diplomacy gap on Syria

One could postulate that Russia’s interest in including the US in its Syria peace talks now is a display of newly found respect for the US Presidency, a very congenial welcome to the new administration with hope it would be perceived a sign of Moscow’s desire for improved relations, or an attempted appeal to the pride and ego of new US officials. While on the outside, Trump may appear to some as audacious, unpredictable, aggressive, on the inside Trump is thoughtful, disciplined, under control, and tough. The Kremlin might keep in mind is that much as Putin, Trump will hardly interested in diffusing tension by amiability, a hug or a slap on the back, an affected joviality to initiate dialogue. Trying to diffuse tension with Trump in this way is to play the minstrel. It will signal insecurity.

Russia has not provided a useful articulation of its hopes for relations with the Trump administration which would be helpful to the White House on some policy planning. It would also be helpful if Moscow articulated a reasonable cause for Russia’s decision to break contact with the Obama administration on Syria, or exclude the US in its talks in Astana. Anger is not an acceptable rationale but very often the basis for poor decisions. Moscow should realize that the Trump administration indeed represents a new beginning. It will seek better ties with other countries and better deals on anything negotiated by the Obama administration. Still, that does not necessarily mean everything that was Obama’s must be deracinated. Trump is very patriotic, and while he may not have agreed with Obama’s policies and approaches, he would certainly want other governments to display respect for a sitting US president. The reality is Russian behavior toward Obama Presidency at some level may factor into his perceptions of Russia.

It is unclear whether there are any other steps other than Lavrentyev’s invitation, planned to help bridge diplomatic gap between the US and Russia on Syria. Having taken the uncongenial and provocative step of excluding the US from its peace talks in Astana, and terminating discussions on Syria with the US, Russia’s attempt to revive what has been broken is being attempted with almost no diplomatic foundation to build upon. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry very likely explained to his counterpart Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin, himself, that reaching an agreement during the Obama administration on Syria and coordinating effectively under that agreement and others that might have been reached, would increase the possibility that US-Russian coordination at that level would be preserved by the next US administration. It would have been a simple statement of truth as much as an effort at fence mending. It should have behooved Putin to consider how significant cooperation between the US and Russia in the fight against Islamic militant groups then might set the stage for close and effective cooperation between the two countries in the next administration, especially on a postwar reconstruction and peace-enforcement mission in Syria.

A feasible point on which Russia might build new diplomatic relations on Syria would be US-Russian military coordination cooperation on Syria to ensure that the two countries’ air forces operate safely and that the risk of accidental confrontation or collision is minimized. Those talks were set up as a result of a proposal proffered by US Secretary of State John Kerry to share intelligence with Russia and coordinate airstrikes against ISIS and other Islamic militant groups. Russia might want to provide a positive assessment of the status of US-Russia air coordination on Syria.

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A US B-52H bomber (above) Even without a formal articulation of its foreign and national security policies, the Trump administration’s intentions regarding counterterrorism have been explicit. Trump is ready to respond to terrorists groups with varied means to include stealthy, covert special operations raid executed with surgical precision to airstrikes of unimaginable destructive power.

2) Connecting on counterrorism and safe zones

Given that diplomatic efforts between the US and Russia on Syria near the Obama administration’s terminus were discontinuous, it is difficult to see how Moscow would have any confidence that the Trump administration would be interested in diplomatic efforts on Syria that would bridge the gap. Prospective diplomatic efforts might include talks on the US role in the Russian-led Syria peace talks, a new US-Russia partnership in Middle East, or counterterrorism.  The draft executive order circulating on social media in January 2017 was first obtained and published by the Huffington Post, Trump envisioned establishing “safe zones” both inside Syria and in neighboring countries that will be used to “protect vulnerable Syrian populations” while they “await firm settlement” either elsewhere in Syria or in other countries. The document alludes to Trump’s controversial calls to prevent people fleeing the war-torn country from entering the US.  It further explained that  according to a draft executive order along with other steps with the goal of preventing future terrorist attacks in the US. Trump indicates he wants to see a plan by late April. The draft executive order was unverified.  Some believe Trump will likely withdraw the matter due to tough logistical and political challenges associated with it.

Even without a formal articulation of its foreign and national security policies, the Trump administration’s intentions with regard to counterterrorism may have been explicit enough. He appears ready to respond to terrorists groups with varied means to include stealthy, covert special operations raid executed with surgical precision to airstrikes of unimaginable destructive power.  As the capital of ISIS’ now dwindling Islamic Caliphate is located in Syria, it could be postulated that the country should hold some relevance regarding the administration’s foreign policy.  It could seen as  prospective rationale for Trump administration to invest time and effort on the political situation in Syria. Still, it would be difficult to discern solely from that angle what the administration’s interest and approaches to other aspects of the Syria issue might be.

It is uncertain whether Russia could establish a purely anti-ISIS linkage with the US on Syria or whether such a tie would be desirable. While the Trump-Putin telephone call albeit occurred after Lavrentyev made his statement,Moscow’s desire to make counterterrorism the foundation for establishing US-Russian relationship focus was reflected by the conversation. The aspect of the call that the Kremlin primarily focused on was counterterrorism. The Kremlin noted, “The presidents spoke in favor of setting up genuine coordination between Russian and American actions with the aim of destroying Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Syria.”

3) Handling the Syrian Opposition Rebels

It is uncertain how the Trump administration will respond to Syrian Opposition Movement rebels on the ground. The Obama administration in 2012 to provide the Syrian Opposition Movement with its support in the hope that Assad could be pressured to the negotiating table by Free Syrian Army advances and eventually agree to step down under a settlement. However, the US effort in Syria was designed and recognized by many as work on the margins. For nearly five years, the rebels were, for the most part, a disappointment as a military force. Indeed, after the Obama administration took on what proved to be the thankless task of supporting the Syrian Opposition rebels on the ground, complaints were frequently heard from senior commanders of the Supreme Military Council, the opposition’s military wing and commanders of their forces in the field, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), as well. Their grievances belie the fact that the Syrian opposition military leaders, after four years of war, have failed to unify the many groups in the Free Syrian Army into a cohesive fighting force and have been unable, without foreign assistance, to enhance their fighters capabilities. Only with US direction were FSA units and People’s Protection Units (YPG) of the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in the northeast Syria able to unite as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The rebels’ leaders had been remiss in devising their own plans for the effective use of their forces against ISIS and the Syrian Arab Armed Forces. From the beginning of their movement, Syrian opposition leaders should have been mature enough, and worldly wise enough, to understand that neither US nor any other country owed them anything. The Syrian Opposition’s Supreme Military Council, and senior FSA commanders should have expected more from themselves before demanding so much of others. The chance that Syrian Opposition Movement rebels on the ground in Syria and its political leaders would gain and retain the support of the Trump administration will be slim if their predilection toward being demanding and difficult to coordinate politically persists.

There are presently 500 US Special Operations troops in Syria training, equipping, and assisting Syrian Opposition rebels. Their help has allowed the rebels achieve some big things. The rebels march toward Raqqa is an example of that. Through the assistance of US Special Operations advisers, the rebels have been able to coordinate their movements with planners of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition air campaign. However, there is still no evidence that the rebels possess any capability to shape the overall struggle in a way now that would put real pressure on Assad. For many rebels scattered around Syria, everyday is fight for survival as they hope for a miracle.

ISIS and other Islamic militant groups linked to Al-Qaeda, such as the former Jabhat al-Nusra and its reported offshoot Khorasan, have managed find advantage in the Syrian opposition’s failings throughout the war.  By attacking mainstream FSA units that were trying to defeat Assad’s troops and allies, the Islamic militants have succeeded in making the Syrian opposition’s situation far worse. On top of the damage caused by their attacks on the FSA, Islamic militant groups continue to commit countless atrocities against the Syrian people. The Islamic militant groups were never oriented toward Syria’s transition to a democratic form of government. ISIS has included territory they hold in Syria as part of a massive Islamic State, an Islamic Caliphate, crossing into Iraq that is solely under their control, ruled under Sharia law. A syncretistic merger of mainstream opposition and Islamic militant ideas on governance was never going to occur. Meanwhile, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other Islamic militant groups became stronger almost daily. Their strength has long since passed the point at which mainstream Syrian Opposition forces could independently contend with them.

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US Special Operations troops in Syria (above). With the help of 500 US Special Operations troops who were sent into Syria to train, equip, and assist them, the Syrian Opposition rebels have managed to achieve some things. Their march toward Raqqa is an example of that. However, there is still no evidence of a capability to shape the conflict in a way now that would put real pressure on Assad. For many Syrian Opposition rebels, everyday is fight for survival as they hope for a miracle.

An authentic Russian assessment of the Syrian opposition rebels at this point could only be that they will not be able to shape the military situation on ground in a way to force Assad to talks for arranging his removal from office and setting up a transitional government. The rebels have lost many fighters, and a significant portion of their territorial gain. They clearly have not influenced Assad’s thinking or decision-making. From a Russian military perspective, there is not too much for the Trump administration to go into Syria to support. Russia has been effective at halting rebels efforts on the ground. In reality, the US has been the only obstacle to ensuring the rebels’ destruction by Russian Federation and Syrian Arab air power. Some analysts believe the Battle of Aleppo truly signaled the end for rebels. Russia apparently plans to remain in Syria at relatively high levels and continue to provide military assistance to Assad’s forces. Without any US assistance, there is no chance whatsoever that the rebels could keep fighting at all. Given that, the Moscow may find it difficult to believe that Trump administration would pump more time, blood, and money into the rebel effort.

4) Managing the Peace Talks

As there is no path for the Syrian Opposition Movement to secure a role in the Damascus government, Moscow may doubt that the Trump administration would be willing to negotiate for them at the Syrian peace talks. Pressing for the demand of the Obama administration that a transition government be created in Damascus and that Assad commit to stepping down would be unreasonable. Likewise, it might be considered unnecessary for the Trump administration to seek a settlement on territory. The Syrian Opposition Movement was a political movement not territorial one, in which an autonomous state is sought. The movement of the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party, however, is a struggle for autonomy. To that extent, it may be an issue which the Trump administration could get behind.

On the other hand, despite glowing reports on what had been achieved in Astana, Moscow discovered in December 2016 and January 2017 that managing peace talks with the warring parties was not easy. There was difficulty getting the Syrian Opposition to agree to anyrhing. This was repeatedly the case when the Obama administration was involved. Moreover, during previous talks, foreign diplomats were required to devote a significant amount of time acting as mediators to hold the Syrian Opposition’s diverse groups together. While the opposition delegation was formed mostly of rebel commanders rather than political leaders, it was still quick to reject proposal for direct talks with the Assad regime because of its continued bombardment of opposition-held areas. Russia drummed up political support for the talks in Astana, which appeared aimed at leveraging its rejuvenated ties with Turkey and to simply give Moscow a greater voice in efforts to broker a settlement. However, Russian officials have lowered expectations that a major breakthrough would result from its efforts. Making things worse, during the talks, fierce infighting between rebel groups erupted in Syria, pitting at least one faction that supported the talks against another that was excluded. The rebels went into the talks at their weakest point so far in the war and this new eruption of violence threatened to fracture the opposition even further. Moscow may very well sense that it needs the assistance of the US to manage the talks.

5) Establishing an Understanding on Assad

Before its next contact with the Trump administration, Moscow will undoubtedly consider what cooperative role the US could play that would allow for the full exploitation of its capabilities in the anti-ISIS effort. However, if Moscow wants to cooperate with the administration on Syria, it must create an environment that will facilitate such cooperation. There is the likelihood that Trump administration will not accept Assad. For the moment, the transition of Assad regime to new politically inclusive government is the standing US policy. If the Trump administration by chance decided to cooperate with Russia on Syria at the moment, it would signal its acceptance of Assad’s presidency as it is Russia’s policy to fully support it. To believe that might happen is to deny reality. Russia must decide how it will negotiate on Assad before it discusses anything about Syria with the Trump administration.

If the Trump administration has no interest in working with Assad, it could hardly be expected that the administration would provide US financial assistance for Syria’s reconstruction, helping to rebuild his regime. Russia needs to assess whether there any strong motivation might exist for the Trump administration to be involved. At best, the administration would only give reconstruction consideration if it was presented with some opportunity, a role of clear benefit to the US. Alternatively, Moscow could make itself completely open to responding to the Trump administration’s wishes on Syria. Absent either, there would hardly be any point to pursuing the matter. Russian analysts should have assessed that Assad’s future would need to be an important factor in the Kremlin’s calculus on reconstruction.

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Despite glowing reports on what had been achieved in Astana, Moscow actually found that managing the peace talks was not easy. It faced particular difficulty keeping the Syrian Opposition together. It has repeatedly been the case during Syrian peace talks that foreign diplomats were required to devote much time acting as mediators to hold the Syrian Opposition’s diverse groups together. Moscow may very well sense that it needs the assistance of the US to manage the talks. 

6) Getting the US to Accept Iran’s Role in Syria

Russian analysts should have assessed that the Trump administration may not want to work in conjunction with Iran on Syria. The Trump administration has explicitly indicated that it is an avid supporter of Israel, whose leaders have referred to Iran as an existential threat. Further, during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Trump expressed the desire to alter or scrap the Iran nuclear deal. His administration’s thinking and approach to the nuclear deal may impact its desire to participate in the Syria peace talks while Iran was present. Russia would also need to establish what Iran’s reaction would be to possible US involvement in the talks. Reportedly, Iran has made huge sacrifices in blood and money in Syria, and is still doing so. Its leaders will most likely feel that their country deserves standing greater, but certainly no less than the US on any issues concerning Syria. It is unclear whether the Russians would want to do anything to negatively affect the strong ties it has developed with Iran in order to establish cooperation with the US.

There are other matters that might greatly concern the Trump administration. At a UN meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015, Kerry is said to have proposed allowing all Syrians, “including members of the diaspora” participate in the vote. He was betting that if Syrians around the world can participate in the vote, Assad will not be able to win, his regime likely has a limited degree of influence within Syria and the Syrian diaspora worldwide, including among refugees in massive camps in Jordan and Turkey or on their own elsewhere. As December 30, 2015 greatcharlie post explained, Russia and Iran would hardly allow the situation to slip from their hands so easily. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), IRGC-Quds Force, the Iranian Army, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security would do much to influence the outcome on the battlefield but also will likely do much to help the Assad regime influence the result of elections despite UN monitors, by helping to “create support” for Assad and “coping” with regime opponents. Reportedly, the Assad regime and the Iranians have engaged in a bit of ethnic cleansing. For example, Sunnis in West Damascus were forced to resettle in Kefraya and Fua. Iraqi and Lebanese Shias among those who replace them. Shia residents in Kefraya and Fua have been moved to formerly Sunni areas near Damascus. The Trump administration will likely point to this matter and will unlikely approve of Iran’s actions.  Moscow will need to develop responses to Trump administration questions about that.

7) Discerning US-Turkey Cooperation

Russia analysts would likely assess for Moscow that if the US enters the fray on Syria, Turkey would be forced to establish a balance between the relations with Russia and the US. While Turkey has a new linkage with Russia on Syria, it has a strong linkage with the US, its long-time NATO ally, on Syria as a result of an agreement with the Obama administration to take on the role of supporting US-backed Syrian Opposition rebels. Moreover, how Turkey intended to proceed regarding its support of those US-backed rebels’ campaign is unknown. This issue will take on even greater importance if the Trump administration decided to reduce or halt financial support to Ankara that may have assisted Turkish military forces and intelligence services working with Syrian Opposition rebels.

Safe zones have been a core demand of the Syrian opposition and were central to Turkey’s Syria policy for much of the past five years. However, Ankara is apparently lukewarm about idea of new safe zones, believing that under its auspices, a sufficient safe zone has already created. Indeed, Turkey has set up its own zone of influence, a de facto safe zone, between the Kurdish enclaves of Jarablus and Irfin, which is aimed primarily at keeping Syrian Kurds from forming a presence along the entire length of its border with Syria, but is also being used as a refuge by some fleeing civilians. Russian analysts may have already assessed that if the US receives significant push back from Turkey on creating new safe zones in Syria, it may temper the Trump administration’s interest in investing the US further in the Syria situation. Countries as Turkey and Jordan would be critical to any plan to create safe zones in country because they would need a steady line of support in order to be sustained.

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Aleppo (above). US cooperation on reconstruction would be most desirable after any conflict.There would hardly be any motivation for the Trump administration to provide US financial assistance for reconstruction of Syria for Assad. At best, Trump would only give reconstruction consideration if there was a clear benefit to the US. Unless Russia would be open to responding to US wishes on Syria, it is hard see what would draw the US to the enterprise.

8) Postwar Peace-Enforcement and Reconstruction

Russian analysts may have assessed that convincing US to cooperate on the Syria peace talks could create a possible path for for US participation at an important level in the country’s postwar peace-enforcement mission and possibly reconstruction.  It is a monumental task that lies ahead. Leaving Syria without at least initiating some complex comprehensive plan for reconstruction and peace-enforcement would be a mistake. That would create ideal conditions for the rejuvenation of ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or the establishment of another Islamic militant group to fill the vacuum of power around the country. That was what occurred in Iraq after US forces departed, the problem in Libya with the removal of the regime of Muammar El-Ghaddafi, and it is a growing problem in Afghanistan.

US cooperation on reconstruction would be most desirable after any conflict. Surely, Russian Federation EMERCOM, developed and led by the current Russian Federation Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu for many years, would have an significant impact on that effort. However, without the financial wherewithal and expertise of the US, Russia’s investment in Syria might amount to nothing in the end. In the international reconstruction effort launched in Bosnia in 1995 under the Dayton Peace Agreement and the creation of the multinational peace-enforcement force in support of the agreement’s implementation, I-FOR (Implementation Force). The US and Russia cooperated as members of that force and the follow-on force, S-FOR (Stabilization Force). US participation in the peace-enforcement and reconstruction effort may also do much to encourage participation from those Arab countries and Western countries as well. Russia, itself, has sought stronger ties with Arab countries, bolstering economic ties with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait and diplomatic overtures with Algeria, Iraq, and Egypt. Russia’s hope was that courting those countries would make them more receptive to its’ calls to assist in finding a political solution for Syria. It was also hoped those countries would eventually be responsive to a campaign by Russia to gain financial support for Syria’s reconstruction. Still, there is sense of stability that may come from US participation in the Syria effort. Knowing the US and Russia were cooperating on the ground might create a sense of security among the other countries.

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The Trump administration, in its nascent days, has set out to accomplish many things, but approaches matters in a way a bit different from previous administrations. Its intent is not to reject or break the US policymaking process, but the change still worries many. Government professionals will soon be put to work implementing numerous administration policies. Once cabinet members and senior executives of the various departments are seated, policy statements on Syria and other issues will be produced.

The Way Forward

In William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Polonius is a Danish Lord and chief counselor to the king. In Act I Scene iii, his son Laertes is leaving home for France. While sending his son off, Polonius offers him advice on how to behave with integrity and practicality overseas. At the end of a long list of guidelines, Polonius tells Laertes: “This above all: to thine ownself be true. And it must follow, as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Taking an unconventional approach can be called creative, but when it leads to successful outcomes, it must be considered effective. The Trump administration, in its nascent days, has set out to accomplish many things and it is doing them in a way different from that of previous administrations. Change can be disturbing. On foreign policy, it is not the intent of the Trump administration to reject or break the policymaking process. Inevitably, professionals serving in government departments will be put to work implementing numerous administration policies. Trump is aware of the very large foreign affairs and national security apparatus made available to a US president, and knows it is very capable. As its cabinet members and senior executives of the various departments are seated, the Trump administration will begin to produce policy statements not only on Syria, but many other issues as well. Moscow’s invitation for the Trump administration to join the Syria effort seems to indicate that Russia would prefer, and if possible encourage, the White House to circumvent the normal policymaking process. Taking approach will put Moscow on nothing but a bad road. Indeed, accomplishing anything that way will be impossible. Despite what may become a persistent voice from overseas, the administration will formulate its policies and advance them at its own pace.