An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump

US President Donald Trump (above). Nearly every government seeks to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding, and verify its on perspectives through its own intelligence efforts. Having a full, compatible understanding of a situation through direct talks by officials, allows leaders and top diplomats to speak correctly and authentically about issues. It also improves the chances for crafting agreements. If countries desire to effectively engage with Trump diplomatically, they must ensure how and what they collect about him and the US is well-considered and accurate.

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 provides the public with an intimate 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. Admonishment can be viewed as a warning, and one may seek to encourage, improve the quality of another’s performance by warning. However, news media criticism of US President Donald Trump appears aimed at bringing his administration down. Trump’s critics also seemingly have the goal of destroying him as a person, reduce him to a demimonde. It has become de rigueur to speak against Trump. All of the negativity catches the eye. Middle of the list journalists have managed to make a place for themselves at the top by presenting anti-Trump stories with reckless abandon. The ranks of his critics actually extend beyond the US news media to include: think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the Obama administration. Some of Trump’s critics are convinced that Trump does not really want to do well for the US public or the world. They make such assertions being fully aware that the consequence of them might be to harm the trust that many in the US public have in Trump. Indeed, critics may have infiltrated and despoiled the psyche of many US citizens, and perhaps may have even destroyed the possibility for some to have confidence in future US administrations, both Republican and Democratic. When Trump fights back, his comments are very rough and tough, but they unlikely do enough to prevent negative reports and commentaries, all the opprobrium of critics, from sticking.

If one were to consider, for example, the coverage of efforts to organize talks between US President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Kim Jung-un, one might recognize that the two leaders were not really given a fair chance to virtually relate as leaders before they met. The atmosphere was poisoned by exceptionally strong negative reports and commentary of expert observers, well-known political foes, critics, and news media pundits. What was actually being said and done in both capitals was being distorted. The main focus of critics was a back and forth on Twitter, a few awkward official statements, and predictions by experts of unconstructive behavior by Kim. What saved the pas de deux was a step by step approach toward North Korea well-managed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Moon met with Kim at the Demilitarized Zone. Pompeo both as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and Secretary of State met with Kim in Pyongyang. Trump enabled their efforts by expressing a willingness to meet. The US in a way reciprocated on Pompeo’s visits by having the North Korean Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol, meet with Pompeo in New York City for talks and then meet with Trump in Washington, DC. Particularly for the North Koreans, having the chance to get to know Trump and Pompeo, and learning what US thinking in the administration was directly from the US President and Secretary of State was both edifying and important. What the North Koreans learned was certainly far more informative and satisfying than what their intelligence services may have been gleaned in the abstract from US news media sources and free wielding comments of experts in conferences and interviews. The meetings also likely had a stabilizing effect.

Nearly every government seeks to fill gaps in knowledge and understanding, and verify its own perspectives through its own intelligence efforts. Relatively isolated countries can easily become victims of false reports, misleading, politicized commentary. Not knowing what gold is, they often gather pyrite. In the current environment, there is so much to sift through to find the truth. The consequence of using bent intelligence, even if only slightly, could be catastrophic. Having a comparable knowledge and full understanding of the situation through direct talks by officials, allows leaders and top diplomats to speak correctly and authentically about issues. It also improves the chances for the crafting of bilateral and multilateral agreements and arrangements. If countries desire to effectively engage with Trump diplomatically, how and what they collect about him and the US must be well-considered and accurate. That is the issue discussed here. Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Chinese President XI Jinping (left) and Trump (right). In general, foreign leaders encounters with Trump are welcoming and friendly. During them, Trump appears at ease, self-possessed. Those who have engaged in conversation with him are usually left with the feeling that he was in the moment with them. He projects an empathy. At the same time, Trump has a strong presence, a bearing of authority, which may be intimidating to some. Trump’s nature is to try while in direct contact with an individual to create a bridge, if not a bond.

The “Authentic” Trump

Boiled down to the bones, open minded, immediate perceptions of Trump from most who have met him, from national leaders to average US citizens, would most likely agree that their encounters with Trump are welcoming and friendly. He is typically at ease, self-possessed with others. Those who have conversed with him are usually left with the feeling that he was in the moment with them. He projects an empathy. At the same time, Trump has a strong presence, a bearing of authority, which may be intimidating to the odd few. Trump’s nature is to try while in direct contact with an individual to create a bridge, if not a bond. Meeting Trump, one must remember that he has expectations from them. Red flags can be detected in his facial expression. Many discerned them too late in a conversation with Trump to repair the damage. Those who plan to create some interaction with Trump in their own way or seek to create some deal or agreement only on their terms, will accomplish nothing but raise his ire. Those simply trying to create some personal linkage alone should avoid overplaying their hand. Trump will let one know what type of relationship that he would prefer to have with one. A barrier will be created once a line is crossed. One should never try to become too familiar with him too fast. If anyone is going to rustle feathers by being a bit extra jovial during an interaction, it would need to be Trump. In such cases, he would invariably still mean well. Following that, he might try to be giving in some way. It would be better not to meet him, if one intends to go as far as breaking the spoken and unspoken rules of civility with him. Those who might use the opportunity to meet Trump in order to play to popular public sentiment at home by displaying irreverence for Trump, displaying their will to challenge him on issues, and create the optics that would confirm some silly notion of fearlessness by taking on the US President will do great disservice to their people and interests of their countries. There would be so much to gain from the opportunity to meet with Trump, and it would all be tossed away.

One should not glean from what has been stated that Trump dislikes developing new relationships. Quite to the contrary, Trump appreciates crafting new things to include new relationships. That desire to create is unquestionably due to the fact that he has the mind, vision, and spirit  of an artist. His successful professional paths as a businessman, land developer, entertainment promoter, and reality television host evinced that. As a businessman, Trump for decades engaged in high stakes negotiations and immersed in the granular details of forging solid, mutually agreeable deals. As a developer, he thoroughly invested himself in the planning, designing, and constructing buildings. In that process he was humble, meticulous, perceptive, and innovative. He could become lost in his art. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained and bedazzled. While very public accusations have made of alleged indiscretions, in the aggregate, the greater side of Trump is influenced by a moral center, his faith. He is a Presbyterian, and attends religious services. At the same time, he is respectful, appreciative, and has a good understanding of other religions, and often will attend their services.

On making decisions specifically on foreign policy, Trump will first demand to be read-in on available information and mulling things over, and formulating an approach. (This fact runs counter to what has been drilled in the minds of many through critics statements that Trump is disinterested in reports and briefings.) Trump will typically begin bilateral and multilateral interactions with high hopes that he can well-serve US interests, achieve positive results. While he attempts to craft a mutually satisfying, sustainable agreements, he will put US interests first. He famously stated during his UN General Assembly address: “As President of the United States, I will always put America First. Just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first.” He also explained that, “All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.”

Trump was elected US President having never served In political office at the national, state, or local level. He reviewed US foreign policy, it successes and failures in recent years and how his predecessors got things done, and decided to apply lessons he learned in business to make improvement to enhance US policy approaches. He labelled the central concept and intent for making improvements as “America First”. Trump discovered being successful would not simply require transitioning from the role businessman to that of president. In his short period of time in office, his thinking in terms of his duty and responsibilities and also personally, began evolving. In that process of evolution, Trump has not conformed with politics as usual in Washington. Rather, Trump, while keeping the heart of America First, began a process of transformation in which life lessons on getting things done, coalesced with lessons he would learn on the job daily as president. The change that Trump has brought has been most disturbing for critics as well as allies set in their ways, preferring Trump would take buttoned-down, old fashioned approaches to issues. He has pushed back against their insistent voices that he do things their way, seeking instead to find the truth in himself and doing things his way. A very evident part of Trump’s process of evolution are staff changes. He wants advisers that will best allow for the smooth execution of his plans. A very interesting and practical duality in his thinking has also been revealed as Trump has exercised his own magic. On some matters, Trump has found, sometimes the hard way, that conventional ways of doing things are best. When he has turned to unconventional approaches, he has relied upon a shrewd inner voice, intimations of a military commander in battle, all of it honed and polished by decades of human interactions, to help guide his decisionmaking.

The change that Trump has brought to Washington has been disturbing for critics as well as allies set in their ways, preferring that he would take buttoned-down, old fashioned approaches to issues. On some matters, Trump has found that doing things conventional ways are best. When he has turned to unconventional approaches, he has relied upon a shrewd inner voice, intimations akin to those of a military commander in battle, all of it honed and polished by decades of human interactions, to help guide his decisionmaking.

Indeed, when Trump takes a conventional track, he will support approaches that would require initial, relatively small steps perhaps to unlock the diplomatic process on big issues. He would also seek to gauge actions and responses from the opposite party. If he discerns a positive way forward, his sense of possibility would broaden and he would open his mind up to more options. In certain circumstances, Trump might promote creativity by breaking problems into smaller components; in doing so, he would build a multi-issue business negotiation out of what may have initially appeared to be a single-issue deal. Using multiple issues allows one to make valuable tradeoffs and facilitate a good-faith negotiation. Trump will collect important information by asking lots of questions and listening carefully to the answers. He usually demonstrates a willingness to be flexible by putting forth several different proposals at the same time. He is usually be willing to contemplate unconventional deal-structuring arrangements to bridge the gap between what the other side wants and what he could accept. He will even explore contingent agreements to help overcome differences in beliefs about future events and outcomes. He may even add on conditions for a deal such as “I’ll do X if you do Y”; and, engaging in “mind games” like brainstorming to facilitate creative problem solving and prompt unexpected solutions. On May 25, 2018, when there was discussion about restoring the summit talks with Kim after they were called off, questions were asked in the news media whether the back and forth between the US and North Korea was part of a strategy, Trump was quoted as saying: “Everybody plays games.”

In an unconventional mode, Trump will appear driven by the idea that bold action can turn situations around in the case he is facing. 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. This has been observed 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. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Early in life, Trump was inculcated with a strong sense of duty, honor, and country in secondary school. Trump matriculated for five years at the renowned New York Military Academy (NYMA) at Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, NYMA was the closest thing to a preparation school for the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, which was only a short drive from NYMA’s campus.  Trump excelled at NYMA. Friends and instructors have noted how Trump eventually thrived in military environment. He graduated as one of five captains, the S4 (supply officer) on the Senior Staff. In his senior year, Trump was given command of a composite company of cadets for the 1963 Columbus Day Parade, and led them and rest of marchers to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he greeted Cardinal Francis Spellman. Among his many other accomplishments, he commanded NYMA’s Honor Guard in both 1963 and 1964. From 1960 to 1964, he was an Honor Cadet and played on the Variety Baseball team. Trump proved throughout his secondary school years that he could consistently perform well both as a student and leader. Given Trump’s successful ascent as a NYMA cadet, it is hard to imagine that within him there was not a desire to attend the West Point. However, that was unlikely his decision to make. His father, Frederick Trump, who Trump would only describe as a builder to fellow cadets, was a well-known New York City real estate developer. His father likely insisted that Trump attend Fordham University where he would educate himself for work in the family business. Trump behaved dutifully and honorably in response to his father’s wishes. What is left for observers to see from that decisive point in Trump’s life is a juxtaposition between his strong military metiér and his dedication to family and a business path. As a leader, Trump is always ready to subordinate what he might want for what he must do.

Trump has undoubtedly recognized that to be a successful president he had to become a living sacrifice for his country, taking on almost limitless duties and burdens he very likely unforsaw as a candidate. The lifestyle that he led as a successful business leader had to be shed. Interests and focuses of his attention and energy, if simply for recreation, have been replaced by his country’s needs. Through visits to Mar-A-Largo, Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, and Trump Tower, he is able to enjoy fragments of a life he once lived. It will be interesting to see where this evolutionary process will lead Trump. No one is required to say anything about it, but this aspect of Trump is minimized or ignored in reports and commentaries of critics.

Trump’s father, Frederick Trump (left), mother, Mary Anne MacLeod Trump (center), and Trump (right). Trump was inculcated with a strong sense of duty, honor, and country at the New York Military Academy. He proved throughout secondary school that he could perform well consistently both as a student and leader. Given his successful ascent as a cadet, it is hard to imagine that he did not desire to attend the United States Military Academy. However, that would not have been his decision to make. His father clearly had plans for him to work in the family business.

Who Is Watching?

In intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue requires agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaisance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.)

When national leaders do not grasp what is happening on an issue and cannot get a handle on a situation in a satisfying way, there is an anxiety, a sense of panic even, that may ensue from lacking intelligence to answer big questions or fill gaps in knowledge, to develop policies, strategies, and nuanced approaches. In some sudden and urgent situations for a country, sources for its intelligence service might be sparse, or nonexistent, and all one might have are bits and pieces from electronic collection, particularly if that capability is rudimentary. When there is no one to approach, When there is nobody present to approach anyone, whatever has been gathered by intelligence professionals from clandestine operations and perhaps electronic collection, may be supplemented and even complemented in the worst case by theories and guesswork. Among the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of many intelligence services of countries of various sizes and power, analytical units will mine through overt sources of intelligence, traditionally newspapers, magazines, books of certain authors, and now websites, blogs, and social media to see what information is out there. That information may also be used to supplement and even complement information that a service already possesses.

Using information from overt sources to confirm things or infer things can be rather dicey as there is no longer assurance that the information is true. Without the means for verifying and confirming whether it is true, intelligence service must proceed with caution. Presently, overt sources can pose nearly as much danger as information that might be dangled before collectors by adversaries. When the wrong information is collected and presented to consumers, things can go terribly wrong. Policy and decision makers demanding intelligence, may not ask or give a cursory look at how and from where the information available was collected. Depending on how bad the situation is, those officials directly advising or supporting key leaders, rather than be palms up due to detected discrepancies, questionable findings, intimations, will pass it along as work product, demonstrating that there some type of understanding of on-going events, some handle on the situation. Consumers receiving that information might be pleased to receive verification of inferred ideas of the leadership. Those inferred ideas, with the support of new data, can often become fact and make its way from consumer to consumer, all the way to the top. In some countries, it has essentially been custom in analytical units of intelligence services covering the US, to use particular sources of intelligence, for example, US newspapers of record, as the New York Times and Washington Post, and watch and listen to NBCNEWS, ABCNEWS, CBS News. on the US. Therein lies the rub.

Then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo (left) and Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un (right). Relatively isolated countries can easily become victims of false reports, misleading, politicized commentary. In the current environment, there is much to sift through from overt sources to find the truth. The use of bad information will result in bent intelligence. The consequence of its use, even if slight, could be catastrophic.

Despite an awareness that many reports and commentaries about Trump, particularly from his critics, might be questionable as well as objectionable, and declared by the administration as completely inaccurate, intelligence services in some foreign capitals may not be ready to halt the counterproductive practice of using them. Those intelligence services may not fully understand why US news media houses have surrendered their impartiality in order to proffer negative reports and commentaries about Trump in great volume. They may have observed that critics would be so willing to surrender their credibility in producing reports and commentaries that would be proven wrong in short time. They may have difficulty understanding what would compel critics to attack Trump, speak against his efforts, predict failure, when his successes are successes for the US. They may have discerned that what certain reports and commentaries merely evince a particular political position or preference for a candidate who lost the 2016 Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton, and reject those of the candidate who won, Trump. They may recognize that many critics have behaved figuratively as hammer hoping through relentless pounding to fashion an image of Trump that want the world to see and if possible shape him into what they want him to be. There is said to be a temper of the soul that wants to live in illusion. Still, that alone would not compel most intelligence services to be remiss by continually using suspect information from certain overt sources from the US. A more likely cause for such counterintuitive behavior would be bureaucratic inertia. In nearly every system, there are those who will do their homework, whose trade craft would cause them to do a deeper dive into the information. Raising concerns over such information within some intelligence organizations might be considered blasphemous and those who might suggest there could be issues with standard methods of overt collection may simply be shut down by traditionalist, orthodox voices among bureaucrats who may be managing the intelligence collection process. It would be best to omit information that one does not fully understand. One should not rush to conclusions. Non refert quam multos sed quam bonos habeas. (It is quality rather than quantity that matters.)

A better way to satisfy requirements for collection would be to insist upon and invest time and effort into creating opportunities to meet at some official level with representatives of an adversary or even an ally. It could be done, if necessary, away from the public eye. In such meetings, specific questions could be asked of a foreign counterpart, and information could be provided to ones opposite number to ensure that the genuine position of another government on key matters, not the meditations of pundits or guesswork, would be run through mechanisms for analysis included will prevail in analyses. Depending upon the nature of relations between countries, the relative size of two or more countries, and the urgency or importance of issues between them, direct bilateral or multilateral talks between the most senior officials may not always be possible. For example, one may not officially recognize the sovereignty of another and perhaps visa versa. In the best case for the intelligence services of the respective countries, meetings would be held between senior intelligence officials. There may be the reality that one side may have more power to control the time and place of even such lower level engagements might be an issue for the other side to work through. Still, at whatever level officials might meet, whenever and wherever they might meet, and whether it might be a one shot opportunity, they must come prepared to collect enough information through well-crafted questions, keen listening to words, and skilled observations of behavior to satisfy intelligence requirements and prepare the best possible product for consumers. Interestingly, questions asked also can serve the purpose of informing the other side what one already knows, what one does not know, and what is most important. Questions serve as a curious form of sharing as much as collecting.

Vice Chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea Kim Yong-chul with his interpreter. (left), Trump (center), and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right). For the North Koreans, having the chance to get to know Trump and Pompeo, and learning what thinking in the administration was directly from them was both edifying and important. What the North Koreans learned was certainly far more informative than what their intelligence services may have been gleaned in the abstract from US news media sources and free wielding comments of experts in conferences and interviews.

The US News Media and Trump Critics: Caveat Emptor

The modality of the attacks on Trump from the news media catches the eye. It appears to exceed what few years earlier would have been considered impossible. The media never admired Trump. More seasoned, balanced, critics, have produced reports and commentary explaining that lots of things should be done, omitted, changed, and corrected by Trump. However, many other critics better skilled in “inpleasantry” than bon mot, have deemed Trump unfit for the presidency even before his election victory. The words “not presidential” were heard every time Trump spoke. Efforts by Trump of any kind would elicit a range of reactions by those engaged in the broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse. (In 2017, greatcharlie frequently used the term, “counter-Trump milieu”, but alas, it failed to gain traction in the foreign policy debate.) There are other critics who apparently have found nothing desirable and everything loathsome about Trump. Trump’s efforts are explained as a cunning deceit, a dark tragedy. He is characterized as just another seductive tyrant, a demagogue. It could be said the US news media has not covered Trump as much as it has attached itself to him. They walk alongside him in order to discomfort and discourage him, increase the power of the blows against him. In the aggregate, they do not want Trump to feel a sense of serenity, calmness, quietness, peace and joy as president for one moment. Apparently, they want Trump to feel a deep-seated frustration, anxiety, worry.  They seem determined to throw Trump into loneliness and pain. Their hope for glory in attacking and defeating Trump walks hand in hand with their own doom for they live in the same country, the civilization that Trump is trying to improve. Ars prima regni est posse invidiam pati. (‘Tis the first art of kings, the power to suffer hate.)

Many critics are at a point in which they simply reject possibilities without hearing others. They rely upon self-serving explanations and surmisal. Critics see their efforts as righteousness, and they see far greater moral authority in themselves than in Trump. Critics analyses of history, of what was spposedly better, is nostalgia at best, myth at worst. Previous administrations would languish in the halls of inaction on a policy issue. They seemed to gain some satisfaction by merely moving from office to office, from conference room to conference room, from building to building, writing one memorandum after another, and declaring that in itself was action. Trump would admit that some mistakes have been made and a number of situations could have been handled differently, particularly on the domestic front. However, Trump has learned lessons. Modifications have been made in the way he makes statements and approaches situations. Nevertheless, critics reject the notion that he has evolved at all, and argue that he will never change. Lacking faith in the president, they surrender all hope that he could accomplish anything good for the US. While one might normally expect some change in behavior or conciliatory attitude from critics as time passes, their civility only seems recede further. There is a Hebrew term, küwl (cool), which means to sustain a hardship, to maintain ones balance in spite of what is happening. Trump has sought to avoid having a wounded spirit, powering away from despair and disappointment. Initially, Trump, in reaction to some critics, would “imitate the action of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard favor’d rage.” Trump has since become more selective as to when and to whom he will direct his disagreement. Few men could display true sangfroid if stress were assailing them as it has Trump. Some religious leaders would explain that a trial can present an opportunity to persevere under pressure. Moreover, one can grow in the midst of conflict.

Some Discerning Leaders Can Distinguish Perception from Reality Re Trump

Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.) Political and social pressures to conform to a counter-Trump outlook appear to exist in capitals worldwide. However, for any country, relations with the US are too important to allow ties to be damaged by behavior and attitudes displayed by leaders with a skewed understanding of realities about Trump.  As posited here, it would be very easy for intelligence service to provide information with a counter-Trump bent to their leaders thus creating that situation. Perhaps a decision to embrace such information would be the fact that it confirmed individual biases or prejudices those leaders might have about Trump. Many leaders who initially chose to take a stance hostile to Trump recognized that they had done a great disservice to the people and interests of their country. They subtracted such negative thinking and changed their approach to him. Others learned lessons from leaders taking a wrongful counter-Trump tact, and allowed themselves the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about him through direct contacts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) and a Trump (right). After meetings in Washington with Trump from March 17, 2017 to March 18, 2017, Merkel made the harsh comment that Trump was not a reliable partner Germany and the Continent could depend upon. Her comments expressed her angst. Merkel was personally disappointed that Trump initially declined to publicly endorse NATO’s doctrine of collective defense, or agree to common European positions on global trade, dealing with Russian aggression, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Following meetings in Washington with Trump from March 17, 2017 to March 18, 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed as Europe’s most influential leader, made the stunning comment that US President Donald Trump is not the reliable partner her country and the Continent can depend upon. She was quoted in a May 28, 2017 New York Times article as stating: “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over,” adding, “This is what I experienced in the last few days.” Merkel went on to state: “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.” Her strong comments represented a potentially seismic shift in trans-Atlantic relations, as she has concluded without reservation that the US is now less willing to intervene overseas. The Times article explains that Merkel was personally disappointed that Trump declined to publicly endorse NATO’s doctrine of collective defense or to agree to common European positions on global trade, dealing with Russian aggression or mitigating the effects of climate change. Merkel’s comments were truly an expression of angst. Her words would lead one to believe that the current period, rather than being of change, and reinvigoration, is languid and dissolute. Yet, as a result of her statement, she may have also stirred concerns in the capitals of other NATO countries over how they will defend themselves against their most likely opponent, Russia, and handle other matters, without the US.

However, at some point after the meeting, Merkel likely recognized that she needed to take inventory of what had transpired so far with the US. She needed to stop moving the relationship in a negative direction.  From what Merkel said after her initial contacts with Trump, it was clear that Merkel felt some personal struggle with him. That was very troubling. Merkel’s responsibilities in meeting Trump was not to express her personal feelings about him. The genuine job at hand for the Chancellor was to do what best served the interest of the German people. Berlin needed to reorient Merkel on the matter. At stake was the relationship of Germany, and to an extent Europe, with the Trump administration. Berlin needed to find ways for Merkel to better respond and engage her country’s most powerful ally and cope with the Trump administration’s approach to policy matters concerning Europe. German policymakers, foreign policy analysts, and diplomats had to find answers. Resources needed to be diverted to that end. Cuiusvis est errare nullius nisi insipientes, in error perseverare. (To err is inherent in every man, but to persist in error takes a fool.)

Things changed. While campaigning for her fourth term in office, Merkel stated on August 23, 2017 that Trump must be shown appropriate respect for holding the office of the US president, even if she may differ with him greatly on some policy issues. Merkel, a Trump critic, left no doubt that she was committed transatlantic relationship, and stressed the strength of German relations with the US. The statement was a rebuff to pressure from her Social Democratic Party rivals to resist demands by Trump for NATO members to increase their defense spending. Merkel explained during an interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt: “If you take the president of the United States, whatever differences of opinion there may be, I know he prevailed in a tough election. It wasn’t reserved for him on a silver platter.” She went on to state: “In the end, he won the election under American electoral law and that means he is democratically elected and that this person should be shown the appropriate respect, regardless of how I assess his views.” Merkel did what many US political opponents and allies, friends–full-time and part-time, former US officials, journalists, analysts, and other among his critics refuse to do or at least have not done well. Merkel apparently took inventory, reviewed what had transpired, and reconsidered the direction she wanted her public comments about Trump to take. During her three-hour visit to the White House on April 27, 2018, her exchanges with Trump were very cordial. Merkel discussed but did not emphasize her differences with Trump on steel and aluminium tariffs and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In a joint press conference afterward, they stressed the long-time ties between the US and Germany and the shared goal of a denuclearized North Korea. Trump now insists that he and Merkel have “a great relationship.”

Merkel apparently took inventory, reviewed what had transpired in March 2017, and reconsidered the direction she, as German Chancellor, wanted her interactions with Trump to take. During her three-hour visit to the White House on April 27, 2018, her exchanges with Trump were very cordial. Merkel discussed but did not emphasize her differences with Trump on steel and aluminium tariffs and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In a joint press conference afterward, both stressed the long-time ties between the US and Germany.

2. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Some foreign leaders from the get-go fully understand that their focus during meeting with Trump should be their countries’ interests and relating well with the US President. They should not be prompted by the news media to speak or behave in ways that would aid its narrow interest in grabbing headlines to promote readership and viewership, and to fill advertising space and increase their profits. On April 30, 2018, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had the opportunity to visit Trump at the White House to discuss urgent and important issues concerning his country. Buhari was the first sub-Saharan African leader to be invited for talks with the Trump administration. Trump and Buhari agreed that fighting terrorism is a priority for both administrations. The US sold 12 counterinsurgency aircraft worth $496 million to Nigeria to help in its fight against Boko Haram jihadist insurgents, despite previous refusing to approve the sale due to human rights concerns. Trump let Buhari know that he wanted Nigeria to remove trade barriers and allow imports of US agricultural produce. What was not discussed were disparaging remarks Trump allegedly made concerning African countries on January 11, 2018.

However, when Trump and Buhari held a joint press conference in the White House Rose Garden, the Nigerian President was asked about Trump’s alleged complaints about immigrants coming to the US from Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations. Buhari was very aware of problems between the news media and Trump and aware more so of his duty to serve Nigeria’s interests. He astutely replied: “I’m not sure about, you know, the validity of whether that allegation against the president is true or not.” He added: “So the best thing for me is to keep quiet.

When Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (left) and Trump (right) met on April 30, 2018, terrorism, human rights, and trade were on the agenda. In a joint press conference, however, reporters asked Buhari about Trump’s alleged complaints about African immigrants. Aware of problems between the news media and Trump and aware of his duty to serve Nigeria’s interests. Buhari astutely replied: “I’m not sure about, you know, the validity of whether that allegation against the president is true or not.” He added: “So the best thing for me is to keep quiet.”

3. French President Emmanuel Macron

When French President Emmanuel Macron visited the US from April 24, 2018 to April 25, 2018, he came with the purpose to bridge differences over the Iran nuclear agreement, encourage Trump not to withdraw so fast from Syria, exempt European countries from then prospective US steel and aluminum tariffs, and discuss the Paris Agreement on climate change and global warming. Indeed, Macron told Trump that France recognized the need for the US and France to work together to defeat terrorism, curtail weapons of mass destruction in North Korea and Iran, and act together on behalf of the planet. At the same time, Macron emphasized the importance of the Franco-American relationship, the commitment and the bond between the two countries, its historic importance and importance for both countries and world into the future.

Trump had already enjoyed very positive interactions with Macron. Trump was Macron’s guest in July 2017 at the annual Bastille Day military parade in Paris. During the visit, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, took Trump and his wife on a tour of Napoleon’s tomb and the Eiffel Tower where they had dinner while overlooking the City of Light. Trump reciprocated during Macron’s visit to Washington with a welcoming ceremony filled with pageantry and ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, that included a 21-gun salute. Macron presented Trump with a thoughtful gift of a tree sampling from ”Devil Dog” fountain at Belleau Wood, where US Marines fought a deadly battle from June 1, 2018 to June 24, 1918, to repel a push by German forces toward Paris during World War I. Devil Dog fountain was a rally point for surviving Marines after they defeated the Germans. The Marines suffered nearly 10,000 casualties. Before an audience of US military personnel and Cabinet officials, Trump explained that the relationship he forged with Macron at the start of his presidency was a testament to the “enduring friendship that binds our two nations.” He thanked the French leader for his “steadfast partnership” in the recent missile strike in response to the chemical attack in Syria. Trump went on to state, “It’s an honor to call you my friend.” He predicted that Macron would be a historic leader of France. In a jovial mood in the Oval Office, Trump displayed some personal chemistry with Macron by feigning to brush off Macron’s suit jacket and saying, “We have a very special relationship; in fact, I’ll get that little piece of dandruff off. We have to make him perfect — he is perfect.” During a toast at a formal state dinner, Trump mentioned the ties between the US and France, saying, “May our friendship grow even deeper, may our kinship grow even stronger and may our sacred liberty never die.”

The next day, at a joint press conference, Macron focused on the relationship between the US and France, Macron said, “History is calling us. It is urging our people to find the fortitude that has guided us in the most difficult of times. France and with it, Europe, and the United States have an appointment with history.” However, through a translator, Macron again got down to business, stating: “Mr. President, please allow me to go back to a number of issues, which are fundamental for not only our relationship, but beyond. The first topic is Iran. You said once again, in front of the press, what your position was during the campaign and as well as the President of the United States.  It’s not a mystery we did not have the same starting positions or stances, and neither you nor I have a habit of changing our stances or going with the wind.” On his last day in Washington, Macron, in flawless English, addressed the US Congress. Although Macron spoke critically to an even greater degree of a number of Trump’s foreign policy, trade and environmental decisions, he did so in a well-considered, methodical way, always leaving real hope that at some point a meeting of minds could be reached.

Critics put off by the congenial interaction between Trump and Macron. Their friendship was derided as “Le Bromance” and critics groaned that there were “exaggerated handshakes and a pair of kisses.” Macron was referred to as a “Trump whisperer” because he converses with Trump often by telephone. Critics seemed to find solace in the belief that Trump’s relationships with other European leaders are more strained. While the idea emphasized, it is not necessarily the case. Critics also noted that Trump ended his first year in office without receiving a foreign leader on a state visit, the first president in nearly 100 years to fail to do so.

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) and Trump (right) When Macron visited the US from April 24, 2018 to April 25, 2018, he hoped to bridge differences with Trump over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, encourage him not to leave quickly from Syria, prevent prospective US steel and aluminum tariffs on European countries, and make headway with Trump on the Paris Agreement on climate change. Macron spoke critically on a number of Trump’s foreign policy, trade and environmental decisions, but did so in a thoughtful way. He also emphasized the importance of the Franco-American relationship and his friendship with Trump.

The Way Forward

In Act I, scene iii, of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Generals Macbeth and Banquo have already defeated the invading armies of Ireland and Norway. As they cross a moor together, they encounter three witches. The witches hail Macbeth as thane of Glamis–his original title–and as thane of Cawdor. The witches also declare that Macbeth will be king one day. They call Banquo “lesser than Macbeth, and greater,” and “not so happy, yet much happier”; then they proffer that he will never be king but his children will sit upon the throne. Once the witches vanish, Macbeth and Banquo stand baffled and speak skeptically of their prophecies. However, two of King Duncan’s men, arrive. One tells Macbeth that the king has made him thane of Cawdor as the witches prophesized. While Macbeth is intrigued that the witches words came true, Banquo warns: “That trusted home Might yet enkindle you unto the crown, Besides the thane of Cawdor But ’tis strange: And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence.” The agendas of foreign governments are usually single-minded. They will try to push the US to use its wherewithal and capabilities in a way that favors their countries positions. Some national leaders have projected a sense of apprehension about approaching Trump to improve their countries’ conditions, enhance military, diplomatic, political situations, or at least maintain the status quo. Some partners, much as competitors, have pushed hard with their respective agendas with the US from a counter-Trump perspective. Both the impetus and confirmation of their thoughts, words, and deeds can usually be sourced from reports and commentaries of Trump’s critics. Naturally, discord has obtained as a consequence of taking such an ill-considered tack. Critics have painted a portrait of Trump, and through it, a personality of Trump is conveyed, but it has always been their version of him and it has never been complimentary. They see no style, grace, creativity or intellect in the ways in which he has addressed foreign policy issues. They insist that a dictatorial mayhem exists in the Trump administration and only the worst foreign policy decisions could possibly flow from it. As explained here, one route such thinking from critics can travel to national leaders is through their countries’ intelligence services. Those services might be willing to allow intelligence reports to be colored with information from overt US sources produced by critics openly hostile toward Trump. That information, in turn, would confirm leader negative views of him. That information could “betray with deepest consequence.”.

Smart, confident people can find a constructive solution to any problem. There is, in reality, nothing so mysterious about Trump that should lead any national leader to throw a history of good relations with the US out of the window. Welling up with the type of anger and disappointment that might cause them to find affinity with Trump’s critics will destroy any opportunity for a new, better, enriching path to develop. Those leaders must consider what their respective countries relationships with the US mean not only on one issue, but in the bigger picture. They should consider what the US really offers. When leaders lose sight of the multifaceted nature of their respective countries’ relationships with the US, they create the danger of driving those relationships down to lower points. They should think about current so-called challenges as opportunities. Meditating on the matter, they may discover that Trump, in doing things a bit differently, presents possibilities for getting many new, better things done. Leaders should not let bad words, negative choices flashover all issues regarding the US and become their country’s dénouement concerning Trump. They can still recurvate. Changes on one issue could result in great benefits on another. Sola virtus praestat gaudium perpetuum, securum; etiam si quid obstat, nubium modo intervenit, quae infra feruntur nec umquam diem vincunt. (Virtue alone affords everlasting and peace-giving joy; even if some obstacle arise, it is but like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.)

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’s “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 the well-being of Russians 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 especially considering costs involved and the likely impact on Russia’s economy. The new weapons announced systems reflected highly of the efforts of his country’s advanced defense research, but even more, provided notice to world that  Russia still has “deterrent” power. Further, it appears that through that announcement, Putin has denied any interest in, and signal his rejection of, genuine efforts to rebuild US-Russia relations. Looking at Putin from the inside, as was attempted here, it would appear that pride had much to do with that choice as 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 temporarily satisfied his ego, building himself up a bit. Putin would unlikely be interested in the ministrations of greatcharlie on what Putin should be doing with his presidency. However, it would certainly be serendipitous if Putin would move beyond derivative thinking on US-Russian relations. For anyone 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.)

Can the Unique Skills of “Star Officials” Help the Trump Administration Avoid Domestic Controversies?

US National Security Adviser H.R McMaster (left), US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (center), and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (right), on the battlefield. In its first year, the administration of US President Donald Trump has faced a succession of divisive controversies. Matters have been made worse by an hostile environment created by Trump’s critics. Salvation may come from the commanders above who are now among Trump’s top advisers. They could help to occasion efficacious responses to some troublesome issues.

The critics of US President Donald Trump have not taken their metaphoric foot off the gas pedal yet. With every commentary, every attack, they swing for the fences. There appears to be a drive by them to bring his administration down. It seems they had the goal of uncouple Trump from the presidency in the space of only a few months. Besides driving him out of office, Trump’s critics seemingly have the goal of destroying  Trump as a person, reduce him to a demimonde. They do not want Trump to feel a sense of serenity, calmness, quietness, peace and joy as president for one moment. Apparently, they want Trump to feel a deep-seated frustration, anxiety, worry. They want him to feel unfulfilled. To the discontent of critics, Trump, in many ways, is in tune with the thrust of the age. That in great part accounts for his victory in the 2016 US Presidential Campaign. Throughout that campaign, Trump explained that he wanted to “Make America Great Again” by putting “America First”. He has gone about doing that in his own way to the pleasure of many, to the disappointment of others. Some of Trump’s critics are convinced that Trump does not really want to do well for the US public. A set of genuine facts to show intent to do wrong, and perhaps a motive, not the errors or misstatements of a novice politician, would be needed to be prove that. With great energy, critics are working to develop as much evidence as possible. Many assert ghosts from the past have real potential to hurt him. Indeed, there have have been attempts to tie Trump to questionable back channels to governments of other countries, to questionable contracts, and worst of all, to secret deals and promises to perform favors for foreign leaders if Trump reached the presidency. Trump assures that he has no ghosts that threaten and need to be silenced. He calls allegations made hoaxes and says they will be dispelled by the truth. His responses, however, have had no deterrent power. While they have not knocked Trump down, it seems he has felt some of the blows of those desiring to damage him. The optics of Trump standing tall in the face of it all and his public denials of any hurt, seems to contradict that reality. Nonetheless, some trauma will naturally result from nonstop castigation and opprobrium. Pretending when injured, that you do not feel the pain, does not allow you to receive the signal to make change, to heel, to improve.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an apologist as a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial. That is not the intent here. Rather, offered here is a broader perspective of the efforts of Trump’s critics and the impact they may be having upon Trump public reactions on issues, why he has proffered and stood fast on views contrary to those of his critics, including issues which were unrelated to his work as president. Additionally, it is explained that Trump has the wherewithal among staff in his administration to assist him gaining and developing a broader perspective, and respond even more effectively on issues of considerable importance to the well-being, health, of the society, as a leader, while under considerable pressure from critics. That, help, mirabile dictu, may very well be provided by the generals who are among Trump’s top advisers: retired USMC General James Mattis, Secretary of Defense; retired USMC General John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff; and, US Army Lieutenant General H.R McMaster, National Security Adviser. They have the experience, the management skills, the leadership skills, to encourage and support a more efficacious, and more desirable, synergistic performance by the administration on troublesome issues beyond their portfolios. Those issues would include domestic controversies such as Charlottesville. Without change, the future may bring a succession of unnecessary, divisive controversies. To the extent that perspectives proffered by US critics have the potential to influence or are influencing thinking about the administration among US allies and partners as well as adversaries, it is a matter of importance within foreign and national security policy and decision makers.

If critics press on with their admonitions and accusations, their deleterious effect on Trump will increase unless there is some intercession perhaps from the generals. In the high pressure, very hectic worlds of Washington politics and international affairs today, every now and then, a healing of the soul is needed. If the generals seek to take on this proposed role, over time, the analysis here may bear out. Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur. (A true friend is certain when certainty is uncertain.)

While they have not knocked Trump down, it seems he has felt some of the blows of those desiring to damage him. The optics of Trump standing tall while being reviled and his public denials of any hurt, contradict that reality. Nonetheless, some trauma will naturally result from nonstop castigation and opprobrium. Pretending when injured, that you do not feel the pain, does not allow you to receive the signal to make change, to heel, to improve.

Critics Assail Trump before and after Inaugural: the Tender Foot Is Tested

Long before the events in Charlottesville and other recent controversies, critics were already levelling very heavy attacks against Trump and his administration. One might think that observers, before becoming critics, would first take a look at how Trump would perform as president, how he would go about doing business for the people, but that was not the case. Advantage was initially seen in Trump being a tender foot in Washington, at least with regard to insider politics. An easy, initial target they chose was Trump’s way of speaking in his own fashion, without formality or a “politically correct filter.” Certainly, US presidents must serve as stewards of their country, and within US interests, provide leadership, moral guidance, and various forms of support for other countries. What has been expected historically is that a president’s demeanor, comportment, and locution reflective of the gravity of the position. Critics even before his election victory, deemed Trump’s behavior “not presidential.” The administration would explain that concerns expressed about Trump’s approach to the presidency were a manifestation of critics own struggle to accept the change from the traditional to modernity. The old is replaced by the new. It would eventually become clear that some critics, and even some friends, would never be open minded to Trump’s type of “eloquence” as a sitting president. Yet, discontent over an unfamiliar cadence would not stand alone as Trump’s big flaw. Eventually, moves by Trump of any kind would elicit a range of reactions by those engaged in a broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse. In the US, journalists, think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the administration of US President Barack Obama, propagate a cult of ugliness directed at the US presidency.  It inflames passions globally.

That milieu has done much to distort perspectives of many in Europe, Asia, and the US on Trump. In it, self-defined experts on the US presidency preach of what should be expected from Trump, how he should perform, and why he has done practically everything wrong, everyday. Similarly, self-defined experts on Trump offer false insights concerning his private life and his life as president. Included also in the milieu are sensational stories from the US newsmedia of alleged illegal activities by Trump and almost daily predictions that his administration is on the verge of collapse. The counter-Trump milieu propagates a cult of ugliness directed at Trump and the US. It immediately inflamed passions globally. Admonishing and castigating Trump, has become common practice. While there have been some changes in perspective, many worldwide remain subsumed by the counter-Trump milieu. Indeed, it has been expedient for national and other political leaders in foreign capitals to use ideas from that “popular source” in speeches about the US president.

The commentaries of the majority of those in the news media whose negative views have been most prominent in the milieu, have taken on the form of self-congratulatory moral posturing. Yet, ideas that stem from the counter-Trump milieu are not expressed with a common scholarly language. Their attacks come in a multitude of forms. Very often they appeal to the lowest nature of individuals. Some critics deceitfully offer contradictory data. Other critics are willing to provide, with rectitude, eristic commentaries about Trump that in fact stand the truth on its head. There are also critics who appear to seek the mantle of the voice of rebellion and have declared themselves to be in albeit a self-imposed exile, rejecting the governance and the authority of the current administration.

The False-Consensus Effect

The false-consensus effect or false-consensus bias is recognized by psychologists as an attributional type of cognitive bias in which one may overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are normal and typical of those of others. That bias can lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist, a “false-consensus”. It is significant because it increases self-esteem and even overconfidence. This bias is most apparent in groups in which one may believe the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. As group members have reached a consensus and rarely encounter other in their social circles, this is not limited to cases in which individuals or group members believe that their values are shared by the majority, but it still manifests as an overestimate of the extent of that belief is still exhibited. When it is discovered by the individual or group members that a consensus does not exist beyond them, and assumption is made that the thinking of those in variance with them is defective. Concerning the 2016 US Presidential Election, the false consensus effect provides a way to understand the outrage that has followed. Leading up to the election, supporters of Trump’s opponent, Secretary Hillary Clinton were surrounded by likeminded Clinton supporters. They held values and beliefs that they deemed as obviously true and that had to be shared by anyone who had thought about the issues at all. Clinton supporters believed that most people were also Clinton supporters and she would surely win the election given so many were behind her. That is exactly the false consensus effect. However, an adverse outcome associated with false-consensus reasoning is the shock of discovering one’s beliefs about what others think was incorrect. It is usually a rude awakening. The false-consensus effect can, as a result, lead to very strong and even polarizing disagreements and negative interactions across social groups. Some psychologists believe this situation is being witnessed in the US making the country feel much as a nation divided. Acclinis falsis animus meliora recusat, (A mind intent upon false appearances refuses to admit better things.)

The issues of racism and ethnic, religious, and gender bigotry are both delicate and explosive issues in the US. Charlottesville has brought those issues front and center. Regardless of meaning well and wanting to do the right thing, the Trump administration did not respond with words or actions fast enough or satisfactorily enough for those who have been hurt or traumatized as the sport of racists or bigots or for those who are moved to fight such evil.

Trump’s Critics Feel Race and Bigotry Are Issues They Can Sink Their Teeth into

The issues of racism and ethnic, religious, and gender bigotry are both delicate and explosive issues in the US. Charlottesville has brought those issues front and center once again. Although it meant well and wanted to do the right thing in response to events, the Trump administration did not respond with words or actions fast enough or satisfactorily enough for those who have been hurt or traumatized as the sport of racists or bigots or for those who are moved with heart and soul to fight such evil.

It is easy for many critics standing at safe position from the problem to take a position of moral authority over those who, may not completely understand, may not feel comfortable with, or may be able to freely or genuinely discuss racism and bigotry. Bomb throwing from a peanut gallery of critics exacerbated the situation, making matters worse. Trump’s responses to developments in Charlottesville led to a decision by some of his supporters, particularly business leaders and politicians to leave his side. Those individuals accordingly made a value decision as to what might be maintained, salvaged versus what could be lost, most of all, one’s good name, reputations, guilt by association, business, and opportunities that might come with that continued linkage. If anyone close to Trump were hesitant to break with Trump, their diligent public relations representatives would undoubtedly insist upon the split.

The Hurtful Monkey on Trump’s Back

Placidity should never have been expected of Trump or other administration officials in response to heavy handed commentaries and attacks by critics. It did seem that Trump was mostly amused with it all in the very beginning. As a septuagenarian, with experience, wisdom, shrewdness, Trump undoubtedly saw many young journalists and politicians among his critics as callow and insecure. Trump looked curiously upon many of them, observing how they ostensibly believed that by parading their disappointments over Trump before world, they would create the change they wanted: his removal from office or control of his agenda. In his view, the attitudes and the behaviors they displayed, created a self-portrait of their weakness and reveals that they lack many answers. Trump would tweet very biting comments about those journalist who have levied frequent onslaughts of castigation against him. He seemingly hoped his stinging words will have sound educational effect on those who might seek to bully him. Crafting such comments also as a break away from the considerable stresses of his job. That changed quickly.

Trump’s strength logically could account in part  for the need of critics launch such intense attacks. Trump’s responses to the pillory of critics evinced that he would not shrink or falter despite their worst efforts. In reaction to the strength he displayed, attacks by his critics would intensify. In many cases, there was clearly no right intention. Unjust attacks became commonplace. Criticisms became effervescent acts of destruction. Indeed, many critics dehumanized themselves as a result of their attacks. Some attacks were so aberrant, so incredible, that if the matter were not so grave, they could easily fall into the category of banal amusement, frivolity, serving to entertain as a juxtaposition of how critics should behave toward the US president, and how they are behaving now. They too can be held to a standard, an ethical and historical one for example. It all became exhausting to observe. Essentially, that is where things remain now.

Feeling the pressure of being attacked from every direction, Trump has displayed the combat of a giant, impassable, remaining upright, much as a member of Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse. Admissions from critics as to the intensity and heavy-handedness of attacks on Trump have rarely been heard. Often such admissions when made are watered down.

Feeling the pressure of being attacked from every direction, Trump has displayed the combat of a giant, impassable, remaining upright. Admissions from critics as to the intensity and heavy-handedness of attacks on Trump have rarely been heard. During the US Coast Guard Academy Commencement on May 17, 2017, Trump revealed that he was feeling pressure from his critics’ attacks. It was an admission that they had damaged him in some way. 

Critics’ Attacks Have Done Damage to Trump

During the commencement at the US Coast Guard Academy on May 17, 2017, Trump surprisingly revealed that he was feeling pressure from his critics’ attacks. It was practically an admission that it damaged him in some way.  Trump is quoted as saying: “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media.  No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.  You can’t let them get you down.  You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why I, thank you. I guess that’s why we won.” Speaking very personally, Trump went on to the discuss his own way of responding to obstacles by explaining: “Over the course of your life, you will find that things are not always fair.  You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine.” He counselled further: “Adversity makes you stronger.  Don’t give in.  Don’t back down.  And never stop doing what you know is right. Nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy. And the more righteous your right, the more opposition that you will face.”

Trump is not exactly a didactic example of restraint. As it is true of most people, Trump hates being picked on. Perhaps he would say that he has been restrained. In business, Trump has likely had to absorb some extraordinarily unpleasant things. Still, he can suppress his feelings only so much. Critics have tried to claim that the rage he reveals while defending himself revealed an emotional listing. Some claim his need to respond is the manifestation of a persecution complex. Facts are lacking to support such a theory. Yet, coping with critics’ attacks has clearly had another negative impact. Critics’ attacks, which more often than not are next of kin to bullying, seem to have darkened Trump’s worldview. Indeed, having been successfully hunted and hounded by critics, his responses to them became even harsher. On top of angering Trump, critics’ words occasionally impaired his ability to put his best foot forward. Mistakes made have been noticeable. If some critics are only seeking to create chaos with their attacks against Trump, he must be wary. He should not intensify problems with his responses. Following chaos will only create greater chaos. One reaps what one sows, more than one sows, later than one sows. 

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (above). Given reports about problems in the administration, there those who would ask why Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster would stay in what has been depicted metaphorically as a popcorn machine. However, refusing to cut and run is a characteristic grounded in their selfless-devotion and commitment to their country, their Constitution, and their president. The generals stock the administration with an embarrassment of riches.

Trump’s Generals

Not that this has been the case for officials working at the White House today, but those who have answers, ways to help, should not stand around like leafy elms, silently observing this negative situation. Unlike some who have since departed the White House, the generals serving in Trump’s administration have not been rattling like tambourines about how bad things are in the West Wing or what is wrong with Trump. That would hardly be the case with Mattis, Kelly, or McMaster. Along with being outstanding individuals and their arete, as part of any team they are self-disciplined and are masters of unit discipline. For years they have been the ones others would go to for answers to make sure that things are done right. They are used to being relied upon and coming through for others and themselves. Given news media reports about problems in the administration, there those who would ask why the generals would stay in what has been depicted metaphorically as a popcorn machine. However, refusing to cut and run is a characteristic grounded in their selfless-devotion, commitment, to their country, their Constitution, and their president. The generals stock the administration with an embarrassment of riches. With all due respect to the US President, the generals could prove to be the salvation of his administration.

Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster truly represent the higher order of military leadership which has emerged in the US. Besides being embodied by them, that improved leadership can be observed in the overall performance of the US military in 2017. On the campaign trail, Trump declared that he wanted to get a handle on things, particularly in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Upon entering office, he said: “I was left a big mess.” Recent reports indicate Iraq and Syria have a handle, knocking down the idea proffered by the Obama administration that both situations were militarily intractable. The work of US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townshend, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve, who has thoroughly routed ISIS, putting it on the run, and working with Iraqi forces and a coalition of anti-ISIS forces, capturing great amounts of territory, reducing the so-called Islamic Caliphate. Key cities such as Ramadi, Mosul, Tabqa, and a good part of Raqqa have been retaken. As a result of the decision by Mattis and US commanders and planners to increase in US forces in Afghanistan, new positive, results should be expected there, too! Biting one’s tongue, withholding recommendations that would be rejected as possibly getting the US too involved in matters overseas, or shying away from plans that might be called too military was the norm for military commanders and planners during the Obama administration. The record indicates that administration had few qualms in being delinquent or even remiss  on matters of urgency or importance requiring military action. Administration officials judged military performance by its usefulness along the lines of their own cautious, often imprudent, thinking. A seat was always made available for mediocrity.

In writings and public discussions about foreign and defense policy, often absent is consideration of what is an essential part of the lives of many military personnel, diplomats, policy analysts, and political leaders. That element is their faith, devotion to God. It may not be easily discerned, for they usually will not wear their faith on their sleeves. Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster bind to themselves to their faith, a belief in a higher power: God. The anchor of their lives is the word of God. God is their compass. Their faith is a shield to those notions that would pierce their value system, turn on good thought, good words, good deeds in their efforts to perform their duty and in everyday life in general. They understand that God causes all things to work together for good. They understand how God can work in the lives of people. They perform their tasks with humility.

Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster want Trump to be a successful leader and want to be part of a successful administration. To a degree, the health of the administration is the bailiwick of his top advisers. On behalf of the president, the generals so far have been willing to offer defense in pronuntiato of his good intentions. However, it appears that the time has come for the sake of the society, the administration, and the stability of the US government to try to offer good counsel and encourage him, and when possible, deflect some of the blows from critics with a goal to mitigate the effects of worrisome controversies. That does not mean they should begin meddling in areas outside of their portfolios. The generals already have so many considerable responsibilities and tasks before them, taking on more would hardly be desirable. It might easy enough for other military leaders to point to Carl von Clausewitz and quote: “Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.” However, the generals might be able to do much to help Trump by relating with him on points of commonality as leaders and persuade through language those who have understand. Consider a few examples. The generals may be able ease things by initiating a dialogue on the concept of maintaining the cohesion of a unit, regardless of the type pressures directed against it. They could discuss how that task is one they have faced during their careers and have overcome, and maybe share some anecdotes with him. Regarding the divisiveness of controversies specifically, the generals could remind that teams, organizations, countries work better and can achieve more when there is unity. Further, the generals could speak on the need to understand not a few, but all of the parts involved on tough issues, controversial issues, no matter the size, much as it is required in designing and constructing an apartment building, hotel, or ice skating rink. After doing his homework and becoming familiar with issue he might want to mention, Trump might find it more judicious not to comment about it at all. What is freely asserted cannot always be freely deserted.

Nihil æ grius quam disciplinam accipimus. (We receive nothing with so much reluctance as instruction.) Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster are politically savvy, and would be aware that engaging in the effort as described here would pose some risk for them. They should not approach him in a “too familiar” way as they are advisers and subordinates. They might approach much as comrades in arms in on the same battle line, fighting toward victory. Sharing their impressions and experiences with Trump should not come off as an effort to redesign him. Attempting that would be a big mistake. It would be a most unfortunate if the effort proposed resulted in some misunderstanding. Creating an uneasy interpersonal dynamic could lead to problems for the generals and tragically place more pressure upon the besieged president, thus hurting him, not helping him. There will never be a dynamic of vulnerability between Trump and any one. Still, Trump should be aware by now that none in the administration could give greater recognition or hold more respect for his presidency than the generals. The generals will not go running off at the mouth to the nearest journalist after any conversations. The generals will remain discreet. They understand the importance of their work and consider it a privilege to serve in their positions. The relationship with the generals, as confidants, will be unique to Trump, and the relationship with Trump, the president, will be unique to the generals.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (above). Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster want Trump to be a successful leader and his administration to be successful. To a degree, the health of the administration is also their bailiwick. On behalf of the president, the generals so far have been willing to offer defense of his good intentions. However, it appears that the time has come to offer good counsel and encourage him, and when possible, deflect blows from some critics in order to mitigate the effects of worrisome controversies.

A Key Issue on which the Generals Might Help

An immediate example of where Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster might be able to provide support is on Charlottesville and issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. With all of the ugly events surrounding Trump’s statement concerning the ugly events at the white supremacist controlled rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, one could imagine the impact upon military leaders in key administration roles. They cannot pretend the problem does not exist. Ignoring it, staying in one’s lane, and moving on will not work. Charlottesville will loom large in the story of the Trump administration. Whether that event is remembered as the beginning of a trend or turning point will depend on how the administration ultimately responds to it.

Trump has found himself in a peculiar difficulty for a contemporary US president in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Trump has a memory of life experiences, and as important, a memory of human drama. Prudence. justice, hope and fortitude can be used only in tandem with a healthy memory. Yet, Trump often discusses relatively easy ideas in ways more shaky than he surely desires. Indeed, in his responses to such important issues as Charlottesville one might claim find evidence that Trump has definitely been affected by being knocked around by the relentless attacks upon him, members of his administration, and his family by critics. Trump was more combative than usual, a bit more contrarian than usual. Trump’s attitude, reasoning, and approach to Charlottesville was a bit off-kilter.

Trump’s King Solomon-like approach to explaining the protest, explaining that there were bad people on both sides, would never have been universally accepted given the fears and rage stirred by the presence of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. No matter how distasteful the idea may be, racists and bigots exist in the society. Their beliefs, attitudes, and behavior must be admonished, discouraged, and rejected every way possible.

In speaking publicly about tragedies such as Charlottesville, national leaders, as an expression of US values, should declare zero tolerance for racism and bigotry. That requirement does not lend itself to too much modification. There is said to be a temper of the soul that wants to live in illusion. Insisting on doing otherwise with the hope everything will work out, a successful outcome would be created, would be an illusion. In this regard, Included in that analyses would be consideration of the greater angst created in the delay in issuing a response to the incident. Good is inspirational and bad bewilders. At times, one can make great storms for oneself. Some critics have sought to relate Trump’s responses on racism and bigotry to an effort to reach a particular disaffected portion of the population. However, engaging on the issues of racism and bigotry is never just a matter offering a response to what albeit would be an unfortunate, undesirable circumstance. The root of such responses can be found in the mind of the individual offering them.

US National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster (above). Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster have dealt with issues concerning  race, ethnicity, gender, and religion in the military. There is no room for hatred and intolerance in their lives. They have closely observed Trump and understand his ideas and intentions. While some might believe Trump is inclined to express himself in a racist or bigoted manner, the generals would explain Trump has no intent or desire to harm the US public in that way.

There is a cultural anxiety issues of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender in the US. For many, the issue of race, in particular, can figuratively, and literally, cause a paralysis of the mind and mouth, or a confusing verbal diarrhea, when many attempt to address them. The reaction will vary in degrees relative to the individual. In the conscious mind, many seek to be, and express themselves, free of intolerance, void of a racist or bigoted mindset, that would lead them to act in racist or bigoted ways. In the unconscious mind, their thinking may be different, leaving an individual feeling uncomfortable.

Unable to openly discuss these important issues with with members of their own groups, many have found it even more difficult to discuss these matters with individuals from groups other than their own, despite desiring to do so. How an individual relates to one from another group in the diverse society in the US may be a personal matter. Yet, once it is made known, made public, it will be judged. For that reason, one does not want to say the wrong thing. Anxiety is created by the fear of failing in that effort, and being admonished. For those least comfortable with discussing such matters, having a spotlight cast upon them only makes their situation worse. Given such psychological and social considerations, making the attempt to discuss racism and bigotry, itself, signals some sensitivity, some empathy for the other. Indeed, no matter how one senses where one may be on a scale of comfort from 1 to 10 in a society in which racism and bigotry still have a place and still has voices in spite of all of its social progress, for many, even giving consideration to the matter is big step. It means the door is open to understanding.

In what has been dubbed a zero-sum society in which thinkers and leaders, all striving to reach to top of their fields are required to be competitive, thinking of oneself and self-interest is essential. It is called “the competitive environment.” Thoughts that fair minded, reasonable individuals might have of another, love of the brother, are usually confined to realms of spirituality, religion and philanthropy, charity.

A multitude of organizations in the US promote diversity using training programs that facilitate intercommunal engagement and the process of having individuals and groups understand and relate to one another effectively.  They ignite ingenium and initiate a dialogue among people of different groups to recognize and appreciate the diversity of culture, experience, and thinking, particularly on intercommunal issues. They work with businesses of all sizes, groups, and individuals. Yet, even those programs have often failed, or worse had the reverse effect of creating more intercommunal woes or backfiring, pitting those who may perceive they are being singled out as the problem because they are from the majority group. When one is trying to positively change the thinking of others in an effective way, support and encouragement will bring greater success than shaming through obloquy and ridicule. This especially true when one can recognize potential and find a way to bring an individual to a fuller and better understanding of an issue.

Trump should be aware by now that none in the administration could give greater recognition or hold more respect for his presidency than the generals. The generals will not go running off at the mouth to the nearest journalist after any conversations. They understand the importance of their work and consider it a privilege to serve in their positions.

Verba movent, exempla trahunt. (Words move people, examples compel them.) The rejection of racism and bigotry in all forms found in the response of the service chiefs to the ugly events in Charlottesville reflected of attitudes among US military leaders. There were similar responses to Charlottesville from the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and senior leaders in his department. Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster have dealt with race, ethnicity, gender, and religious issues in the military and have worked closely with men and women with varied perspectives on those issues and having and corrected those out of step with the values of their organizations and the particular units they commanded respectively. There is no room for such hatred and intolerance in their lives. There are few who have more closely observed Trump and understand his ideas and intentions than Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster. They have a sense of his actual values. While some might argue Trump is inclined to express himself in a manner that is racist or bigoted, the generals would likely explain that Trump, on both a conscious and unconscious level, has no intent or desire to do emotional harm to the US public in any way.

Asked on August 13, 2017 about Trump and Charlottesville on the NBC News Sunday morning program “Meet the Press”, McMaster explained: “When he [Trump] condemned bigotry and hatred on all sides, that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis and I think it’s clear, I know it’s clear in his mind, and it ought to be clear to all Americans, we cannot tolerate obviously that bigotry, that hatred that is rooted in ignorance, ignorance of what American stands for, what America is.” Pressed on the matter by his interviewer, McMaster explained that from his perspective the future course was clear, stating: “I’m sure you will hear from the president more about this. I mean, this is important to the president to bring all Americans together. He said what we all have to be is all of us have to be Americans first. And that’s our common identity as Americans, grounded in our commitment to liberty, to human rights, to equal rights, and to tolerance, tolerance over this kind of hatred and bigotry.”  Reflecting upon the matter, not only as National Security Adviser and citizen, but a general in the US military, McMaster said: “It’s heart-breaking. It’s heart-breaking. You know, as a soldier, what you see in our military is you see men and women from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, come together, come together in their common commitment to their country and to each other. And then you see them in combat fighting courageously for our nation and our values. Everybody bleeds the same color. And we’re bound together as soldiers, when we ought to be as a nation, bound together by mutual respect and common commitment to our values.”

The process of repair, maintenance, and cleanup of racial and ethnic, religious, and gender bias takes time. It must be fully supported. There must be a serious concerted effort directed at change and improvement, and most of all change must genuinely be desired. Discussing a situation or event using specific facts may be the most accurate way to review what occurred, but the are occasions when the comments of national leaders would best serve the interests not only of their key constituencies but the country as a whole by providing a universal message related to events. A report in precise detail of who was present, who said what, and who did what in Charlottesville might have been best left for law enforcement or other government entities to discuss. Perhaps displaying some recognition of this might signal that the administration is evolving and that it will better relate to a universal audience in the US.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (above) while campaigning for her fourth term in office, stated Trump must be shown appropriate respect for holding the office of the US president, even if she may differ with him on policy issues. Merkel, a fierce Trump critic, did what many of his critics refuse to do or at least have not done well. Upon the “heat and flame of her distemper,” Merkel has “sprinkled cool patience.”

Trump’s Critics Rarely Offer Anything Constructive

An approach taken by Trump’s critics is to declare themselves as victims. In reality, they are part of an effort to victimize a human being declaring his every move, right or wrong, as a gross error, and typically express it with anger and rage. Many examinations of Trump are more akin to in ruthless vivisections than commentaries. Rarely have critics made genuine efforts to be constructive, to support, encourage, or improve circumstances for the Trump administration. Make things better would require engaging Trump, and few want to do that. The failure indicates a lack of desire to make things better. Efforts to move forward may even be stymied by those, who in self-interest, nurture an environment best for conflict and division, not resolution and reconciliation. In her book entitled What Happened, released in September 2017, Clinton, the Democratic candidate in 2016 US Presidential Election candidate, brings readers back to the years of the election and reveals what she was thinking and feeling then. Clinton describes the election as one marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and the way Trump broke all the rules. Clinton does not put the legitimacy of Trump’s victory into question. Yet, one might reach that position independently after reviewing all that is presented in her book.

Interestingly enough, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while campaigning for her fourth term in office, stated on August 23, 2017 that Trump must be shown appropriate respect for holding the office of the US president, even if she may differ with him greatly on some policy issues. Merkel, a Trump critic, left no doubt that she was committed transatlantic relationship, and stressed the strength of German relations with the US. The statement was a rebuff to pressure from her Social Democratic Party rivals to resist demands by Trump for NATO members to increase their defense spending. Merkel explained during an interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt: “If you take the president of the United States, whatever differences of opinion there may be, I know he prevailed in a tough election. It wasn’t reserved for him on a silver platter.” She went on to state: “In the end, he won the election under American electoral law and that means he is democratically elected and that this person should be shown the appropriate respect, regardless of how I assess his views.” Merkel did what many US political opponents and allies, friends–full-time and part-time, former US officials, journalists, analysts, and other among his critics refuse to do or at least have not done well. Merkel apparently took inventory, reviewed what had transpired, and reconsidered the direction she wanted her public comments about Trump to take. Upon the “heat and flame of her distemper,” Merkel has “sprinkled cool patience.”

Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jung-un (above). It appears that many critics of Trump have never taken the time to parse out the potential impact of statements they make. Their main thought appears to have been to damage Trump. Perceptions can stick, especially negative ones. How Trump is perceived not only domestically, and in friendly circles worldwide, but also among US adversaries, could impact international peace and security.

The Way Forward

In Act II, scene ii of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, the new king and queen, Claudius and Gertrude, who Hamlet refers to as his “uncle-father and aunt-mother” are concerned about Hamlet’s behavior and his unending grief over his father’s death, have summoned his friends to Elsinore in the hope that they might be able to cheer Hamlet out of his melancholy, or at least discover the cause of it. Hamlet’s mind is also fixed on finding his father’s murderer. Believing Claudius was the one responsible, Hamlet conjures a plan to trap Claudius by forcing him to watch a play whose plot closely resembles the murder of Hamlet’s father; if the king is guilty, he thinks, he will surely show some visible sign of guilt when he sees his sin reenacted on stage. Hamlet believes that reaction would serve as definitive proof of Claudius’s guilt. Hamlet states: “Fie upon’t! foh! About, my brain! I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play have by the very cunning of the scene been struck so to the soul that presently they have proclaim’d their malefactions; for murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle: I’ll observe his looks; I’ll tent him to the quick: if he but blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen may be the devil: and the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me: I’ll have grounds more relative than this: the play ‘s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Using their own stream of logic, using schemes and tricks, many of Trump’s critics have clearly sought to convince the US public that he is ineffectual as president and his administration has done nothing and will do nothing of value for the country. They want to figuratively “smoke Trump out” and their efforts have been relentless. A popular theme among Trump’s critics is to return to doing things Obama’s way which is what most would call the right way. It is an odd nostalgia based greatly upon revisionist history.

It also appears that many critics have never taken the time to parse out the potential impact of statements they make. They have not thought about much beyond damaging Trump. Merkel declared that despite disagreements she has with him on policy, Trump is the US President, the leader of the West, the leader of the free world. Falsehoods can be dispelled by the truth, but perceptions can stick, especially negative ones. How Trump is perceived not only domestically, and in friendly circles worldwide, but also among US adversaries, could impact international peace and security.

Looking at him objectively, Trump projects the image of an intelligent, strong, determined, decisive, and capable leader.  Yet, Trump is more than an image, he is human being, with feelings, who, while trying in his own way to serve the interests of his country, apparently has been affected by the attacks of critics. From what has been observed, the harm done may be manifesting itself in his thinking, locution, his countenance. One would hope that ways could be found to end this combative, destructive, superfluous contest between Trump and his critics, at least the reasonable ones. If not, critics, unable to stop Trump, will continue to do as much as possible to distract, divert, and disrupt him. According to Plato, Socrates recounted a self-addressed soliloquy of Odysseus as follows: “[Odysseus] struck his chest and spoke to his heart, ‘Endure, my heart, you’ve suffered more shameful things than this.’” (What Odysseus refrained from in that case was punishing, killing servants who were engaged in lurid behavior with his wife.) Pride inflames the lower passions. Those passions must be subjugated to a higher reality. Holding the belief that one is beyond the lower passions, that one is safe, makes one more vulnerable to them. The ego must be subordinated by discipline. Trump must get above his critics. As this only the beginning if his administration, Trump can still finish well. Perhaps Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster will have little interest in the meditations of an outsider on how they might perform their duties. However, providing good counsel and encouragement for Trump as described here may very well prove to be the antidote for the administration’s current difficulties. Lastly, Trump, of course, must be willing to cooperate on what is being proposed. He must be willing to reconsider some issues. He must have the desire to make things better. Vincit qui se vincit. (He conquers who conquers himself.)

Merkel, After Discordant G-7 Meeting, Is Looking Past Trump: But Trump Will Not Look Past Europe or NATO

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) made the stunning insinuation after meetings in Europe with US President Donald Trump (right) that he is not a reliable partner on which Germany and the Continent can depend. Months before, Trump’s cabinet members travelled to Europe and stress he is behind Europe and NATO and committed to Article 5, which requires all members to come to the defense of any country in the alliance that is attacked. When it comes to the trans-Atlantic relationship and NATO, any claim that the US cannot be counted upon is fallacious.

According to a May 28, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Merkel, After Discordant G-7 Meeting, Is Looking Past Trump,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hailed as Europe’s most influential leader, made the stunning comment after three days of trans-Atlantic meetings that US President Donald Trump is not the reliable partner her country and the Continent can depend upon. The May 28th Times article quotes Merkel’s as stating: “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over,” adding, “This is what I experienced in the last few days.” Merkel went on to state: “We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.” Her strong comments represented a potentially seismic shift in trans-Atlantic relations, as she has concluded without reservation that the US is now less willing to intervene overseas. The Times article explains that Merkel was personally disappointed that Trump declined to publicly endorse NATO’s doctrine of collective defense or to agree to common European positions on global trade, dealing with Russian aggression or mitigating the effects of climate change. Supposedly, Merkel had been already somewhat unnerved as a result of her meetings in Washington with Trump March 17-18, 2017. Through her statements, which were made while on the campaign trail in Munich, Merkel seemingly called upon voters to get accustomed to Germany’s more active role in Europe and its greater involvement in crises on the Continent and global ones that can affect Europe’s future. Merkel is seeking a fourth term as Chancellor ahead of parliamentary elections in September 2017. The Times article elaborates that Trump campaigned on a platform of trade protectionism, nationalism and skepticism about multilateralism, and climate change, on which most European leaders disagree with him. The article also notes that Europeans rely upon NATO for their ultimate defense and are more concerned than Trump about an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Merkel’s comments were truly an expression of angst. Her words would lead one to believe that the current period, rather than being of change, and reinvigoration, is languid and dissolute. Yet, as a result of her statement, she may have also stirred concerns in the capitals of other NATO countries over how they will defend themselves against their most likely opponent, Russia, and handle other matters, without the US. They perhaps lack her confidence on how things will proceed. There may even be some speculation over what information Merkel really has on Trump’s commitment to Europe, thereby billowing rumors and suspicion within the alliance.  As the Trump administration is still relatively new, allowance could be made for caution among Merkel and her senior advisers. The advent of misunderstandings in bilateral and regional policy approaches is a recurring motif in burgeoning relations between two countries particularly when long-standing approaches to each other might change a bit and a new political leadership in one or both countries has taken power. However, some of Trump’s officials travelled to Europe months before his visit and stressed that he is fully behind Europe, NATO and committed to Article 5, which requires all members to come to the defense of any country in the alliance that is attacked. Clearly, their efforts were not completely effective. Despite any doubts that have been expressed in Europe, when it comes to NATO and the trans-Atlantic relationship, any claims that the US can no longer be counted upon are fallacious.

Merkel should have considered waiting a moment and taking inventory of what has transpired so far instead of turning so quickly in a negative direction. Upon the “heat and flame of her distemper,” Merkel should have “sprinkled cool patience.” Indeed, what has been apparent in Merkel’s contacts with Trump, at least from what she has said, is the existence of a personal struggle between leaders. The genuine job at hand for the Chancellor is to do what best serves the interest of the German people. Berlin should reorient on the matter actually at hand which is the relationship of Germany, and to an extent Europe, with the US. What has been apparent in Merkel’s contacts with Trump, at least from what she has expressed, is the existence of a personal struggle between leaders. Ways must be found for Merkel to respond and engage her country’s most powerful ally and cope with what she may view as the current US administration’s “unconventional” approach to policy matters concerning Europe. German policymakers, foreign policy analysts, and diplomats must find an explanation for these perceived anomalies. It may seem odd to state this about such long-time allies, but confidence-building measures and other efforts to build trust are really needed at this point. Resources should be diverted to that end. There is, in reality, nothing so mysterious about Trump that should have led Merkel to make what was tantamount to a concession statement about her failed efforts to create a linkage with Trump to her satisfaction. Merkel must work with Trump. For her, that may not be easy or pleasant, but it does not have to be. It must be, however, a task performed well. Cuiusvis est errare nullius nisi insipientes, in error perseverare. (To err is inherent in every man, but to persist in error takes a fool.)

Reacting to Trump as she did in the end may not provide the satisfying experience Merkel wanted. She may have difficulty with Trump, but that does not mean other leaders might wish to work with him and might appreciate his efforts to rejuvenate NATO. Suggesting the US would no longer be part of the European security structure very likely ignited fears within some NATO countries just west of Russia’s border that interestingly enough form a type of buffer zone between Russia and Germany. They may not feel confident about making a new security arrangement under Berlin’s leadership.

Merkel’s Decision to Speak Out

It is hard to see how so much discord could have possibly developed between Trump and Merkel given that the two leaders have barely interacted. The best evidence of Merlel’s attitude toward Trump can be found in her statements. Trump has also received glares from her. For his part though, Trump has repeatedly stated that he has had good conversations with the German Chancellor. One could hardly claim such words are traces of a combative dymamic. Merkel’s reaction to Trump could very well have been influenced to some degree by the ubiquitous counter-Trump milieu. That milieu has done much to distort perspectives of many in Europe and the US on Trump. In it, self-defined experts on the US presidency preach of what should be expected from Trump, how he should perform, and why he has done practically everything wrong, everyday. Similarly, self-defined experts on Trump offer false insights concerning his private life and his life as president. Included also in the milieu are sensational stories from the US newsmedia of alleged illegal activities by Trump and almost daily predictions that his administration is on the verge of collapse. The counter-Trump milieu propagates a cult of ugliness directed at Trump and the US. It inflames passions globally, appealing to the lower nature of individuals. Admonishing and castigating Trump, to the point of self-dehumanization, has become a commonplace practice. With many in Europe subsumed by the counter-Trump milieu, it might be expected and expedient for political leaders there to use ideas from that “popular source” in speeches about the US president. However, one must take care to whom one listens. Utilizing ideas and conclusions from that milieu, patronizing and demeaning national and international audiences with that material, resultingly drawing the eye away from the truth, is wrong. Generosus equus non curat canem latrantem. (The well-educated horse ignores the barking dog.)

Certainly, Merkel’s words disappointed many in Washington, as no one there believes the situation between the US and Germany, NATO, or Europe is balanced on a knife’s edge. If Trump were asked whether he thought NATO was necessary, he would say it is. (Relatedly, 80% of the US public supports NATO.) However, if one were to ask him three additional times afterward, he would unlikely give an answer. That is Trump. When Trump offers criticism about NATO, his intent is to be constructive, not destructive; he is not at all signalling that his support for NATO has diminished. A main criticism is Trump’s belief that NATO allies have been “coddled” by the US for too long, leading leaders of some NATO countries to feel comfortable about repeatedly missing the agreed spending target of 2% GDP on defense. Progress was made on that matter by the administration of US President Barack Obama in 2016. That year, a majority of delinquent countries spent their required share. It may very well be that Trump, being cautious with NATO allies, is concerned that efforts by them to pay their fair share may have been a gesture of goodwill for the moment, and efforts might fall off. Ever the businessman, Trump is undoubtedly keeping a ledger on contributions by NATO allies, but he means well.

If Trump were asked whether he thought NATO was necessary, he would say it is. However, if one were to ask him three additional times afterward, he would unlikely give an answer. That is Trump. Trump supports NATO, but he also believes the US has “coddled” it’s allies for too long, causing some to feel comfortable about missing the agreed spending target of 2% GDP on defense. In 2016, progress was made progress on the matter. Yet, Trump may be concerned efforts by allies to pay their fair share may have been a momentary gesture of goodwill and might fall off.

Major ignotarum rerum est terror. (Apprehensions are greater in proportion as things are unknown.) In the midst of a political campaign, Merkel most likely wanted to be heard taking a strong pro-Europe stance and create the optics of being the Continent’s leader by speaking about Trump and the US in such a shocking way. However, promoting the idea that the US under Trump’s leadership is not committed to Europe was a mistake and could have dire consequences. For example, Berlin may be certain of how Germany might respond in terms of its security without the US, but other European countries may not feel as confident about creating a new security arrangement under Berlin’s leadership. Merkel may have difficulty with Trump, but they might wish to work with him and might appreciate his efforts to rejuvenate NATO and members participate fully in the collective defense of Europe with his brand of leadership. Suggesting that the US would no longer be part of the European security structure may very well have ignited fears within some European capitals over the immediate threat they feel from Russian Federation forces. NATO countries just west of Russia’s border form a de facto buffer zone between Russia and Germany. Completely unable to face a massive Russian military juggernaut alone, they want the help of the US. Leaders of those allies would not even consider risking their countries’ security over Merkel’s disappointment and disapproval of Trump. Fear is a powerful emotion. Once generated, it can lead to increased suspicion and even rampant paranoia among NATO allies over Russia’s slightest moves. In the worst case scenario, it could lead to some countries to seek bilateral arrangements with Russia to protect themselves. Hopefully, it will not lead to the militarization of any countries. Germany and those countries that might line up behind It, do not have the equivalent military power of the US and would be unable to respond to Russia. They would unlikely be able to jointly develop such a capability or be very willing to jointly finance it either. The Kremlin is well aware of this. Hopefully, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is not as certain that US support for Europe and NATO is as shaky as Merkel insists.

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” Merkel and other European leaders who are concerned about Trump’s plans and the US commitment to Europe will find that they must demand greater patience from themselves at this juncture. Merkel can still take a step back to evaluate the situation and reshape her approach. Berlin should be willing to engage in a deliberate process of developing an amicable, constructive relationship with the new US leader. Merkel and Trump never had a personal relationship before he took office. An initial effort should have been made by Merkel to get to know the new US president better. Indeed, rather than have the Chancellor run up to Trump and begin pressing her positions, she could have simply talked with him in order to understand his positions in a granular way. By doing so, she would have developed greater insight on him. In support of the Chancellor’s efforts with Trump, analysts and policy makers in Berlin must dig deeper than the surface to understand where new linkages can be established. A conscious effort should be made to stay away from distortions brewed up in the counter-Trump milieu. If the Trump administration attempts to engage in confidence-building with Berlin, Merkel and her advisers should view it as an opportunity. Those occasions would be perfect time to discuss the common ground the exists between the two countries from Berlin’s perspective. Advisers of the two leaders must have frank discussions on the timing for presenting initiatives on issues before any bilateral talks. It would be the best way for the advisers to inform their counterparts of relative, sensitive, domestic politics tied to a situation. Very importantly, discreet matters discussed, must be kept discreet. Resolutions to troubling issues are less likely be found if they are contested over publicly. Parva scintilla saepe magnam flamam excitat. (The sparkle often initiates a large flame.)

What Is on Merkel’s Mind?

There is the possibility that Merkel’s response to Trump is a manifestation of not only her disappointment, but an unconscious disapproval of him as well. Merkel apparently feels that her inability to get along with Trump, is due to some flaw in him. To her, Trump is at fault. When she met with Trump, Merkel sought a number of guarantees and held certain expectations for their discussion. Naturally, the goal would be to shape circumstances so they would best favor her positions and Germany’s interests. Merkel has a good reputation for being able to bring foreign leaders and political leaders in her own country to her position using a mix of both straight talk and congeniality. It is a reputation she can truly be proud of. When those guarantees were not received and those expectations were not met, it was likely very disappointing and somewhat hurtful to her. Merkel then rather quickly decided to publicly declare Trump was taking the US in a new direction away from Europe and NATO. With authority, and albeit some vengeance, she sounded the alarm that Europe must be prepared to find its way forward without the US. Other European leaders with a more positive assessment of Trump, or even undecided about him, would somehow need to reconcile with Merkel’s vehement statements. Pride, a sense of self-regard, of self-importance, can cause one to take counsel of the lesser angels of one’s nature. Pride can block the truth. An egocentricity stemming from pride can lead one to believe one is at the center of everyone’s cosmos. One can become bound up with oneself. Not to be impolitic, but one should not make choices using a confused ego.

Although Merkel wanted to take a strong stance and create the optics of leadership, Germany and those countries that might line up behind It, do not have the military power of the US. At best, they would be unable do much successfully against a juggernaut of Russian Federation forces. Russia is well aware of that. Hopefully, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is not as certain that US support for Europe and NATO is as shaky as Merkel insists.

The discussion of Merkel’s decisions and actions regarding Trump here relates well with scientific research on the desire of individuals to retaliate, to punish others’ bad behavior, no matter how mild, and even at personal cost. Research shows how such desires can skew decision making. Current theories suggest there are two dominant systems people use to understand and assess risk: the “analytic system” and the “experiential system.” The “analytic system” involves conscious and deliberate cognitive processes that employ various algorithms and normative rules to produce logical, reason-oriented, behavior. In contrast, the “experiential system” uses past experiences, emotion-related associations, and intuitions when making decisions. The experiential system relies more on unconscious rather than conscious processes. Images and associations, linked by experience to emotion and affect (a feeling that something is good or bad), are depended upon. The experiential system represents risk as a feeling that tells us whether it is safe to walk down this dark street or drink this strange-smelling water. The independence of cognition and emotion, and the conflict between rational and emotional reasoning is the subject of continuous debate.

Paul Slovic, President of Decision Research and Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, suggests that these two systems must work in collaboration in order for the decision-maker to reach a rational decision. Most models of decision-making assume the process to be rational, which would exclude the possibility of emotion playing a role, other than of a hindrance. Other models take the valence-based approach and evaluate negative and positive effects on behavior, without specifying the emotion. This has led to a limited understanding of how specific emotions, especially those present in an individual in risky and uncertain situations, contribute to the decision-making process.

Using scanning devices that measure the brain’s activity, scientists have gotten a glimpse at how the different parts of our brain collaborate and compete when we make decisions. Brian Knutson, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to watch subjects’ brains as they reacted to the prospect of receiving money in the Ultimatum game, an economic game evaluating decision-making under ambiguous circumstances  In this game, two players have the task of splitting a sum of money. The first player, the “proposer”, makes an offer of how to split the money. The second player, the “responder”, accepts or rejects the offer. If the responder accepts the offer, then the money is split in accordance with the proposal. However, if the “responder” rejects the offer, then neither one wins the game and neither one gets any money. The standard economic solution is that “some money is better than no money, so one should always accept the offer.” In reality, behavioral research has shown that low offers (20% of total) have a 50% chance of being rejected. Based on participant reports, they rejected low offers because of anger (negative emotion) felt due to the unfairness of the offer, and they wanted to punish the other player in some way. The unfair offers induced conflict between the cognitive motive to accept the offer and the emotional motive to reject the offer.

When she met with Trump, Merkel sought a number of guarantees and held certain expectations for their discussion. Naturally, her goal was to shape circumstances so they would best favor her positions and Germany’s interests. When those guarantees were not received and those expectations were not met, it was likely very disappointing and somewhat hurtful to her. Merkel then rather quickly and surprisingly decided to publicly declare Trump was taking the US in a new direction away from Europe and NATO. Her move was not inn the best interests of the West.

Alan Sanfey, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Arizona, and colleagues also used fMRI scans to look into people’s brains while they played the same Ultimatum game. Sanfey’s brain scans of people feeling vengeful in these games illustrate how (at least in part) a sense of moral disgust manifests in the brain. Indeed, Sanfey mapped what appeared to be a struggle between emotion and reason as each sought to influence the players’ decisions by tracking the activity of the anterior insula and the prefrontal cortex. As offers became increasingly unfair, the anterior insula, a part of the brain involved in negative emotions including anger and disgust, became more and more active, as if registering growing outrage. Meanwhile, an area of the prefrontal cortex involved in goal orientation–in the case, making money–was also busy assessing the situation. Sanfey’s brain scans indicated that when the disgusted anterior insula was more active than the rational goal-oriented prefrontal cortex—in a sense, when it was shouting louder—the players rejected the offer. When the prefrontal cortex dominated, the players took the money.

University of Zurich researchers Dominique J.F. de Quervain, Ernst Fehr, and colleagues successfully used medical technology twice to catch an engagement between the emotional and reasoning parts of the brain. During an Ultimatum-like game, they examined subjects with a Positron Electron Tomography scanner, a device that employs a radioactive substance used by cells, usually a sugar, to image activity in the brain. The researchers found certain reward circuits in the brain’s striatum activated when players anticipated, and then actually punished, ill-behaved partners. Even more, the greater the activation of the striatum, the greater the subjects’ willingness to incur costs for the opportunity to deliver punishment. At the same time, the researchers saw activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, the deliberative part of the higher brain that is thought to weigh risks and rewards. Interestingly, these same brain regions, the reward-seeking striatum and the deliberative prefrontal cortex, both of which are activated by the pleasing possibility of revenge, also light up when people anticipate giving rewards to partners who cooperate. Though the players’ behaviors are opposite, one set bestowing a reward versus the other set exacting punishment, their brains react in the same way in eager anticipation of a satisfying social experience. Decipimur specte recti. (We are deceived by the appearance of right.)

Reportedly, during his first visit to NATO on March 30, 2017, Tillerson won applause for morning and lunchtime remarks from allied ministers about the need for strength and unity in dealing with Putin. Tillerson statements included: “The US commitment to NATO is strong and this alliance remains the bedrock for trans-Atlantic security.” He also said: “We understand that a threat against one of us is a threat against all of us, and we will respond accordingly.” He added: “The president supports NATO. The US Congress supports NATO.”

Assurances to Europe from High Places

Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and National Security Adviser, H. R. McMaster are undoubtedly dismayed by the expression of doubt by a close ally of the US commitment to European Security and the trans-Atlantic partnership. In only a few short months, they have made numerous statements expressing the administration’s commitment to NATO and commitment Article 5. For the majority of their adult lives, Tillerson, Mattis, and McMaster have spent countless hours considering the status of Europe either militarily or economically. Mattis and McMaster were not only concerned with NATO but worked long and hard to develop ways, and rehearsed plans, to ensure its defense and deterrence of opponents. They have worked alongside NATO allies in it’s European security zone, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They are all aware of the occasional need for the hand holding of allies through tough issues. As life-long leaders, they could accept that bringing allied leaders to understand, despite to the contrary, that they can remain confident over the US commitment to NATO and Article 5 might require an amount of “hand-holding.” In doing so, it can be delicately said they have displayed compassionate empathy for their allies. Training, teaching, coaching, mentoring are skills they have honed to near perfection as business and military leaders. However, as life-long managers, they are also results oriented. After providing assurances of the US commitment to Europe repeatedly over a period of time, they too may become strained by the persistent voices of leaders of a few NATO countries who question it. One must quit drilling once oil has been struck.

Reportedly, during his first visit to NATO on March 30, 2017, Tillerson won applause for lunchtime remarks about the need for strength and unity in dealing with Putin. Tillerson, ever able as a communicator, reached the European ministers, who were skeptical of US intentions beforehand, with statements in the morning session such as: “The US commitment to NATO is strong and this alliance remains the bedrock for transatlantic security.” He went on to say: “The United States is committed to ensuring NATO has the capabilities to support our collective defense.” He added: “We understand that a threat against one of us is a threat against all of us, and we will respond accordingly.” He then definitely stated: “The president supports NATO. The US Congress supports NATO.” However, it was during a lunch that Tillerson received applause. During that session, one minister suggested that a two-tier approach might be taken with Russia, adding that “it takes two to tango.” In response, Tillerson said: “Sure, you can dance with Russia and you might also gain something out of it. But for sure you cannot tango with [Sergei] Lavrov because he is not allowed to dance that one.” The ministers present understood that implied there was only one man in charge in Russia. Explaining how Tillerson was received, one European NATO ambassador said: “With an ovation, I mean it literally. This is not metaphorically speaking. He actually got applause.” NATO Secretar General Jens Stoltenberg indicated Tillerson left no doubt that ties between European NATO members and the US were “rock solid.”

In a special May 28, 2017 CBS News broadcast of “Face the Nation”, US Sevretary of Defense James Mattis (above) was asked about Trump’s thoughts on the value of NATO, Mattis explained that in his initial job interview with the president, he brought up his questions about NATO. Mattis said his response was: “if we didn’t have NATO that he would want to create it because it’s a defense of our values, it’s a defense of democracy.” Mattis said Trump nominated him almost immediately after he spoke profoundly in support of NATO.

On March 21, 2017, Mattis and Stoltenberg met at the Pentagon to discuss the key role the alliance plays in trans-Atlantic security and to review preparations for the special meeting of NATO heads of state and government in May. Before his meeting with Stoltenberg, Mattis said the trans-Atlantic bonds built on a legacy of common commitments and common defense continue to get stronger. During the meeting, Mattis and Stoltenberg reportedly discussed ways to encourage allies to assume a more equitable share of alliance security and defense responsibilities. Stoltenberg expressed his gratitude to Mattis for the secretary’s “strong support for trans-Atlantic unity and trans-Atlantic bond and the NATO alliance.” He also stated: “I think we all understand that in times of turmoil, in times of uncertainty, the need for strong international institutions like NATO is even greater.” He continued: “so therefore we need to adapt, we need to strengthen NATO in response to the challenges and the unpredictability we see surrounding us today.” In a special May 28, 2017 CBS News broadcast of “Face the Nation”, Mattis also discussed NATO. When asked about Trump’s thoughts on the value of NATO, Mattis explained that in his initial interview for his post, Trump asked questions about the alliance him about the alliance. Mattis explained his response was: “if we didn’t have NATO that he would want to create it because it’s a defense of our values, it’s a defense of democracy.” Mattis recognized that Trump was very open to that view. Mattis was intrigued by the fact and said: “Obviously, he [Trump] had to make a decision about whether or not he was going to nominate me to be the Secretary of Defense. And although I immediately showed him that my view on that was rather profoundly in support of NATO, he at that point nominated me.”

At the end of the G-7 Summit in Sicily on May 27, 2017, McMaster explained with certitude that Trump backed NATO’s mutual defense doctrine. McMaster was being pressed by journalists on matter of allied disappointment over Trump failure to  make explicit reference to it during his visit to NATO Headquarters in Brussels. The US newsmedia has emphasized that Trump, during the 2016 US Presidential Campaign, appeared to called Article 5 into question by suggesting that NATO members who did not pay their fair share for the alliance may not deserve to benefit from it. McMaster added: “I think it’s extraordinary that there would be an expectation that the president would have to say explicitly that he supports Article 5. Of course he does.” McMaster then went on to say: “He [Trump] did not make a decision not to say it.” He continued: “It was implicit in the speech. There was no decision to not put it in there. It is a matter of fact that the United States, the president, stands firmly behind our Article 5 commitments under NATO.”

At the end of the G-7 Summit in Sicily, on May 27, 2017, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster explained with certitude that Trump backed NATO’s mutual defense doctrine. McMaster added: “I think it’s extraordinary that there would be an expectation that the president would have to say explicitly that he supports Article 5. Of course he does.” He also said: “It is a matter of fact that the United States, the president, stands firmly behind our Article 5 commitments under NATO.”

The Way Forward

In Act 2, Scene iii of William Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago, the Venetian General Othello’s ensign, having expressed hatred for his commander over a promotion, sets out to destroy his reputation and his marriage. He has included a willing young officer, Roderigo, in his plot. Roderigo is supposed to take Othello’s wife, Desdemona, away from him, but begins to doubt his ability to perform that task. Seeking to encourage Roderigo, Iago tells him the following: “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? Thou know’st we work by wit, and not by witchcraft; And wit depends on dilatory time.” While Merkel’s statement that the US can no longer be depended upon by Europe may be superficially plausible, it is completely wrong. Surely, leaders in the capitals of all NATO countries do not feel as she does about Trump or the US commitment. Offering negative perspectives and proffering hostile words about both may have served to quench excitement and spirit for some of them about his administration. That was not very sporting of Merkel. There is a long obscured road for Europe to travel between wanting go it alone without the US and actually doing so. Europe may not be able to walk that path with the assured step as Merkel says. A lot of unpredictable and unpleasant incidents in terms of working together and coping with adversaries could occur along the way. The difficulty Merkel and others are having with regard to understanding and accepting that the Trump administration is committed to Europe and NATO calls attention to need for policy statements. They create a cogency and predictability about US intentions for working with allies and its intentions for responding to certain actions by adversaries. (That is something the administration might consider.) From her prism, Merkel may observe puzzling elements of Trump’s approach that are contradictory to her logic. However, all puzzles have their solutions for they are created by man and not true mysteries. No matter what the situation, saying anything that might initiate the erosion of the decades old trans-Atlantic collective defense structure cannot be justified. Videbat esse notitia bona id temporis. (It seemed to be a good idea at the time.)

Certainly, it would have been superb if Trump and Merkel, during their first meeting, had agreed on everything, and relations between the US and Germany moved along swimmingly. However, that did not happen. Merkel must accept working with the circumstances she has and not the circumstances that she would like to have. On the path to improving ties, confidence and trust between the Trump administration and Europe must be established. That work will not require that the two countries start from scratch, but it will be a new beginning. It will be work akin to that in which a product develops over time, albeit not too much time. By adding a good dose of patience from European capitals, faith in the trans-Atlantic partnership, and friendship, success is practically assured.

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.