Commentary: Some Foreign Leaders Continue to Misstep in Approaching Trump: Yes, It Is Still Happening!

US President Donald Trump (center right), French President Emmanuel Macron  (center left) and other G7 leaders in Biarritz, France. Problems have obtained on the international scene because some foreign leaders have used flawed stories from the US news media about Trump as a basis for their decisions concerning the US. It is surprising that nearly three years into Trump’s first term, many foreign leaders remain uncertain about what he is doing and how to approach him. More national leaders must engage in a bit of self-intervention and halt what may be their respective governments’ self-destructive approaches toward the US President.

The renowned Ancient Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar has been quoted as saying: Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (“Men freely believe what they want.”) Much as that centuries old adage obtains, critics in the US news media would have the world believe that Trump came to the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France on August 24, 2019 with a whip, so to speak, and the other leaders struggled to pull it away from him. The Economist summarized remarks made prior to the meeting in the following way: “the G7 summit in the seaside resort of Biarritz, an event many expected to be wrecked by conflict and theatrics.” However, there was in fact hardly anything that could be called conflict or uncongenial behavior in any form among leaders at the G7 Summit. Courtesy abounded. The leaders of the world’s economic powers were cozy enough as they figuratively shared the same tea trolley. There may have been some friendly, strong discussion among the members. There was also a very apparent misstep made by the host, French President Emmanuel Macron, with Trump. Still, each left with a better understanding of one another’s positions and better conception of how they can all work together on a variety of issues. During his remarks at an August 26, 2019 joint press conference with Macron at the close of the G7 Summit, Trump stated: This is a truly successful G7. There was tremendous unity. It was great unity.” He went on to say: “Nobody wanted to leave. We were accomplishing a lot. But I think, more importantly, we were getting along very well–seven countries. And it really was the G7.”  

Within reason, one could attempt to substantiate that misguided supposition propagated by many in the US news media that the G7 would by a disaster by noting that the agendas of foreign governments are usually single-minded. Coming almost naturally to them as politicians, foreign leaders meeting with Trump would certainly want to push the agendas of their countries forward. Some partners, much as competitors, pushed so hard with their respective agendas that the result was heated exchanges. However, the promotion of their respective countries agendas was not at the source of Trump critics’ expectations that their would be contentious interactions between him and other national leaders. Rather, those thoughts from Trump’s critics in the US news media were a manifestation of a personal dislike of the US President that echoes the established position of management in the various news media houses toward him. Their version of Trump has never been complimentary. They see no grace, creativity or intellect, in ways he has addressed foreign policy issues. They insist a dictatorial mayhem exists in the Trump administration that ensures only the worst decisions possible flow from it. Trump’s critics, while offering sentiment as reality, cannot be begrudged free expression. Yet, problems still arise on the international scene because some foreign leaders continue to use extrapolations from flawed stories from the US news media about Trump or make inferences from them to base their decisions concerning the US. The inability of Macron to grasp how Trump’s unique, successful, style of diplomacy that led to an aforementioned misstep with him at the G7 was very likely due in part to his use of faulty information from the US news media.

It is somewhat surprising that nearly three years into the first term of the Trump administration, many foreign leaders are still uncertain about what the US President is doing and how to approach him. Trump has been discussed by greatcharlie on previous occasions in its posts. Further, since 2017, greatcharlie has taken the opportunity to express its concerns about the US news media’s antagonistic treatment of Trump, initially in response to the heavy skepticism expressed about the nascent Trump administration and what was ostensibly an inchoate foreign policy. The hope then was that at least a few foreign leaders might heed advisories from greatcharlie cautioning against an over reliance on the US news media to collect “useful” information on Trump administration intentions and actions on foreign policy and diplomacy. During a January 21, 2018 CBS News “60 Minutes” television interview, the great novelist John le Carré, reflecting on his immediate work, explained that “Each book feels like my last book.” He wittily went on to say, “And then I think, like a dedicated alcoholic, that one more won’t do me any harm.” With regard to each essay it has produced on foreign leaders’ misunderstanding of Trump, greatcharlie feels similarly. The level of misunderstanding displayed in one situation or another always manages to prompt just one more essay on the matter. The hope now is that at least a few more foreign leaders might be egged on to engage in a bit of self-intervention and halt their respective governments’ self-destructive approaches toward the US President. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

Trump’s Diplomacy: It Comes from the Heart

Watching Trump negotiate is akin to attending a master class on the subject. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. He will apportion his energy on foreign policy and diplomacy with an economical balance to each urgent, important, and not so immediate issue, as reasonably necessary. In doing things a bit differently on a variety of issues, Trump presents possibilities for getting many new, better things done. Perhaps by the manner in which Trump goes about doing things, he does displays a bit of magic, so to speak. He can see a clear way to doing things, sorting out the extraneous and sticking to the matter at hand. Some might describe what often emerges as a peculiar variety of diplomacy. Yet, there is in reality a clear logic to it all. Critics and opponents of Trump will likely find all of this hard to fathom. Henry Ford the US industrialist and inventor and Edward Everett Hale, a US author, poet, historian, and Unitarian minister have both been attributed to the quote: “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” It could be said reasonably that Trump’s thinking on diplomacy runs along that same track.

Despite what might be a history of war, aggression, and strong animus with an adversaries and opponents, or coruscating flashes of disagreement on defense, trade, and even climate change with allies and partners, to Trump, diplomacy, all talks, must start with “coming together”. For Trump, coming together is the beginning of any successful human interaction. To that extent, Trump always insists that he is ready to talk, even to adversaries. Since he knows that the process of creating a connection between countries can only begin with one side expressing itself to the other, Trump has often very publicly taken that first step. He sees an opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with almost everyone. What is necessary is having a foreign counterpart who is willing to listen and understand to what Trump is saying. In establishing terms for interaction, differences between the two leaders, which on a very basic level could include political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power, must set aside or overcome. On a personal level, there may be differences in styles of communication and certain sensitivities. Trump, will usually straightaway engage a foreign leader by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart. Ex abundancia cordis, os loquitor. (From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.)

From the beginning of a diplomatic process with a foreign leader, Trump will insist through his own cordial actions, that mutual respect shown and understanding given to positions expressed. Trump will rely upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, to facilitate discussion on issues and all aspects that important to both leaders. As communication develops, he will desire to create a sense of “oneness” with his interlocutor on the matter at hand. Smooth interactions creates opportunities for fulsome talks more desirable and usually results in them becoming more frequent. In talks, Trump knows there will be moments when both sides must reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking on the spot. Thinking ahead in order to cope with an issue that could develop into a major obstacle, Trump will lay the groundwork for handling those moments by ensuring that an open and friendly atmosphere exists in all interactions. He will promote that positive atmosphere without effort or pretentiousness and mainly through a natural discourse with foreign leaders. There is apparently no disproportion between what is observed publicly observed in Trump’s interactions with foreign leaders and what occurs between them behind closed doors. Another bit of nuance to Trump’s approach is to take into account emotional responses of his foreign interlocutor. Trump will regularly and earnestly express an interest in a foreign leaders well-being and what he was thinking. As leaders, he understands the harness in which one is strapped as a national leader. That harness can become a yoke for some. Being able to mutually see the world through that lense provides and excellent basis for commonality and understanding in which he and his interlocutor can find comfort, and to an extent, relief.

Once Trump has the US “working together” with another country on a matter as agreed, success has been achieved. His vision would typically entail both sides engaged in various levels of communication communicating, working together, and making equal contributions all along the lines of excellence. That type of shared contribution has been called the art of working as one. Trump spends time daily as chief imagineer of the US, engaged in forward thinking, considering new types of partnerships, largely economic, that would serve mutual interests, ensuring what is best for US. What he will hope and expect is that those with whom he is negotiating will be accepting of change and a new path forward. What will typically be seen as a result by other countries when it comes to trade is a mutually robust path toward economic growth or even renewal backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Trump has not displayed any interest in subsuming the interests of another country just to gain advantages. He knows that will only set the stage for a build up of animus and likely future contentious interactions over the unfairness of the relationship. Trump is not in the business of kicking the can down the road, leaving problems for the US President that would follow his second term.

Hardly anything is all peaches and cream. When meeting with foreign leaders face-to-face, Trump’s eyes are always wide-open. He knows that even when it is easy enough for others to be supportive, to do the right thing, they will often choose the opposite. As he no longer a novice US President, he no longer seen from him are any mistaken assumptions about the loyalty, honor, capabilities of others, particularly among longtime political leaders of his own Republican Party. Indeed, Trump has honed his ability to see straight through just about anyone he encounters in both politics and diplomacy. In that vein, what is presented to him by foreign leaders is not accepted at face value. In addition to being able to see through the false face, he can discern true intention and position. Having this ability does not make Trump dismissive of them. There is no turn to being condescending. Interestingly, he will do his best not to let on to what he is thinking and feeling in those situations.

While it can be reasonably stated, as mentioned here, that Trump actually does things a bit differently in diplomacy, it would also be correct to state that he has not engaged in a variety of diplomacy so peculiar that foreign leaders and their aides and advisers would need to bang their heads on the tables, attempting to understand it. (If that is truly the case anywhere, greatcharlie respectfully suggests that those leaders find new, more effective aides and advisers.) What foreign leaders may characterize as vagarities, unexpected actions, in fact is a certain nuance which has been Trump’s style on foreign policy and diplomacy since day one and should have been better understood and have become part of a reliable calculus concerning him long since. He never makes himself ordinary, and he should be treated as such, nor should his thinking be considered such. (On immediate impression, perhaps what has been presented may appear quite evident and to a degree, common wisdom, however, negative preconceptions and false assessments of Trump so dominate the world scene, it becomes necessary to lay it when discussing perception versus the realities about him.)

Macron’s Surprising Misstep with Trump at the G7

Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.) When efforts are made by foreign leaders to connect with Trump by taking manipulative steps designed to find advantage over his way of thinking, they typically fall flat. Perchance, those failed efforts reflect much more about the foreign leader making an assumption or basing a decision concerning Trump on mere conjecture. A recent example of this was Macron’s effort to bring Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif together at the site of the recent G7 Summit. Apparently, Macron saw promise in the effort based on what Trump accomplished at the DMZ at Panmunjom with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. It appears that based on information he was provided by aides and advisers, and one might presume even his own research, Macron comprehended only on a superficial level what Trump had done with Kim. He unfortunately drew all the wrong lessons from Trump’s inspired move.

It has been suggested that Macron seeks to exert greater influence on the world stage. He is seen as growing into a role as a European leader who is “prepared to take risks, push new ideas, and try to use the multilateral system to ease tensions and defend the liberal order.” For Macron, organizing an impromptu US-Iran meeting turned out to be far more challenging and riskier than he could ever have imagined, particularly as it created the image of him among US officials and scholars, not as a European leader, but more as Europe’s busybody. When one does a comparison between what Trump accomplished at the DMZ between the two Koreas and what Macron attempted, similarities can be seen, but great differences become most apparent. In those differences can be found reasons why Macron’s venture went wrong. Further, Macron may have wanted to create something akin to Trump’s extempore meeting with Kim at the DMZ when bring Javad Zarif to G7 Summit site, but the matter was clumsily handled. It may not have been a stunt, but it reasonably appeared as such. Some effort was made by some mainstream European news media houses to dress up what occurred as something positive. The Economist claimed that Macron managed “to avert disaster, keep America’s Donald Trump happy, ease trans-Atlantic tensions over a French tech tax and win a pledge from Mr Trump to talk to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.” Yet, alas, the effort was a failure.

The DMZ meeting was part of an ongoing effort to solidify the mutual respect,  understanding, and trust between Trump and Kim. As already explained, Trump and Kim demonstrated to each other that they equally understood the importance of “keeping together for progress.” They managed to indicate to each other that they were both interested in securing an agreement as things progressed. For Trump, in particular, it was part of an effort that greatcharlie has dubbed the ”maximum defusion campaign”. Further, Trump was also paying a visit to a new friend while “in the neighborhood” of his country as that is what real friends do! Having Kim respond to his invitation and come with a smile and outstretched hand to the DMZ was a tremendous success for Trump. Kim was willing to talk and follow-up on past meetings and letters. In the end, there were meetings that day in Panmunjom that resulted in a decision to bring teams of US and North Korean negotiators to getting to hash out irritating issues. The entire venture was born out of Trump’s life experience. Experience is something that one has and can be tapped into. Experience cannot be simulated.

Looking at the idea of bringing Trump together with Zarif in the manner that Macron should have, many things become apparent. Zarif was sanctioned by the US. Trump has doled out a number of hard hitting sanctions against Iran and Iranian officials following his administration’s withdrawal from the 2016 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, suspending the Iranian nuclear program for a short 10-year period. There had been no previous meetings between them, no positive relationship, not even a noncommittal plan for interaction preexisted between the Trump administration and the Iranian regime to build upon. Zarif has made more than a few dismal remarks, garden-variety disparagements about Trump and his administration. One comment that stands out is his mocking reference of the Trump administration as the “B team”, which may indicate his gross misunderstanding of the political scene in the US. It is difficult to understand how and why in Zarif’s mind that the Trump administration would not constitute the “A team”. Maybe Zarif uttered the phrase only as means to entertain the lessen lightened at home with some banal amusement. In the spirit of full-disclosure, Trump also said a few uncongenial things about Iran, particularly about it being a state-sponsor of terrorism and its distabilizing activities throughout the Middle East and beyond. That view has been repeated by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The big difference between what they have said versus Zarif’s comments is that all of their comments have been accurate.

Regarding Trump’s decision to meet impromptu at the DMZ, it certainly was not a decision based on preference or predilection toward meeting in that fashion. Rather, it was more about recognizing the potential in a particular circumstance and creating an opportunity. Thus, there was no reason whatever to duplicate such extempore circumstances in Biarritz. Further, it is difficult to understand why Macron would think Trump should meet with the sanctioned foreign minister of Iran and not the president. Kim is the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the leader of North Korea. It would only be fitting for Trump to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or at a minimum, Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran. Under the circumstances, it is Zarif and his Foreign Ministry that could be called the “B team”. He is hardly eligible to meet with the US President.

Trump was unlikely pleased to discover that Macron completely failed to understand the DMZ meeting, that he was confused about what occurred, and even more, that Macron really did not understand him so well. However, in the face of it all, Trump displayed sangfroid and statesmanship. At the April 26, 2019  joint press conference with Macron at the G7 Summit’site end, Trump tried to tidy up the mess that the French President made with invitation to Zarif. Trump let Macron off the hook a degree by stating the French President had informed him of the surprise move with Zarif. Trump even agreed to meet Rouhani, with the condition of Iran becoming a good player in its region and on the world stage, but that accommodation fell flat. Rouhani absolutely rejected the idea of meeting with him unless, sanctions imposed by his administration were lifted. That was unrealistic condition insisted upon. Rouhani further stated incredulously that the US would also need “to bow its head in respect to Iran as an equal.” There is absolutely nothing that the US should have appreciated about Macron’s intercession into the current diplomatic difficulties between the US and Iran. Surely the impromptu venture was worth its candle enough that Macron should have been willing to go farther into the woods to consider all of its aspects, all of its possibilities, positive and negative. One might offer the conjecture that what was most importantly really revealed by the whole affair was a better understanding of Macron thinking on foreign policy and diplomacy. Smart, confident people can find real resolutions to difficulties. As a result of how the matter was handled by Macron, nothing good stemmed from it. If officials in the Palais de l’Élysée could please pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, the whole venture cobbled together by Macron was not particularly clever. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers to the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applause of the world, but in the action itself.)

Examples of Recent and Past Failure by Foreign Government’s to Understand the US

This sort of ill-conceived approach not only to understanding of every new US President, but US society as a whole, tends to be a common problem in the decision making centers of foreign capitals. Perchance, even before the end of the first year of Trump’s first term, it became apparent to most foreign leaders that they could not rely on the intellectual support of their respective  subordinates when it came to dealing with Trump and the US, yet many continued to do so. Even Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, at the dawn of the Trump administration, appears to have been egged on by certain aides and advisers in his cabinet who harbored strong anti-Western sentiments and believed Trump could be pressed on certain issues. It was likely such skewed thinking and a desire of aides and advisers to create the impression that they had an easy handle on things that led to the continued execution of an election interference campaign in the US that began during the administration of US President Barack Obama. That operation, now well-exposed, indeed left little doubt that over the years that officials in Moscow have not learned much about the actual multifaceted inner workings of the US government and the dynamics of US politics. That misunderstanding of how the system worked in the US surely led officials there to believe that they could ever influence a US presidential election. With the considerable interests of so many in the US staked on the 2016 election’s outcome, there was hardly a chance that a rather weighty level of influence activity stemming from an odd, unexpected direction would not be detected in many quarters. Moreover, US intelligence services and law enforcement agencies were watching over everything. When the covert operation was uncovered, the US responded with expulsions of diplomats and closures of Russian Federation facilities in the US. So much was discovered about the operation that Putin was left with little ability to plausibly deny his knowledge of those particular activities of Russia’s intelligence services.

As explained in greatcharlie’s January 14, 2019 post entitled, “Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World”, the unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government requires the president to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. There must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction. To the extent that negative information about a preferred candidate might have an impact, it may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins. However, an influence operation that would ensure such behavior in sufficient numbers to manipulate an election results would need to be nuanced to a degree that would it nearly impossible to carry out. (At a minimum, a full-fledged shadow campaign, with a multitude of operatives on the ground, would be needed to be successful. Moscow carried it out its 2016 interference relatively on the cheap!) Basing the interference operation on a failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance.

During the Cold War, within the furtive decision making centers of the Soviet Union, there was a similar half-baked understanding of race in US society. It was seen as a matter in which their intelligence service could insulate themselves and exploit. To be more specific, the hope of the Soviet intelligence services was to exploit the disaffection of ethnic communities, particularly African-Americans, toward the US Government as part of its mission. Conjecture, more than anything else, was used to develop some official understanding of the racial strife in the US. They simply needed to create some basis to conduct operations to exploit it. When it was expedient, they undoubtedly substituted revolutionary ideals of the Communist Movement as a framework for understanding the civil rights efforts of the African-American community where they lacked an authentic understanding of the many dimensions of the race issue. (There was apparently a penchant toward that type of projection by the Soviet and Eastern Bloc intelligence services.) The operations of the First Department of the Soviet Union’s intelligence service at the time, Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) better known as the KGB, covered the US and Canada. A target of the First Department among others, was the African-American community, particularly African-American radical groups. The task was to fund and support the radical groups in preparation for direct action, attacks on government facilities. However, they shpuld have only expected to achieve results. If the KGB had looked deeper into the matter, it might have discovered that despite the contentious, aggressive, and violent exchanges on race that were taking place during the Civil Rights Movement and afterward, for African-Americans there was certainly no desire to fight the US Government. Extremist elements with that in mind or something similar, promoting a divide between people, were few and far between. Further, despite any likely projection by Moscow of its own Socialist and Communist thinking in Moscow on the African-Americans community, the Civil Rights Movement was never about any of those political ideas. Respect and love for the US, and a sense of patriotism was present and apparent in most African-Americans despite incredible difficulties they faced in society. The goal of the Civil Rights Movement was not to tear down, destroy, transform system as it stood, but integrate more fairly society. The goal was to ensure the recognition of the rights of the African-American their community as due under the US Constitution and inclusion of members in all that was the US. The culture, attitudes, behavior, thinking, and laws had to be changed to allow and support the equal opportunity of African-Americans to enjoy those rights. Important to the struggle was getting the majority in the society value the lives of others, to value the lives of their fellow country regardless of race. Logic and wisdom had to conquer the sentiment and traditions of the past. For years, these elements were righteously insisted upon. Due to a willingness to accept change for the better and new federal laws passed, some progress was eventually made.

Intriguingly, a similar degree of skewed thinking on race in the US has been displayed by the Russian Federation Government today. According to The Atlantic, a spate of recent reports, accounts tied to the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency—a Russian “troll factory”— used social media and Google during the 2016 electoral campaign to deepen political and racial tensions in the US. Indeed, as explained on the Russian TV network TV Rain, those trolls were directed to focus their tweets and comments on socially divisive issues, such as guns, but another consistent theme has been Russian trolls focusing on issues of race. Russian ads placed on Facebook apparently placed emphasis on Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, which were the sites of considerable and extended protests after police killings of unarmed African-American men. Another Russian ad showed an African-American woman firing a rifle. Other ads played on fears of groups such as Black Lives Matter.

Should Foreign Leaders Blame Their Intelligence Services for the Failure to Understand Trump?

When national leaders do not grasp what is happening on an issue and cannot get a handle on a situation in a satisfying way, anxiety, a sense of panic, can ensue. To fill those gaps information, they make use of their intelligence services. The information that the intelligence service may provide may not necessarily be collected through agent running in the field or technological means. Whatever might have already been gathered by intelligence professionals from clandestine operations and perhaps covert sources of collection, may be supplemented and even complemented by overt sources. Indeed, among the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of many intelligence services of countries of various sizes and power, is to have analytical units mine for information through overt sources of intelligence, traditionally newspapers, magazines, books of certain authors. Now certain websites, blogs, and social media are also commonly raked through.

Using such overt sources, however, can be risky. Analysts can easily become victims of faulty reports, misleading stories, and politicized commentary. There is no 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 sit palms up due to detected discrepancies, questionable findings, intimations, will pass it along as work product, demonstrating that they possess some type of control, a handle on the situation. Those consumers might be pleased to receive verification of their ideas. Those ideas, strengthened with the support of new data, no matter if they are dead wrong, can often become facts and make their way from consumer to consumer as such.

What Foreign Leaders Should Keep in Mind about the US News Media

With regard to news related to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, international and national, the news media serves as the eyes and ears of the US public in realms that are generally inaccessible. What is immediately apparent in the way in which stories are being reported and commented upon lately is the great degree that it deviates from well-established standards of professional practice of the past. That would include informing truthfully about people and events, reporting facts and not simply offering opinions. In particular, the quality of mainstream news media efforts devoted to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, has degraded significantly.

US news media houses sell papers and magazines, but more importantly, advertising space when they express and act on such sentiment. The so-called “Information push” drives the made grab for stories and a source, almost any source, that will provide information to corroborate what is going out over the air, on paper, and online. Misguided speculation by the US news media can make stories seem more exciting, even lurid. Human nature is fascinated by what sounds exceptional and scandalous. When foreign leaders are drawn to such stories, they most often suffer the consequence of losing opportunities for their respective countries.

It is important to know that since the first days of the Trump administration, there has been an “us-them” approach taken by the majority of the US news media toward anything it does. Reporters and pundits in the broadcast media have gone beyond the point of being gadflies. Primacy is given to an effort to shape the thinking of the public against Trump, as well as provoke the US President, with daily stories that harshly criticize him, gainsay his administration’s decisions and actions, and chastise administration personnel from senior advisers to middle level staff. Words used are beyond hostile and aggressive. The distance that many journalists are willing to travel away from past norms is unknown. Into the second year of his first term in office, the news media remains all Trump, all the time. Journalists discuss hypotheticals sometimes with only a tenuous connection with the realities to ongoing events instead of informing the US public of facts from solid reporting and analysis based on studied patterns of decision making. The facts offered are more often bleached to the point of being superficial. Deeper dives into facts are avoided, and gaps are filled with opinions. Journalists will even seek to capitalize on Trump’s criticism of their stories whenever he decides to get involved with them.

The modality of the attacks on Trump from the news media catches the eye. Many critics have proven better skilled in unpleasantry than bon mot.  The attacks have been meted out in gradations of intensity. None of it represents, healthy, objective, traditional reporting and commentary. It is defined by a supercilious, holier-than-thou perspective of the US President, that they believe gives the free reign to be arrogant and rude toward him without regard for the fact that he is still a human being, and in an honored position that, itself, should garner respect. A type of patrician aesthetic has lead some critics to put themselves in position high enough to judge whether Trump is “presidential enough” for their liking. The words “not presidential” were heard every time Trump spoke. Efforts by Trump of any kind elicit a range of reactions by those engaged in the broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse. From what has been observed, critics and detractors within the US news media as much as some angry scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have essentially exhibited a collective mindset, determined to find wrong in Trump. They have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties.

On a secret recording made at a staff meeting on August 12, 2019, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, was heard making comments to the effect that the newspaper saw its job as imposing a “narrative” on the world rather than listening to what the world teaches. In that vein, Baquet seemed more concerned that in the Times coverage of the Russian collusion story concerning Trump and the 2016 US Presidential Election, it failed to deliver “the Russia story its readers wanted.” As Baquet stated: “Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy [bleep], Bob Mueller is not going to do it.’ ” Baquet went on to explain that despite the fact that the newspaper covered an unsubstantiated story, he was satisfied with its work. He said, “We set ourselves up to cover that story. I’m going to say it. We won two Pulitzer Prizes covering that story. And I think we covered that story better than anybody else.” Baquet additionally indicated that the newspaper was not through with Trump yet. He suggested that the Times next needed to deliver the narrative that Trump is a racist, insisting that the Trump racism story is the one the newspaper’s readers want. He stated: “How do we cover America, that’s become so divided by Donald Trump? How do we grapple with all the stuff you all are talking about? How do we write about race in a thoughtful way, something we haven’t done in a large way in a long time? That, to me, is the vision for coverage. You all are going to have to help us shape that vision.” Baquet’s comments would have been considered unimaginable a few years earlier. Such is that state of the mainstream US news media today.

An Element of “Monkey See, Monkey Do” Overseas?

As greatcharlie discussed in its May 31, 2018 post, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”certainly, officers in topflight intelligence services around the world are carefully watching the drama being played out between Trump and the US news media. Interestingly, if any reports being produced by an intelligence service are still using the product of the US news media in their intelligence analyses of Trump, then those services are truly being remiss in their duties. Yet, maybe there is an element of “monkey see monkey do” that might drive such behavior.

During the testimony of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, Robert Mueller, on July 24, 2019 before the House Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) pointed out that in the final report of his office, entitled “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election” and known commonly as the Mueller Report, cited numerous media stories. Indeed, in Volume II of the Mueller Report, commonly referred to as Part 2, much of the supporting evidence used was from the US news media and not interviews or collected documents. Lesko asked Mueller directly: ““I think you relied a lot on media. I’d like to know how many times you cited The Washington Post in your report?” Lesko also asked Mueller how many times the report cited the New York Times or Fox News. Lesko then told Mueller that he cited the Washington Post “about 60 times,” the New York Times “75 times,” and Fox News “about 25 times.” She went on to state: “I’ve got to say, it looks like volume two is mostly regurgitated press stories. Honestly, there’s almost nothing in volume two that I couldn’t already hear or know simply by having a $50 cable news subscription.”

While the research as presented in Part 2 of the Mueller Report, analyses may have resembled authentic collection by intelligence and law enforcement officers, in reality it was a superficial mockery that fell far short of any professional standards. Perhaps foreign intelligence services a bit more familiar with the practices of the US intelligence community, may be taking a lesson from it. However, that particular practice, if it is indeed a common practice of the US intelligence community, certainly it would behoove foreign intelligence services not to allow that method to serve a model for what they should be doing to fulfill the requirements created by their consumers.

The Way Forward

Understandably, foreign leaders have great interest in successfully interacting with Trump. However, the use of information gleaned from the US news media is certainly not a way to accomplish that. To that extent, greatcharlie has been thoroughly critical of foreign leaders efforts in that direction. So scarcely can it be said that what appears in the US news media about Trump are  accurate facts that it would behoove foreign leaders to be more than circumspect of information they receive that has arrived out of its stories. Moreover, they should perhaps avoid such information, regardless of their own respective intelligence services procedures for using it as an overt source, altogether. As for alternatives, alas, greatcharlie’s not in the business on telling foreign how best understand the US President’s intentions and actions. Yet, lessons for anyone on the matter can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but very often from what critics might declare as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. There will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. Indeed, he exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well.

Additionally, greatcharlie has neither the intent nor the wherewithal to insist the leaders in foreign capital to accept its explanation of how far off-base many of their analyses of Trump must be and that they must immediately change their perspective. It would seem that some might prefer to continue onward in that way given a degree of comfort has been found in believing the situation truly is as they see it. It would only hope that with a record of being unable to find a pathway to understanding what will most likely be a two-term US President, that all would adopt a perspective on Trump in line with reality. Laudem virtutis necessitati domus. (We give to necessity the praise of virtue finding the benefit in what is needful.)

A Link between Trump’s June 2018 Letters to European Allies and His July 2018 Summit with Putin: A View from Outside the Box

US President Donald Trump (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) at the G7 meeting in Charlevoix. Trump believes NATO should deploy a combined force under its collective security arrangement that truly has the capability and capacity to deter, and if necessary, fight and defeat attacks from all directions, but especially an attack from their most likely adversary: Russia. He believes the time to rebuild NATO is now. The degree to which the Europeans invest in the build up of their defense will impact how Trump will handle situations concerning Europe with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

The renowned US foreign policy scholar and former US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated that sophisticated US leadership is sine qua non of a stable world order. US President Donald Trump has set forth to serve in the leadership role as prescribed. Serving that role entails meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin to discuss matters concerning the world’s strongest nuclear powers and the threat posed by Russia to European security. As the leader of West, he must also serve as the steward of NATO and ensure transatlantic security is effectively maintained. On its face, there is a link between these matters as concerns of the president. However, the tie is much greater.

Trump plans to meet with Putin both one-on-one and in a formal meeting with delegations of aides in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. The meeting will be the first formal summit talks between them. They have met previously on the sidelines of conferences. They have also had a number of telephone conversations. The decision by the two leaders to have summit meeting was actually reached through phone conversations on March 20, 2018 and April 2, 2018. US National Security Adviser John Bolton explained in an televised interview, “The goal of this meeting really is for the two leaders to have a chance to sit down, not in the context of some larger multilateral meeting, but just the two of them, to go over what is on their mind about a whole range of issues.” In a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One on June 29, 2018, Trump said that he planned to talk to Putin about everything. He further stated: “We’re going to talk about Ukraine, we’re going to be talking about Syria, we’ll be talking about elections. And we don’t want anybody tampering with elections. We’ll be talking about world events. We’ll be talking about peace. Maybe we talk about saving billions of dollars on weapons, and maybe we don’t.” (There is also a good chance that the ears of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will be burning once the one-on-one session is underway.) At the same time news broke about the planned summit, reports that Trump sent letters in June 2018 to several European leaders concerning NATO surfaced. The letters also arrived one month before the July 11-12, 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels. Trump purportedly explained in the letters that after more than a year of public and private complaints that allies have not done enough to share the burden of collective security. Trump hinted that in response, he might consider a significant modification in how US forces are deployed in Europe. The letters have indeed been the latest figurative ladle Trump has used to stir billows in the pot with European leaders. While most might view it as doubtful, Trump means well, and at least from his perspective, he has done everything for all the right reasons. Indeed, a closer look at the situation, or a look at the situation from outside the box, indicates that the situation is not as bad as it may seem to other European leaders and their advisers.

Trump wants to get a handle on the important matter of Europe’s defense and transatlantic collective security. He wants to actually do something about the threat that Russia poses to Europe, and contrary to everything critics have stated, make NATO a genuine defense against potential Russian aggression posed by Putin or any other leaders. Trump believes the time to rebuild NATO is now. He would like to have European leaders move away from staid thinking and somewhat superficial action on their security, and deploy a combined force under NATO’s collective security arrangement that truly has the capability and capacity to deter, and fight and win if deterrence fails. The rather restrained efforts of the Europeans so far will have a direct impact on how he might handle situations concerning Europe with Putin. Trump wants them to stop making it so difficult for him to work with them. The purpose here is to take a deeper look, from outside the box, at Trump’s approach to enhancing Europe’s defense and transatlantic security. It illustrates that main task for Trump is not simply to garner increases in spending on NATO, but encourage the Europeans to change their relatively relaxed perspectives and take more energetic approaches toward their own security. 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.)

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Finding a way to establish an authentic positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for a few decades. Trump said he would give his best effort to finding a solution.  He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, is placed at risk. Trump has already met with Putin and by Putin’s admission, he and Trump regularly discuss matters by phone. However, everything is not perfect yet; rough patches exist.

Trump-Putin Summit: A Chance to Investigate Possibilities

Finding a way to establish an authentic, positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for a few decades. Trump said he would give his best effort to finding a solution.  He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, is placed at risk. Trump logically concluded that accomplishing these things would first require establishing a positive relationship with Putin. Trump has already met him and so far their chemistry has been good. By Putin’s admission, he and Trump regularly discuss matters by phone. However, everything is not perfect; many rough patches exist. In assessing the possibility of improving relations with Russia, albeit in the abstract, Trump has taken a good look inside. He has not missed what has been happening there. He is aware that Russia is an authoritarian regime with all of the authoritarian tendencies at home and abroad. That authoritarianism is harnessed by a quest for economic development. Commingled with that is the politicization of local economic activity. What creates the slightest possibility that economic development may pan out in some way is the fact that Russia is oil rich. Still, that possibility has been dampened somewhat by the reality that Russia is a criminalized state. In terms of foreign policy, the goal of authoritarian Russia is to supplant Western power, diminish Western influence, and weaken stability promoted by the West. Russia has also sought to increase its influence in Eastern and Central Europe. In the previous US administration, that region was not a priority. The previous US administration introduced policy approaches such as “Pivot to Asia” and the “reset with Russia” which sent the wrong signals to Moscow. Russia had kept its sights on the region. It was have very senior leaders visit the region frequently.To the extent that it could, Russia would invest in infrastructure, provide military assistance, and support pro-Russian political parties and movements. Occasional visits from US officials supported a perception in Washington that is was engaged. The vacuum created by the delinquency of the previous US administration in the region was filled by Russia.

After Moscow grabbed Crimea and began to shape Eastern Ukraine, the US made it clear that it did not accept what occurred and set clear boundaries for Russia in Ukraine. Expectations were laid out. Still, Russia has continued to engage in aggressive behavior. Over 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed in the struggle in Donetsk and Luhansk. In the Trump administration, no doubt has been left in public statements and messaging. Sanctions remain in place. The US is willing to engage with Russia where there are shared interests. Counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation are examples of that. However, nefarious Russian moves, as seen in Montenegro, Moldova, Bulgaria, and threatening language toward States as Macedonia, Norway, and Finland, have drawn and will prompt harsh language from the US. Russia has even sought to antagonize Trump through efforts such as boasting about the strength of Russia’s arsenal and using computer graphics to illustrate the ability of hypersonic weapons to reach his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. Trump broached that matter with Putin during his phone call with him on March 20, 2018. US efforts to counter Russian moves have not only included pressing for greater burden sharing on defense, but also weakening support for Nord Stream II.

An additional factor for Trump to consider is the influence of Russia’s intelligence industry–the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security from Russia’s Soviet past, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB; the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; and, the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU–has on the society. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia really became a criminal country. By successfully navigating through the banality, incompetence, and corruption of the Soviet government, the intelligence industry managed to stand on top of all that was good, the bad, and ugly in the new Russia. Intelligence officers have  always been fully aware of what was transpiring in their country. Soviet intelligence officers recognized when the collapse of their country was underway. Yet, they viewed it as a duty to keep the truth from the people. Information control was also used as the justification for such action. Prevaricating remains part of the government’s life system and survival system. Perhaps the primary goal of such mendacity now is to “make Russia great again.” When the truth plays a role, it is misused. Facts are distorted to cloak some scheme. The truth will many times threaten Moscow’s efforts. When Russian untruthfulness is encountered by the West on issues great and minor, often the response is surprise and disappointment. Confronting Moscow on the truth will not bring a satisfactory result. There will be no admissions, no confessions, no mea culpas. That being said, Trump should still meet with the leader who sits on top of it all to find out what is happening in Russia.

As explained in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,” 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. Putin is super observant. It is a quality that stirs admiration from some and or elicits terror in others. If any one could detect a hint of anger or dissention in the eyes, in mannerisms, in bearing and deportment, in the words of another, it would be Putin. Usus, magister egregius. (Experience, that excellent master.)

A long espoused, jejune criticism of Trump is that he has a self-enchantment with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous particularly in light of reports from the US Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Trump dismisses the obloquy of critics. In reality, Trump, rather than finding Putin intoxicating, has developed his own reservations about him having had a number of disappointing experiences with him in the past year. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has observed hostile Russian moves such as continued interference n US elections, as well as those of other countries, efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the effort to tighten Moscow’s grip Crimea and the Donbass. Nevertheless, with optimism spurred by having found some areas of agreement and given the degree of mutual respect between Putin and himself, Trump still seeks to engage Russia in a way that will improve relations long-term. As one cause for the summit meeting, Trump hopes he might find some touch that he could put on the situation to knock everything into the right direction. As another cause for the summit, Trump is investigating the degree to which Putin is a threat to European defense and transatlantic collective security. Much as it is the case in any legitimate investigation, Trump, is interviewing its subject: Putin. Trump also has system of evaluation people developed from his experience as a business negotiator. Trump has an understanding of human nature, and even sympathy for human frailty. One of his greatest strengths is his capacity for listening. However, when necessary, he can be stubborn and stone-hearted. After the one-on-one session, Trump will better understand Putin’s thinking and intentions from what he hears and what he does not hear. Through well-crafted questions, he should collect enough information to satisfy his own concerns. His skilled observations of Putin’s behavior will also serve to inform. Surely, Trump is fully aware the Putin will attempt to glean information from him. Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.)

Trump aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier (above) To immediately field a NATO force that would be genuinely capable of deterring and if necessary fight, repel, and defeat Russian forces the US would need to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength, earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Trump cannot rightly increase US spending and invest more US troops in NATO, if the Europeans intend to simply sit back and let the US carry the load, and potentially cut back on defemsr. The Europeans can build stronger armies and field more advanced weapon systems.

Trump Sought to Energize, Not Antagonize with His Letters

The US commitment to NATO is extant. Even after all that has been said, Trump absolutely understands that NATO is essential to the defense of the US and its interests in Europe. Although Trump has not made a grand display of his concern, he actually sees Russia not only as a competitor, but as a genuine threat. The US  will take the lead in handling Russia during his administration, but he wants the European to genuinely stand beside the US in its efforts. In 2017, the Trump administration explained that taking the lead internationally and advancing US military, political and economic strength is a 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. In the US National Security Council’s summary under, ”Preserve Peace Through Strength”, steps the administration stated it would 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’s letters to European leaders manifested his determination to get them to significantly increase their military expenditures, make NATO an authentic deterrent to potential Russian aggression, and along the way, take greater responsibility for addressing common threats. Some might find it confusing, but the letters also evinced the degree to which Trump is genuinely concerned about the well-being of Europe and NATO. According to the New York Times, the actual number of letters sent by Trump has not been revealed. The White House explained that it does not comment on presidential correspondence. Other sources apparently informed the New York Times that at least a dozen were sent. Supposedly, recipients included: Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Each letter reportedly echoed Trump’s complaint that the NATO allies are not living up to the commitment they made at their Wales summit meeting in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on national defense. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said in an televised interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “The president wants a strong NATO.” He went on to state: “If you think Russia’s a threat, ask yourself this question: Why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its GNP? When people talk about undermining the NATO alliance, you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.” However, shortly before the letters were sent, Europeans officials sought to defend their respective failures to meet the 2 percent pledge. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, for example, said Germany will increase defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024. She further explained that Germany and all NATO allies, however, only committed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. In her view, there was no pledge in the text of the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration to spend at least 2 percent by 2024. At Wales, it was only agreed that NATO countries aim to move toward the 2 percent guideline within a decade. Some military analysts argue that tying defense spending to GDP makes no sense. Moreover, it leads to issues concerning changes in GDP, a country’s respective spending on defense, and how a country’s defense budget is spent. Semper autem in fide quid senseris, non quid dixens, cognitandum. (A promise must be kept not only in the letter but in the spirit.)

Excerpts of Trump’s letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel was shared with the New York Times by someone who saw it. Trump allegedly wrote to Merkel: “As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised.”  He continued: “The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound. This is no longer sustainable for us.” Regarding frustration over NATO in the US, Trump explained: “Growing frustration is not confined to our executive branch. The United States Congress is concerned, as well.” Trump also posited in the letter that Germany deserves blame for the failure of other NATO countries to spend enough, writing: “Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model.” Most likely in a further effort to light a fire under the Europeans, the Trump administration made it known that the US had been analyzing a large-scale withdrawal of US forces from Germany.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis expressed concern over the direction that the United Kingdom was moving regarding defense in his own letter to the United Kingdom’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. The United Kingdom has cut defense spending over the past decade in line with an austerity program that has also seen cuts to domestic spending. London and Paris still field far and away the most powerful militaries in Europe. While Mattis noted that the United Kingdom, a NATO allies that has met the alliance’s target of 2 percent spending of GDP on the military, he insisted it was not good enough for a country of its status. Regarding the United Kingdom’s global role, Mattis proffered that it “will require a level of defense spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests.” Mattis went on to state: “I am concerned that your ability to continue to provide this critical military foundation … is at risk of erosion.” Supporting his position, Mattis explained: “The reemergence of the great power competition requires that we maintain vigilance and the ability to operate across the full combat spectrum, notably at the high end.” He continued: “While we must sustain military capabilities to deter, and win if deterrence fails . . . we must also improve and enhance those capabilities if we’re to carry out our obligations to future peace.” As part of process of turning the situation around, Mattis asked for a “clear and fully funded, forward defense blueprint” from the United Kingdom. Mattis stated that “It is in the best interest of both our nations for the UK to remain the U.S. partner of choice.” However, he noted that France was increasing its spending, and wrote: “As global actors, France and the U.S. have concluded that now is the time to significantly increase our investment in defense.” Some Members of Parliament have called for spending to increase to 2.5 or 3 percent of national output from 2 percent.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (left) and Gernan Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (right). Shortly before Trump sent letters to European leaders, a number of European officials have sought to defend their respective failures to meet the 2 percent pledge. Von der Leyen, for example, said Germany will increase defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024. She further explained that Germany and all NATO allies, however, only committed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. In her view, there was no pledge at Wales to “spend at least 2 percent by 2024.”

An Awful Experience for the Europeans

In his first book, De Officiis (on Duties) written in 44 B.C., the renowned Roman orator and statesman of Roman Republic, Marcus Tullius Cicero explained that individuals do not exist to be in constant antagonistic contest. Instead, individuals exist to help each other in peaceful cooperation to the mutual benefit of all. He stated: “Consequently, we ought in this to follow nature as our leader, to contribute to the common stock the things that benefit everyone together and, by exchange of dutiful services, by giving and receiving effort and means, to bind fast the fellowship of men with each other.” Europeans leaders unlikely sensed from his inauguration Day on January 20, 2017, that working with Trump would not be a passeggiata. However, there appears to be more than the usual occasions of disappointment and discord with their ally across the Atlantic. Trump’s statements directed toward European leaders on NATO has resulted in an emotional mangle. Real feelings of trepidation exist among them. When national leaders are fogged in on an issue and cannot get a handle on a situation in a satisfying way, there is an anxiety, a sense of panic that ensues. Not being able to answer big questions on foreign policy, especially when they are dealing with such a powerful and influential country as the US will often obstruct, even thwart efforts to formulate and implement policies, strategies, and nuanced approaches.

The popular response of European leaders toward Trump has been to react intemperately and to figuratively march against him, banners of their countries flying. They are well-aware that by reproaching Trump, they will be feted in their respective national news media and within the public of their countries. However, the small benefits derived from pleasing crowds at home is far outweighed by the bigger picture of their countries respective relationships with the US. Many European leaders have not looked beyond the surface by trying to better discern Trump’s words and deeds, by ratcheting up diplomatic and other contacts with US, and devising fresh approaches to work better with the Trump administration. They have failed to view these quarrels as opportunities to develop new, better, enriching paths to take with the US.  What they have done is create the danger of driving their countries’ relations with the US down to lower points. A notable exception to all of this has been German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although still bearing the brunt of Trump’s admonishments of the Europeans, her approach to Trump has evolved in a very sophisticated, constructive way. She now takes a solution oriented, not a reactionary, approach to issues at hand, taking a hopeful tone with Trump and encouraging him to consider what she is relaying . On the matter of trade, she has offered thoughtful options particularly on economic issues that could mitigate an exchange of harsh tariffs. Merkel is aware that when there are confrontations between European leaders and Trump, “in the heat of battle”, a tigerish performance will be seen from him. That has only had a deleterious effect on relations with US, decelerating the process of finding solutions to issues. Merkel will very likely accomplish much as she moves in a methodical way toward the US president. Given the attitudes and behavior of some European leaders toward him, Trump undoubtedly appreciates the sangfroid and steadfastness displayed by Merkel, and the good rapport he has been developing with her.

Trump’s own responses on social media to reactions in European capitals to his admonishments, not only by letter, but via official statements and messaging, represent his immediate perceptions and his frustration that his counterparts are not seeing issues in the same way he does. At a deeper level, Trump is most likely very disappointed that such discord has been obtained as a result of his words. His goal is certainly not to defeat or lay seize to his allies on the issue of of defense spending. The European allies are definitely not his foes and not perceived as such by him in the slightest way. His actions are not part of some decision to engage in endless campaigns of finger wagging against European allies to achieve some strange, vacuous sense of  superiority over them as has been suggested by some critics. Words have flown back and forth, and critics have described it as chaos. However, order could still be found in that so-called chaos. There is structure underpinning every foreign policy tack taken by Trump.

When deciding to approach European leaders on what he believes NATO must do to defeat that threat, Trump clearly did not feel the situation would allow for some longer term effort in which he would try to cultivate their affections. Trump’s letters to European leaders evince that he doubts they are ready to act on their own volition in a way that cause any real strain. Trump also apparently feels that time is the essence and that facts, not sentiment, support that view. Those NATO Members whose borders are closest to Russia sense the threat. However, it appears that the farther west NATO Members are situated from that virtual “boundary line” with Russia, the weaker their sense of immediate emergency becomes. European leaders may fulminate against Russia in public speeches, creating the optics of being resolute on defense during election campaign or otherwise. Yet, they are less energetic in using their countries’ tools of national power–military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information–to make the situation better. Trump may complain but, they will still hesitate to invest in defense. It may very well be that the alarms set off by Russia’s move into Crimea have been somewhat quieted and nerves are less frayed in capitals over what occurred. Still, Russia has not gone away.

The conceptual sixth-generation US fighter, the F-X (above). Trump has not made a grand display of his concern, but he likely sees Russia as a threat, not just a competitor. In 2017, the Trump administration explained that the US would take the lead internationally and advance US military, political and economic strength. The capabilities and capacity of the US military would be greatly increased. New fighters such as the F-X would be built. Alliances and partnerships based on mutual respect and shared responsibility would also be strengthened.

A Deeper Dive Regarding Trump’s Concerns

Quod dubites, ne feceris. (Never do a thing concerning the rectitude of which you are in doubt.) Likely uppermost in Trump’s mind is how he would ever be able to make progress on NATO when the mindset, the psyche of the allied leaders, evinces a somewhat limited interest in genuinely making the situation better. By all that is being said by national leaders, it sounds as if they want a strong defense, but they are acting quite differently. Indeed, Trump hears Europeans complain about Russian actions and potential actions in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and even the Baltic States, a fellow NATO Member. However, complaining and repositioning a modicum of forces will not allow Trump to legitimately tell Putin how energized and prepared NATO Members are ready to act against any aggression especially when its members still will not meet politically agreed goals of spending. Their will and readiness to act must real if their efforts are to have any meaning in the military sense, not the domestic political sense.

Trump is frustrated by the fact that the wrong signals are being sent to Putin by the casual attitude and relaxed behavior of the Europeans. Putin has little reason to be impressed with NATO. The Europeans can be assured that he watching events far more carefully than they would like. He has noticed the degree to which European leaders actually care for Ukraine. Perhaps European leaders would argue that they are providing arms and advisers to Ukraine and have bolstered the defense of the Baltic States and have had their armed forces participate in greater numbers in NATO exercises as well. However, looking good by doing a few good things is not the same as being good, by doing everything at the levels required. Putin may very well be wondering whether European leaders may go soft if he “supports” pro-Russian activity deeper or elsewhere in that Ukraine, if he takes more of Georgia, if he builds up its military and naval bases in Kaliningrad, or if he positions Russian ground forces in a way that threatens the Suwalki Gap. Putin has been engaged in a campaign of probes, investigating, testing the resolve of European leaders with aerial and naval intrusions into NATO airspace and waters. Such prospective moves on the ground would make the Russian threat three dimensional, and leave little doubt in the minds of NATO military analysts that his campaign of probes would best serve the purpose of preparing for military action. To field a NATO force genuinely capable of deterring and if necessary fight, repel, and defeat Russian forces, the US itself would need to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength, earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task.

Trump cannot rightly increase US spending, invest more US troops in NATO, if the Europeans intend to simply sit back and let the US carry the load, and potentially cut back and actually do less. That would hardly be in the interest of the US, especially when the Europeans could build stronger armies and field more advanced weapon systems and gear. What would likely happen is that the Europeans would let the US do all the heavy lifting. The US military cannot be allowed to be a surrogate army for the Europeans.

Given NATO’s current capabilities and capacity, in reality, it may not be able to successfully defend any threatened territory. Trump wants to know why any European leader would think that he should deploy US troops overseas in a somewhat likely untenable defense of countries, particularly when those countries are not fully committed to their own security. Trump wants Europeans leaders to see and understand his position. European leaders successfully transmitted the message that they want Trump and US government to be more understanding of the political considerations that has hamstrung them from taking robust action on NATO. However, they have not publicly expressed empathy or compassion for the position of the US. Recognizing the need to bolster NATO on the ground in Europe, and the great value it has placed in its ties to European allies, the US had consistently bit the bullet over many years and committed its military wherewithal to Europe knowing the Europeans would not do their fair share. Omnes sibi malle melius esse qualm alteri.  (It is human nature that every individual should wish for his own advantage in preference to that of others.)

When deciding how to approach European leaders on what he believes NATO must do to defeat the threat posed by Russia, Trump apparently did not feel the situation would allow for a long term effort in which he would try to cultivate their affections. Trump’s letters to European leaders evince that he doubts they are ready act on their own volition in a way that cause any real strain. Trump seems to feel that time is of the essence and that facts, not sentiment, support his view. On a deeper level, Trump is likely disappointed that such discord was obtained as a result of his words.

Although he has not been a politician for long, Trump has discovered much since his full immersion into the world of politics.  It would seem that based on what he has learned so far, which can be added to the considerable experience in human interactions that  he has already acquired, he most likely has a sense that political expediency, not pragmatic thinking, not a genuine concern about national defense, could inevitably be shaping their sense of reality.  Trump understands that those leaders are under pressure to find more money for health, education, the police, immigration, financial pressure created by economically weaker EU members. They will offer explanations, arguments, and occasionally nod the heads and agree that more must be done, then return to doing whatever is expedient. Therefore, Trump is pushing the Europeans hard on the matter. Trump is aware of the fact that while it is a commendable decision, it is not an easy decision for a citizen to engage in the process to become a national leader. Perhaps is could decision could be driven by a calling for some to serve the respective interest of their people and their countries. The job itself, for those who do it well, can become a living sacrifice. The business of politics can be heteroclite. Horse trading is at the very heart of interactions between politicians. If the opportunity arises, they will negotiate preferred conditions, protect and possibly improve the status of their political realms, better things for their constituents and their benefactors, secure their interests. It is often during that negotiating process that things can get mixed up. What is declared a satisfactory outcome becomes relative to the situation. This point can be sardonically illustrated as follows: Politicians may accept as true that the sum of 2 plus 2 equals 4, but after horse trading, many might be willing to agree that the sum is 5! Something that is not quite right is accepted as the new reality. During the next opportunity to negotiate, 2 plus 2 might equal 4 again! This is not corruption, it is simply nature of give and take that is part of the job. “You can’t always get what you want!  Yet, given that apparent mindset, what is evinced from the decisions by European leaders on defense is more style than substance, full of sound and fury that signifies nothing to a threatening adversary. Utque in corporibus sic in imperio gravissimus est morbus, qui a capite diffunditur. (It is in the body politic, as in the natural, those disorders are most dangerous that flow from the head.)

Trump has a sense that European military commanders are well-aware that greater efforts are needed by their respective countries in order provide for an authentic defense of Europe. Moreover, they know the matter is not black and white and cannot be corrected by simply increasing spending. An approach to defense, genuinely based on the idea of deterring an opponent, and fight and defeat the opponent if deterrence fails, must exist. However, they are subordinated to civilian authority, political leadership. Defense officials and military commanders that may insist on expressing such concerns, in the past have been rebuffed, scorned, called paranoid is potentially destabilizing, creating undue uncertainty and insecurity in the minds of the public. They may also be admonished for unnecessarily creating concerns among potential enemies or direct threats to potential adversaries which leaders hope to relax by being cautious and calibrated in their decisions on defense. Denied what they need to succeed by political leaders, their civilian authorities, absent a decision to resign from their respective armed forces, military commanders have little choice but to submit to that authority and fight and likely fail with whatever is given to them. This behavior was evinced in NATO discussions on considering how to organize the NRF and smaller VJTF. In the creation of the force, the well-considered, educated assumption was made that Russia, advancing westward militarily once more, would again use the tactics seen in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk in Ukraine. In the best case scenario for NATO, it would be alerted before Russian forces rushed into a neighboring country using heavy armored and mechanized units, highly mobile infantry, combat service units, and combat service support units, by observing it painstakingly massing along the mutual border with the country or countries it threatens. However, it would be counter-intuitive for Russian military commanders to do that. It would be similarly counter-intuitive for Russia to use the hybrid warfare tactic which NATO is best organized to oppose in any future moves. In the Zapad 2017 exercises, Russian forces displayed the capability to rapidly mass and quickly and successfully engage an opposing force. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, truly overwhelming in size and combat power, to rapidly mass and roll into a neighboring country and quickly engage and drive through elements the VJTF on the ground, it might be futile for the VJTF or NRF fly into a non permissive environment in an attempt to reinforce those vastly outnumbered or overrun elements. The quantity of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance that made available to it might be of little consequence. NATO forces deployed on the ground must be of sufficient size and power that such a move by Russia would be unthinkable.

Trump is frustrated by the fact that the wrong signals are being sent to Putin by the casual attitude and relaxed behavior of the Europeans. Putin has little reason to be impressed with NATO. The Europeans can be assured that he watching events far more carefully than they would like. Putin may be wondering whether European leaders may go soft if he “supports” pro-Russian activity deeper orelsewhere in that Ukraine, if he takes more of Georgia, if he builds up military and naval bases in Kaliningrad, or if he positions ground forces in a way that threatens the Suwalki Gap.

The Europeans Must Take a Winning Perspective Regarding Their Defense

Meminimus quanto maiore animo honestatis fructus in conscientia quam in fama reponatur. Sequi enim gloria, non appeti debet (I am sensible how much nobler it is to place the reward of virtue in the silent approbation of one’s own breast than in the applause of the world. Glory ought to be the consequence, not the motive of our actions.) Trump seeks to accomplish much for Europe. Some of his goals would have been unheard of in the past. His effort to achieve them is not a mirage. Critics have so desperately tried to convince the world he seeks to do more harm than good. A common, casual, and dastardly way to take down a patriotic citizen of any country is to bring one’s loyalty into question. To the extent that the ongoing investigations into alleged collusion of the 2016 US Presidential Campaign and the Russian Federation government that impression has been created. Even if the outcome of it all goes Trump’s way, the impression of wrongdoing will likely stick to some degree in the US public.

Trump has the will to persevere, to continue until he gets the outcome he wants. Perhaps Trump’s approach is a bit unconventional. Yet, additionally,, there is also an optimism about Trump. He imagines the positive. He anticipates success in what he does. If Trump’s goals for European defense and transatlantic collective security are achieved, and it is very likely they will be, European capitals will appreciate all of it.

Trump is well-aware that being a NATO Member State does not simply mean fulfilling certain obligations of the collective security arrangement, such as: posting an ambassador to the headquarters; attending ministerial meetings; leaders summits; “paying dues” as critics purposely misconstrued his words; committing some troops to occasional military exercises; allowing officers and troops to take advantage of education programs; and other activities. NATO is considerably more than an arrangement that provides for a combined military force designed to deter, and if necessary fight and defeat its most likely adversary: Russia. NATO is an expression of European solidarity. It is essentially an expression of the ties of Western countries as a family. Indeed, the US from the beginning was colonized by many of the same Western countries it now helps to defend. There is in many cases a common history, traditions, culture and well as common values and beliefs. Unity among them in NATO is based on common values and interests. There is no rational reason turn it all asunder. The US, Canada, the European countries, and now Colombia, must stick together and work through issues together as a transatlantic family. Families can always heal over an issue. Things can always get better in a family, especially when good thinkers are engaged on a matter.

Even in family relationships, there are always irritants. Little issues can linger and nag, negative statements are magnified. The role that the US plays on the NATO family should not be minimized or taken for granted. Under U.S. leadership for nearly 70 years, the alliance has accomplished great things while regional peace and security was maintained.. Responding to US leadership certainly does not require submission, subjugation, kowtow, even simply showing deference. It also does not entail expecting the US to carry Europe, or at least it should not. Hopefully, in European capitals, a sense of being entitled to heavy US assistance does not exist. Europe has brought itself up since the end of World War II, through the Cold War, and to the present with US help. Europe now must truly stand side by side with the US, facing forward and not standing behind or in the shadow of their powerful ally. A decision to make that adjustment would truly demonstrate that US efforts on European defense and transatlantic collective security are appreciated and being built on and not simply being taken advantage of. Many leaders in European capitals have shown no indication that they understand or are even trying to understand how things look from the other side of the Atlantic. That kind of broader perspective is not apparent in the public statements and messaging. If those leaders perspectives can change a bit, and the effort is made to work alongside the US as real partners and not as dependents, the security picture will become better for everyone. Trump is likely quietly optimistic about that.

Many European leaders have provided no indication that they understand or are even trying to understand how European defense and transatlantic collective security looks from the other side of the ocean. A broader perspective is not apparent in their public statements or messaging. If those leaders perspectives can change a bit, and the effort is made to work alongside the US as real partners and not as dependents, the security picture will become better for everyone. Trump is likely quietly optimistic about that.

The Way Forward

In Act IV, Scene iii of William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, civil war has broken out and Octavius and Mark Antony are in Rome setting forth to retaliate against all who plotted against Caesar. Brutus and Cassius, who were among Caesar’s assassins, are camped with an army away from Rome, hoping to finish their work of reclaiming the Republic.  Brutus and Cassius are in their tent, formulating a strategy to defeat the army of Octavius and Antony. Cassius suggests waiting for Octavius and Antony move to nearby Philippi, hoping the march will wear out their army, making them less effective if they tried to attack their camp. out along the way. Brutus fears Octavius and Antony may gain more followers during that march and believed their own army was at its peak and needed to strike immediately to exploit that advantage. Brutus states: “Under your pardon. You must note beside, That we have tried the utmost of our friends, Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe: The enemy increaseth every day; We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.” On occasion, Trump will appear driven in a particular situation by the idea that bold action, when appropriate, can turn situations around. 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. Trump wants to deal with European defense and transatlantic collective security and the Russian threat to Europe while he is president. He feels that now is the time to act. Unlike his predecessors, he does not want to pass the problem on to another president after his second term ends. He likely sensse that as time passes, the matter will only become more urgent.

For Trump, a robust military build up is the best answer to deal with the Russian threat to Europe. He is also trying his best to connect with Putin to change his perspective and establish long-term peace and stability for Europe. Putin will readily exhibit an openness to diplomacy and his words create the impression that he can be flexible, However, Trump knows that may all be lip service. Given Putin’s record of behavior even during the short span of his administration, it is difficult to trust that Putin will behave. As a next step, if diplomacy does not bring satisfactory results fast enough Trump might boldly push back on Russian advances, reclaiming territory for partners as Ukraine and Georgia. That might inform Putin that he will not be allowed to have a free hand in Europe under his watch and that his latest acquisitions in Europe are vulnerable. However, Trump would still need to wait until sufficient military power in place to thwart attempts by Russia to respond militarily before such moves could ever be executed. That brings the matter back to the Europeans. Right now, European leaders do not seem too interested in building up sufficient military power to defend themselves. Some European leaders are willing to adhere to a position on defense, even if it is wanting, and then fully accepted it as satisfactory because it was determined to be the best or only recourse available. Trump’s letters have called those leaders  out on that behavior. Trump is unwilling to simply accept the status quo. In his view, the time for half-measures has come to an end. Europeans must open their minds to new facts and thoughts. New perspectives on defense must arrive in their thinking.

There is said to be a temper of the soul that wants to live in illusion. Militarily, it has accounted for the limited war in Korea, the war of attrition in Vietnam, the liberation of Iraq, and many errors in between. Some European leaders have turned the reality of what is happening concerning European defense on its head by positing that whatever they might commit to NATO is all it really needs from them. However, the danger their countries face is real. Just as Trump sees opportunity in the moment, they should discern the opportunity that Trump presents. His words may discomfit and it may feel as if he is moving the goalposts. However, he is really offering an invitation. It is an invitation to rise up, to accomplish more, to be more. Hopefully, the Europeans will be willing to accept it. Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest; quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit. (Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.)