Book Review: Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping in People’s Liberation Army uniform (above). Successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. However, it is clear now that China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as a dangerous threat to peace in security as it seeks world domination. How this all came about and what the US can expect from all of this is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

In Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019), Bill Gertz, the author, directs a flood light on China’s practices that are designed to undermine the US economy, weaken and ultimately defeat the US military, and diminish the global influence of the US. An emphasis of Gertz’s discussion is how US leaders have repeatedly failed to understand the preparations in which Beijing is engaged to ready China for a confrontation with the US in the near future. Gertz also asserts the US leaders have also habitually failed to take appropriate steps to deter and act appropriately in response to Beijing’s threatening moves. An example of how destructive and impactful such delinquencies have been is the US response following Beijing’s use of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crush the democratic aspirations of thousands of Chinese in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. China was sanctioned. However, Gertz says that far more consideration should have been given to how China would and actually did react to sanctions. Gertz says what China actually did was launch an unbridled campaign over the next three decades to steal and otherwise acquire some of the most valuable technology from the US. The theft has been staggering, estimated to be as much as $600 billion annually in stolen technology and intellectual property. However, in successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, there was a wilful blindness toward what was occurring. They stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. 

Gertz says the outcome of this decades long policy failure by the US has been the emergence of an expansionist, hard line Communist regime headed by a supreme leader, who took power in 2012, with unchecked powers matched only by Mao: People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping. Gertz asserts that Xi has ruled with an iron fist. China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Fundamental freedoms rights and prosperity for the Chinese people have essentially been eliminated.Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as an ever more dangerous threat to peace in security as it seeks world domination. Communist ideology is the centerpiece for that Chinese drive for dominance. How this all came about and what the US can expect from it all is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

The attention of greatcharlie was drawn to Deceiving the Sky at first upon recognizing the title’s reference to “The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies.” The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies or Stratagems are a collection of tactics that can be applied to very different situations. The strategies are derived from military tactics applied during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) or during the Three Kingdom Period (220-265 B.C.). 

Comparisons are naturally made to Whereas other Chinese military texts such as Sun Zu’s Art of War focus on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, the Thirty-Six Strategies, is a unique collection of ancient Chinese proverbs, more apt for the fields of politics, diplomacy, and espionage. The origins of this book are unknown. No author or compiler has ever been mentioned, and no date as to when it may have been written has been ascertained. Deceiving the Sky is the first stratagem of the thirty-six.

Gertz explains in the text that the title Deceiving the Sky comes from an ancient Chinese strategy used by generals to win battles called deceive the Sky to cross the ocean. As the story goes, an Emperor was hesitant to launch a military campaign against neighboring Koguryo, now Korea. In reaction, one of his generals convinced the Emperor to go to dinner at the home of a wealthy peasant. As the Emperor entered the house for a meal, the residence moved. The emperor had been tricked onto a boat ended for battle across the sea. Rather than disembark, he ordered the military campaign to advance, and the battle was won. What is derived from this story is that a leader’s determination to win a war should be so unrelenting that even an Emperor, viewed in Chinese culture as the son of heaven or the Sky, can be deceived. Translated into military precepts, deceiving the sky suggests that a commander: 1) Openly act as if intending to do one thing then do something else; 2) Create false alarms until the opponent no longer takes notice of alarms; 3) Lull the opponent into a sense of false security by appearing innocuous. Then when the opponent ignores you, one can attack at will; and, 4) One can also do the reverse, acting mysteriously and pretending to know things onees do not. Try different things and watch the opponent’s responses. The opponent will react most strongly to that which creates most concern. (See Stefan Verstappen, The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China (China Books and Periodicals, 1999))

As Gertz discusses how China has acted against the US in recent decades, no doubt is left on how apposite this ancient yet timeless stratagem is to its approach. According to Gertz, the strategy well-reflects the Marxist maxim that the ends justify the means. Beijing practices strategic deception known in the ancient formula as using false objectives to facilitate true objectives. It is another way of describing the Communist strategy of using all means warfare against the US which is the sole obstacle to China crossing the ocean and achieving the rightful place as the most powerful state in the world. Nemo repeite fuit turpissimus. (No suddenly becomes bad.)

So impressed was greatcharlie with Deceiving the Sky, it has sought to allow its readers to gleen enough about the book in a review that they would choose to well-thumb its pages themselves. What greatcharlie can state in all conscience that if one really does not have much time to dig deep into the crisis of Chinese actions and intentions, Gertz’s breakdown of the whole matter is about as accurate and concise a report on the matter as one is going to get. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the book is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the grave issues concerning China. As greatcharlie has stated in previous reviews, books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a book’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a book then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil on a manuscript. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews of books that readers of blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Never is harm intended.

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. On China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. Gertz has been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.; the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Defense University at Fort McNair,and, the Brookings Institution.

The Author

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. As a journalist, he recognizes his responsibility to speak truth to power. On the issue of China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. 

Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. In his biography posted by the Harry Walker Agency, a speaker’s bureau, it is noted that former the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director R. James Woolsey stated: “When I was DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Bill used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t figure out where the leaks were coming from. Now that I’ve been outside for two years, I read him religiously to find out what’s going on.” During the 1990s, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson told the author: “We talk about your stories at Cabinet meetings.” Defense Secretary William S. Cohen once remarked to China’s military intelligence chief that Bill “has access to more intelligence information than anyone I know.” Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once told him: “You are drilling holes in the Pentagon and sucking out information.”

Gertz has also been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy, the CIA, the National Defense University at Fort McNair, the Brookings Institution, and Hillsdale College. He has participated in the National Security Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz has provided a most discouraging account of how the US has fared in a “struggle” to claim the perch of the dominant power in the world which China has promoted. At the same time, he answers in an admirable way the questions that US policy makers and decision-makers should be asking. To that extent, he has supplied the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies with their deficiencies. An earlier work by Gertz, The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America (Regnery, 2000), was prescient in assessing Communist China’s goals and intentions. Deceiving the Sky includes new details of the danger and proves his warning was correct. Gertz warns that if nothing significant and lasting is done, it will only get worse.

Gertz digs into the dark roots of Beijing’s plans. Readers will find that the information Gertz provides will prove to ring true on every issue. He demonstrates that there are clearly greater issues hanging from any issue with China than usually appear at first glance. Surely, presenting a full excavation of China’s actions and intentions was unlikely desired or practical given the larger audience Gertz sought to reach. Perchance if Gertz were to write enough works on the matter he will manage to at least touch upon all of its many aspects. Gertz is not a storyteller. His job is not to entertain, despite what his publishers might desire without the ultimate objective of every publisher which is to sell books. As a journalist, he delivers the news, lays out the facts as they are, and to the extent that he may provide analysis, he edifies and enlightens with his insights. Gertz has the power to intellectually stimulate with his words

The present situation between the US and China is recognized by many scholars, academics, policy analysts, and journalists as being unhealthy. Gertz’s reports on Chinese plans and actions have run concurrently to those of other journalists and scholars writing on the subject and the main features of their stories tally. Indeed, a lengthy list of authors have written fine books on the matter and offer similar perspectives. Concerning those other books, greatcharlie would not dare offer even a short-list of them for it would only open the door to judgments on the the selection of them and perhaps their numerical order. As this review is focused on Gertz’s work, all of that would be beside the point.

It would be difficult to convince greatcharlie that Gertz wrote Deceiving the Sky with the objective of eclipsing the whole of its kind. What he has done is add an invaluable volume to the body of literature that accurately discusses “The China Threat.” He articulates the struggle in a manner that gives all matters that hang from it real meaning. Gertz only asks readers to follow closely what he has written and learn. Some seem disposed to remain content with that situation as long as it lasts. Though he lays it all out impressively before his readers, those not so warm to Gertz’s views will for themselves determine what if anything in the book is essential and what is not. Certainly, one must also accept that not everyone will be attuned to the scream of writers such as Gertz on the real and immediate threat China poses. 

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they do see.) To those who seek to find normality and safety in what China is doing in Asia and beyond and see it all as being modest enough, it is likely Deceiving the Sky put their noses are not out of joint. Whether they might be characterized as rejectionists or alarmist in accord with their responses to Gertz, nothing in Deceiving the Sky was apparently intended to harshly cut so deep into the foundations of thinking of proponents of an ascending China that they should find his facts and deductions threatening to their own analyses or interests. He is not on the attack. His goal is to illuminate. He encourages all readers to simply evaluate for themselves how things have actually been moving and where they are actually heading. Not just out of a sense of professional satisfaction but rather the urgency and importance of the matter, he would welcome and wish for an effort by them to test the virtues of what he presents.

Xi and senior decision makers on foreign policy within the Communist Party of China albeit are individuals of an exceptional nature judging from what they have displayed of themselves in challenging the US for the position as the world’s dominant power. That is a desire that they have in abundance. They have shown themselves to be a thoroughly bad lot. Gertz paints an even more sinister picture of Xi in a discussion of historical figures among his role models.

To accept that China would cause the release of COVID-19 through what might be called deliberate negligence would cause one to accept China was capable of any fantastic outrage. Doubtlessly, many already believed that. Gertz would perhaps be among their number. China was frugal with information about COVID-19 enough so that rather than being seen as heroes, they have set themselves up as the antagonist of every Western country, primarily the US, struggling to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in this all-too real global tragedy. Many in the federal government foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing, have refrained from telling too much about its actions and intentions and the full extent of what its intelligence services are doing against the US to the public possibly for fear of figuratively frightening the horses. An unwavering conviction over China’s malign intentions appears to be a luxury that many especially in US foreign policymaking circles sense they cannot afford to have. They understand that one’s political fortune could possibly be balanced against it. That job has really been left to individuals as Gertz.

It appears important to note that in more than one spot in Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s discussion on US policymaking on China is colored by his political perspective, recognizably conservative. As aforementioned, Gertz is a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, a daily newspaper with a conservative political alignment and was employed in that position at the time he wrote Deceiving the Sky. The book was published in 2019, and Gertz also expressed some satisfaction with the decision-making of the administration of US President Donald Trump under a strategy of competitive engagement. (Readers for whom this will pose some problems have been forewarned.) Not to make a labor of this matter, suffice it to say that such digressions in the text should not distract somber and astute readers from taking into consideration the healthy, accurate, and urgent message Gertz offers exposing the true intentions. That discussion, in greatcharlie’s assessment, is not partisan.

What greatcharlie Found Most Interesting

Deceiving the Sky is 256 pages, portioned in 13 chapters and a titillating conclusion. It presents what could perhaps be called a catalogue of sins by China. The range of Gertz’s coverage of China’s activities in Deceiving the Sky can be readily observed in his descriptive chapter titles. They include: Chapter 1: How Communists Lie: The 2007 ASAT Test; Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 4: The Coming Space War with China; Chapter 5: Assassin’s Mace in Space; Chapter 6: Seeking Digital Superiority: China’s Cyberattacks; Chapter 7: High-Tech Totalitarianism; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations; Chapter 9: Influence Power: Beijing and the Art of Propaganda and Disinformation Warfare; Chapter 10: Financial and Economic Warfare with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 11: Corporate Communism: Huawei and 5G; Chapter 12: Military Might: World Domination Through the Barrel of a Gun; and, Chapter 13: Flashpoints at Sea and China’s String of Pearls Expansion. He sums up the book with the thought-provoking segment: Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People. 

It would be impossible for greatcharlie not to receive the lessons and messages of books as Deceiving the Sky and feel compelled to ruminate upon them. Yet, in this review, greatcharlie’s focus is not turned dutifully and perhaps expectantly toward the fundamental and vital issues of concern such as China’s military growth, military strategy, investment in space platforms, ties to Russia, moves in the South China Sea, threat to Taiwan, and other issues of the utmost importance concerning its expansion and hegemony in its the Far East and ambitions beyond Asia. Regular readers of greatcharlie are aware that the blog’s editor has a keen interest in what author’s offer about what makes those of interest to them tick. For years, such independent analyses by reliable sources have often saved federal bureaucracies an infinity of extra trouble by offering insight on what may very well be on the minds of decision makers in foreign capitals. After examining a sufficient record of an individual’s attitudes and behavior in the aggregate sometimes, their motives may still remain inscrutable and those writing books on their policy making and decision making with little resource may turn to speculation. An additional interest of greatcharlie of late are the activities of Chinese intelligence services in the US.

Four chapters in which Gertz offers insights into the thinking of the leadership of the Communist Party of China at the present and into the future  and Chinese intelligence services that caught greatcharlie’s attention are: Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations. Insights Gertz offers in the book’s close, Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People, are also worthy of special note.

According to Gertz, no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system. By 2018, under Xi, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi has assumed more power than any Chinese leader since Mao.

Chapter 2 The East Is Red

It is in Chapter 2, Gertz’s more fully explains, as mentioned earlier, that no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system, such as regional Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, police, intelligence and security czar, Zhou Yongkang, and former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Guo Boxiong. 

Gertz reminds that beginning in the 1980s and over the decades that China noted the post-Mao policy dubbed “reform and opening up,” Gertz has readers cast their minds back to the years when Chinese Communist leaders went to great lengths to hide their ideology. He states that “ideological speeches were reserved for Party meetings and three-hour long recitations on the great works of the Party.” He continues further explaining that propaganda organs deliberately substituted the more-moderate sounding Socialism in place of Chinese Marxist-Leninsm in a strategy designed to win widespread support from non-Communist countries around the world.

Gertz then emphasizes how all of that changed with Xi. By 2018, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi had assumed more power than any Chinese leaders since Mao. Gertz notes that following the death of Mao, the next leader of China, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, argued that Mao’s fanatic view of the World Communist Revolution needed to be changed. In its place, he adopted a new strategy called “Beyond Ideology and Social Systems” that sought to scale back Maoist ways but not give up Communism. Deng intentions were not benign. Gertz asserts that Deng believed world peace was at hand and that China should find a way to exploit it. To that extent, Gertz writes, Deng put forth China’s pragmatic strategy enabling massive trade and investment with the Capitalist world. As Gertz explains,”Bide our time, build our capabilities” was the Dengist ideology, and when the peace eventually collapsed, China would be ready both economically and militarily to dominate. Interestingly, despite appeasement of China by successive US administrations after Chinese tanks crushed the hopeful democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Gertz notes that Beijing continued to harbor the conspiracy theory of US plans to subvert and contain the People’s Republic.

As a very intriguing and instructive point, Gertz explains that “Chinese Communism mimics religion-it presents a version of history with a journey of deliverance played out in chapters written in a chosen language. It boasts its own priesthood–political commissary ubiquitous throughout–and an enforced infallibility of its leadership.” There are prophets and devils, along with a council of senior religious leaders who have the power to change or interpret the Communist historical narrative. Gertz goes on to state that Party loyalty equals morality; doubting history is blasphemy, heresy and treasonous. He then declares: “There is a chosen people, the Chinese, a promised land, China, temples, pilgrimages, faith in the face of contrary facts, deep intrusion into the personal life of each person, and the indoctrination of children into the tenets of Chinese Communism.”

Perhaps a very apparent expression of Chinese Communism as religion is through united front work. To better understand united front work, greatcharlie turns to the expert source for perspective, Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published a superb book, Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019). According to Mattis, the central element to understanding what the Chinese Communist Party is doing and why to shape the world outside the party is united front work. Mao described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a paper in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined united front work as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the party. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work entails shaping those outside the party, and not simply the Chinese people or world outside the People’s Republic of China. United front work must also be a tool of political struggle. It is not confined to activities that we would call propaganda or public diplomacy. It is not limited to covert action. In 1939, Mao wrote: “Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the Party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons, the united front and the armed struggle, to storm and shatter the enemy’s positions. That is how the three are related to each other.” Mao’s outline of united front work within the party’s toolbox remains as the core understanding of it within the Communist Party of China today. United front activities have “aided” the Communist Party of China in resolving several dilemmas of the post-Mao era. That was most apparent following the Tiananmen Square and the death of Deng.

Evaluated on the basis of the united front policy system, the Communist Party of China’s management of political influence operations runs to the very top of the party, involving senior leaders directly. The policy system extends through the party’s hierarchy and spills over into China’s government ministries as well as other state-owned and state-administered organizations. The State Council ministries to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many other organizations with a party committee offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. United front work is conducted wherever the party is present. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work is not an “influence operation” or a campaign. It is the day-to-day work of the party. The importance of united front work to the Chinese Communist enterprise is the reason why Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, the United Front Work Department (UFWD ), to China’s rejuvenation. Among experts on China, UFWD is generally understood to be a Party intelligence organ,

One could only have imagined that foreign policy decision makers at the top of the Communist Party of China were aware that if the COVID-19 disaster was not put right with urgency, it would have had an unfortunate effect on US-China relations. Relative to the enormity of the crisis created, Beijing’s response could not reasonably have been considered apologetic or a recognition of their misstep at all. Overall, the design of the response appeared to be to protect the image and reputation of the Communust Party of China, and leave the impression that it was infallible in its response.

United front work in diplomacy can often be a dominant feature. Diplomacy with leading industrialized Western countries and prominent industrialized countries in their own region is used as a platform to promote the message of the Communist Party of China and bolster its standing. To discern such efforts, one might watch for matters stated publicly that might have little purpose in a more private setting and in fact might be best conveyed on the sideline meeting or during a break in bilateral or multilateral talks.

The reason for this is that the target audience of those comments will not be the party to the negotiation. The target is the people of China and people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who erroneously might see China as having eclipsed the power of leading industrialized countries and directly confronting them. China’s effort to pull countries of the Third World in Asia and Africa and even countries in Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on the Balkans, within its sphere of influence to turn a phrase has the characteristics of a near collection mania. However, the behavior of the Communist Party of China perhaps has had its best results among countries led by tyrants and other potentates who themselves have engaged in the ions old quest for dominance in their region or in the world. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

A tangible demonstration of how China is leading the march to a “better” future for the world, by taking on US power publicly. This was recently done during a two-day bilateral meeting from March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. A  US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan met with a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The two-day meeting got off to a tense start, with a public display of the strained nature relations between the US and China. 

Blinken laid out many of the areas of concern, from economic and military coercion to assaults on basic values. Sullivan made clear that the overriding priority of the US was  to ensure that its approach in the world and approach to China benefits the US public and protects the interests of US allies and partners. Further, he explained further that the US did not seek conflict, but welcomed stiff competition and will always stand up for its principles, for its people and its friends.

Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US. He spoke with great authority. There was an air of ceremony in his reproach. Yet, through his words were evinced the restricted, mental prison of Communism. His statement must be examined in some detail to allow readers to sense the style, tone, rhythm, mood, the expression of indignation, and the recognition that a new world order is on the horizon that will have Chinese characteristics. One can discern a certain flavor in expressions of united front work in diplomacy.

Yang explained: “We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the government of the United States. In China, according to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people. So no attempt to–the opinion polls conducted in the United States show that the leaders of China have the support of the Chinese people. No attempt to smear China’s social system would get anywhere. Facts have shown that such practices would only lead the Chinese people to rally more closely around the Communist Party of China and work steadily towards the goals that we have set for ourselves.”

In an effort to turn a disadvantage into advantage with mere words, Yang went on to say: “On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights. China has made steady progress in human rights, and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well. The United States has also said that countries can’t rely on force in today’s world to resolve the challenges we face. And it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called authoritarian states. And the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently. So we do hope that for our two countries, it’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.

Ostensibly speaking on behalf of peoples “oppressed” and formerly oppressed by Western powers as China, itself, once was. Yang was particularly biting, stating: “The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent the global public opinion. So we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the US side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the US does not represent the world. It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”

No doubt was left as to his loyalty and dutiful nature toward the Communist Party of China as Foreign Minister Wang performed his united front responsibilities expressing the following position: “China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side. In the past several years, China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression, plunging the China-US relationship into a period of unprecedented difficulty. This has damaged the interests of our two peoples and taken its toll on world stability and development, and this situation must no longer continue. China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue, and it should be changed. It is time for it to change. And in particular, on the 17th of March, the United States escalated its so-called sanctions on China regarding Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are outraged by this gross interference in China’s internal affairs and the Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”

Latrant et scitis estatint praetesquitantes estis. They bark, so you know that you are in front of them.) One could reasonably presume any genuine negotiations planned by Chinese officials was secondary to what was stated at the outset of the meeting. Nothing stated by them could have led one to believe they were negotiating, seeking to establish common ground and points of agreement on issues and ways to come together on the most nagging ones. The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska provided a grand stage. The target audience of the Chinese officials’ reproaches was not really Blinken and Sullivan who were present in the room, but rather the people of China stand people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who would likely see China directly confront the US through their words. The Chinese officials sought to establish separate warring identities between the US and China. They sought to create the impression that some equipoise of power had already been by China versus the US.

Further, the Chinese officials clearly wanted to establish an image for the world to see of how disassociated China’s worldview was that of the US. They also appeared to want to demonstrate that China’s old view was more closely related with underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries. They wanted to create the impression that there were both positive and negative forces present at the meeting, setting China up as the positive force and the US as the latter. 

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, March 2021 (center). Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic socialist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

Chapter 3: “China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement”

In the four decades after the period of reform and opening up began in 1972, Gertz says that “the vast majority among a relatively small and close knit community of China experts who glowed into government policy positions, intelligence agencies, and the officer corps from universities and think tanks produced one of the most serious failures of foreign and security policy in US history.” Gertz explains again that “forty years of willful blindness about China led to the adoption of disastrous policies toward China that have produced a new era of danger many experts see as analogous to the 1930s,” a period when shortsighted diplomats and policymakers prevented the US military from preparing to meet the threat of the growing power of the Japanese Empire. As that story goes, tabletop war games against Japanese forces were forbidden. The ruling elite feared that “it would create a new Japanese threat where there was none.” Gertz says that similarly, pro-Beijing hands created another strawman argument for the appeasement of China. In the aggregate, the result according to Gertz has been “a devastating run of policies toward Beijing that avoided all reference to China’s illicit activities and behavior from the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, to China’s role in stealing US secrets on every deployed nuclear weapon in the US arsenal and hastening their spread globally by supplying nuclear warhead design secrets to Pakistan.”

Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis, in errore perseverare. (Any man can make a mistake, only a fool keeps making the same one.) Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic sociakist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” He goes on to state the dominant pro-China community of both officials and non-government experts “inflicted serious damage on US interests by consistently producing biased and misleading assessments on both China’s intentions and capabilities.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

As greatcharlie discussed in its March 29, 2021 post entitled, “Listening to and Understanding the Positions of Others: A Requirement for Thoughtful and Fruitful Talks in All Cases,” diplomacy has been defined as the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. In its practice, its key for negotiators to ensure the other side is listening and understanding what they are communicating. That necessitates managing negotiations without arousing hostility. Any awkward situations must be handled with tactfulness. 

Although only in office for a few months at the time of this writing, the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris presumably has used US citizens, individuals with the very best reputations to contact Beijing through so-called back channels. Those individuals would be doyens, men or women of the world with a natural turn for diplomacy, and for discreetly presenting issues of concern and arranging delicate matters as a point of honor for Washington. China appears to commit itself to nothing where the US and Western countries are concerned, or where any other country is concerned for that matter. China’s government is founded on a movement that produced a revolution. It believes it provides a way of living based on Mao’s teachings that should be embraced for all humanity. It will never be satisfied until it puts the rest of the world’s government’s on a solid footing in that direction.

Whether diplomats, intelligence officers, Communist Party of China operatives, or businessmen, they spout the old propaganda line while overseas, “Communism is the wave of the future.” The Biden-Harris administration’s policy makers will have ample opportunity to test theories on how to get the best results from US bilateral relations and economic competition with China. Gertz does not use page space to present readers with exact details of how the US has bargained and negotiated with China, or the tone heard during opportunities in which they communicated bilaterally. The outcomes of such talks speak for themselves. It is one thing to establish a competitor firmly in one’s mind to help drive the effort “to up one’s game.” It is wholly another thing to seek something akin to world domination and to find a way up by stealing from, forcing out, and stepping upon, others. China is attempting to do all of the latter to the US. China will almost always be happy to meet with US officials to negotiate and sign any agreements both to humor themselves, satisfy those among US policy makers and decision makers naive enough to believe there would be any hope of hampering China’s march to dominance, and mollify others who may “fear” the change that Beijing assures is coming.

Qui cumque turpi fraude semel innotuit, eriemsi verum dicit amittit fides.  (Whoever has once become known for a shameful fraud, is not believed even if he speaks the truth.) One could go as far as to say it is delusional to persist in communicating entreaties of that kind to Beijing. This is especially true when it is clear how the troubling behavior in question is associated with China’s quest for dominance. There is no shortage of ambition. One cannot show a tender conscience to Beijing without soon facing a test of will or other undesired effect. The next generation may say preceding ones were dull indeed not to recognize and respond to China’s maneuvers. To go on in partnership with the Chinese, US administrations have forgiven, while not warranted, its worsening behavior. They have forgiven much. Diplomatic outcomes on contentious matters may often be part of larger arrangements, schemes of the Chinese. Indeed, Chinese negotiators will expect that parties to a negotiation will be willing to accept and start with the conditions they initially present. They will strenuously negotiate. If the Chinese can find no flexibility and no further room for satisfactory results from the negotiations they may alter their position more in line with the other party’s terms. The other party may be eager to accept China’s new amiable terms but they may be unaware that there could be a catch. A follow-on malign action, may weaken the benefit of any settlement on the same original matter. An opportunity for the Communist Party of China to test the the virtues of this approach presented itself with the Trump administration when it negotiated and signed a trade agreement in 2020. The Communist Party of China was already aware of the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis at home. It no longer appears Beijing is disposed to negotiating fairly, nobly, on anything. This may appear all the more the case as Beijing may feel it is moving closer and faster to its goal of overcoming the US as the world’s dominant power. After examining this, readers should recall the discussion earlier in this review of the “decieving the sky” strategy ascribed to China’s approach. It is very fitting. Quite so!

By the time the second action is realized by the second party, be it the US or otherwise, it is usually still too unfathomable to imagine that the more malign outcome was sought all along by China. By the time it may be accepted by the second party that every step taken by China was part of one larger scheme, the dye will have long since been cast. In its business of conquest, Beijing almost always does everything completely. China’s efforts in this manner do not seem to have an end.

US political leaders must be willing to do the hard yards to ensure its position is protected. This is not a situation that can be nuanced through talks at the negotiation table. China will not surrender any of its gains or leave what appears to be clear paths to its objective for anything the US might offer, except surrender or capitulation.

However, those US political leaders might also consider the words of Paine, 18th Century American political writer, theorist, and activist of the American Revolution asserted in The Crisis No. V (1778): “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

Workers in a high-tech facility in China (above). Gertz explains that an expert source in the US Intelligence Community revealed to him that Chinese intelligence operations only began receiving the attention they deserved in the late 2010s after China stopped using more cautious methods and adopted bolder approaches to stealing secrets and recruiting spies. Citing a retired source from the US Intelligence Community, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz explains that current Ministry of State Security recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs.

Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations

In Chapter 8 “Chinese Intelligence Operations”, Gertz takes the reader into the arcane world of espionage via the operations of Chinese intelligence services in the US. US counterintelligence services have tried to grapple with the matter of Chinese espionage, however the situation with the activities of Chinese intelligence services nevertheless has become an impossible one for them. The anecdotes that Gertz presents well depict the course of that intelligence struggle. He reconstructs the drama of each case. He does this so clearly, that one would believe that he was present in each case to watch events unfold.

At the core of the chapter’s discussion, Gertz explains that today, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intelligence agencies, along with the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party intelligence unit, are the leading forces of China’s intelligence power. Gertz supports the well-established view that the power of those services is focused solely on maintaining and expanding the power of the Communist Party of China in its drive for global domination. At the end of the chapter, Gertz briefly explains that there was ano important reorganization of the PLA intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) now resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. To provide a bit more detail on that transition, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army, the rough equivalent of the National Security Agency, responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for electronic warfare have been rolled into the new Strategic Support Force. The PLA’s human intelligence operations are managed by the Joint Staff Department, and comes under the Central Military Commission. Surely, Gertz is aware of all of this. However, as the main focus of Deceiving the Sky was shed light on the realities of China’s attitudes and behavior, actions and intent, with regard to the US, it was reasonable for him to preclose where he saw fit in his discussion of the Chinese intelligence services.) As for the United Front Work Department, as mentioned earlier in this review, it is one of four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders. The other three are the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.

Regarding MPS, Gertz says that it is the Chinese version of what has been called intelligence led policing that seeks to preempt crime. Yet, unlike the West, where laws limit the activities of police and security services, Gertz says Chinese security operations have few boundaries. One feature of the MPS is a system called “the Big System” that seeks to fuse masses of data from Chinese police and intelligence services into one program. Big intelligence is the intelligence version of the PLA’s drive for “informatization,” a term used for high technology analysis activities. 

Gertz informs that the massive police intelligence apparatus promises to make it more difficult for those seeking democratic political reforms in China to operate. As Gertz puts it, dissidents and enemies of the state as well as actual criminals will find it hard to plan and organize without leaving behind digital breadcrumbs that security services can collect and connect. He notes that theos MPS has also created the Golden Shield, a military style command structure designed to share intelligence throughout China. The systems have created pathways designed to breakthrough bureaucratic obstacles and link data. Golden Shield involves automatic analysis and cloud computing for analyzing masses of data including computerized facial, voice, and gait recognition. While MSS and PLA focus their spying operations on technology acquisition, MPS agents are engaged in spying on Chinese dissidents in the US.

Citing a former CIA director of counterintelligence, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities, lay those of MSS and the PLA, are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz appears absolutely taken by the fact that penetration of US national laboratories has led to the loss of at least six nuclear weapons designs and the enhancement of Chinese offensive and defensive capabilities. Gertz explains that current MSS recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs. The modus operandi of MSS counterintelligence Includes the recruitment of foreign intelligence officers and their agents for work as double agents. Gertz tries to get to the center of the mystery of how MSS was able to completely destroy the CIA’s networks in China through combination information from an operative within the CIA and communications system breach. An estimated 30 agents were caught of which three were killed.

Beyond its own human intelligence activities, the PLA, particularly what Gertz, as mentioned, still refers to as the 3rd Department of the PLA, has engaged in a cyber campaign which has inflicted considerable damage to include the theft of sensitive government trade and industrial secrets.

Much Gertz explains here, greatcharlie has also observed in previous posts that little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile for that matter. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage. If US counterintelligence services had ever managed to achieve some significant breakthrough on the Chinese intelligence front, one would hear “singing in the valleys.” US intelligence services, much as those of other countries, abhor the prospect of public scrutiny, but it is too late now to be concerned by such anxiety.

The tide of Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating.

In Aristophanes’ play, Birds (414 BC), the character Epops states: “The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it’s the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it’s this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.” Chinese intelligence services, perhaps at one time, expecting to face something out of the ordinary, that US counterintelligence services would have a few tricks up their sleeves, have not been challenged in any way that has halted or deterred their cyberintelligence or human intelligence activities. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. Surely there must be an atmosphere of optimism in the halls of the headquarters buildings of the Chinese intelligence services. The Communist Party of China most likely delights that without openly admitting to possessing such intelligence capabilities, at least through perception, it has that power over the US. 

One can imagine that on more than one occasion, resources, energy, and time were squandered following a false scent. (God help those who have been wrongfully suspected and falsely accused by mistaken or errant officers of any of the US counterintelligence service. It happens. No amount of reparation could ever fix the psychological and material damage very likely done to innocent targets and their loss of reputation and honor.)

Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.) Perhaps US counterintelligence services are applying old ways of thinking to a new type of intelligence struggle that bears little resemblance to previous ones. The key to it all remains out there somewhere. Finding those who would be capable and disposed to sniff it out using traces available would seem to be the real task ahead. One might presume that US counterintelligence services would hardly imagine anyone from outside the bureaucracy would be capable of producing some shred through their amateur study of the matter. Indeed, some senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, determined to stand as solid pillars of standard thinking and behavior that will not be blown down by the winds of change, may brook the idea of bringing in outsiders to handle sensitive matters. They may be mistaken. 

The solution to this espionage riddle, at least based on public reports, appears no closer within their reach. If the matter has not indeed already been settled, it may seem to some that it is at least at the edge of the end. The chance for US counterintelligence services to exhale will not come for a while. Chinese intelligence services do intend to let it come at all. US counterintelligence services have not despaired of getting a handle on the situation. Uppermost in the minds of senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services is whether anyone within the bureaucracy can produce the magic that will allow them the ability to gain and retain the initiative in a cause that appears to be lost. They must press ahead on the forward foot.

A US B-2 bomber and two US F-22 fighter jets fly in formation (above). The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. He still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might bring a solution to the crisis. Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. Ostensibly to assist in that effort, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People

Readers might recall the words of the 16th century Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous instruction guide for new princes and royals by The Prince (1532): “There are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts.” The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. Prosing out on that matter, he still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might help them develop a solution to the crisis.

Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. He does not believe it will be impacted by what he calls the national predicament, a seeming loss of clarity amid increased political polarization. To assist in finding that solution, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for what he hopes will be a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics. Gertz emanates a sense of assurance in his writing that the recommendations he offers in Deceiving the Sky would obtain good results.

Each of the 14 recommendations is sufficiently self-explanatory, some are accompanied here with a précis of his summary on it or greatcharlie’s own comments on it. Together, his recommendations have a cumulative effect. They include: 1) Information: Conduct aggressive competition in the realm of ideas. He proffers that the first step in creating a free and democratic China would be regime change, an effort to peacefully oust Communist Party of China; 2) Reciprocity: Restrict access by China to the US in ways equal to Chinese restrictions. A key measure would be to counter Chinese financial warfare with a US program of economic warfare; 3) Intelligence: Shift the focus and operating methods of American intelligence toward more robust and aggressive operations and more effective analysis. Rather than accept being pushed back on its heels, Gertz recommends that the US Intelligence Community should step up aggressive intelligence and counterintelligence operations against the Communist Party of China and the PLA; 4) Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system. Such reforms would need to be implemented in a way that would allow the US to better confront and counter growing Chinese hegemony; 5) Alliances: Create a pro-freedom, pro-prosperity, and pro-rule of law network in Asia. What was already seen in the Trump administration and still being seen in the Biden-Harris administration is Gertz recommendation that the US develop “a global network of democratic alliances targeting China that will seek to pressure Beijing into abandoning its totalitarian communist system and global designs.”; 6) Cultural/Educational: Severely restrict activities by Chinese nationals in the US who are abusing the American system. Gertz suggests that such activities should be restricted in recognition of the subversion and technology theft threats many unfortunately pose; 7) Counterintelligence: Major strategic counterintelligence operations and analyses should be implemented that focus on aggressively targeting Chinese intelligence and security services; 8) Economic: The US should begin a gradual policy of disengagement from Communist China economically; 9) Financial: Plan and carry out covert financial warfare operations against China; 10) Military Exchanges: The Pentagon and US Military must adopt a new policy that recognizes the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army as the main enemy; 11) Military Missile Defense: Expand American Regional missile defenses. As part of a strategy of neutralizing China’s massive and growing force of ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles, Gertz says US missile defenses around the world should be expanded; 12) Military Gray-Zone Warfare: Develop asymmetric warfare capabilities designed to negate Chinese military, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities; 13) Political: Create a Parliament in exile. The creation of a “democratic Chinese parliament in exile” that will develop new policies for a free China is an old chestnut.; and, 14) Russia: Play the Russia card. One might call Gertz the suggestion that the US should play the “Russia card” against China by seeking a free and democratic Russia aligned with the free world somewhat fanciful.

Most notable to greatcharlie in the context of this review is Gertz’s recommendation on “Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system.” In his summary of that recommendation, Gertz suggests that US diplomats and foreign service personnel should be retrained in the use of new and innovative diplomatic methods and techniques for the information age that emphasize successfully implementing new strategic objectives toward China that reject the failed diplomacy of the past. The new diplomacy will be rooted in honest assessments and understandings of the true nature of Communist China. A new objective will be to report on and take steps to force an end to the systematic abuse of human rights in China as a high priority. The US should seek to create a new alliance of nations that will seek to isolate China and spur internal democratic political reforms and promotion of freedom and free market systems in the region. Strategic and economic dialogues such as those in the past that produced no results must be ended. New engagement should be limited to conducting bilateral and multilateral talks on concrete, achievable objectives like verifiable arms limitation and enforceable trade agreements. It certainly would not be velvety going forward if such a course were followed, but perchance US values and interests would be well-served.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s research sheds an extraordinary side light on the undeniably aggressive thinking of Beijing. While US political leaders are still in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so. Surely, if any of them were to take the time to look at Gertz’s book with an open mind, it would given them the necessary nudge to begin thinking in that direction. Deceiving the Sky could also lend support to deliberations among colleagues on the matter. 

There are likely quite a few citizens in the US who have heard about China’s aggressive activities. Surely, they would appreciate reading Deceiving the Sky as it would provide them a firm basis for understanding the many issues involved. As greatcharlie has already stated in this review, information from the text that is discussed here only represents a fraction of what the reader will find in Deceiving the Sky. For greatcharlie, the book was both edifying and a pleasure to read. Without hesitation, greatcharlie recommends Deceivibg the Sky to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: China’s Coronavirus Tack Includes More Abrupt Officials and Political Warfare; Its Diplomatic Tool Must Endure the Consequences

Communist Party of China Headquarters (above). The Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic has been thoroughly questioned in the West, especially in the US. Beijing’s finger wagging in response has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. If Beijing stays on its current course, activities in support of the Party-line will surely intensify. Political warfare units and officers overseas of the Chinese intelligence services possess the know-how to propagate the Party-line and are being relied upon. A quiet sense of resentment has likely risen among Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomats and professionals who seem to be increasingly tasked with making right turns on the truth and have watched as their legitimate work, to promote China’s policy interests, is regularly supplanted by intelligence efforts.

From the moment the coronavirus outbreak began, the People’s Republic of China was not able to overcome and resolve all challenges that beset it. Facing that reality appears to have shaken the psychological foundations of China’s Communist Movement to its core. Under the somewhat mechanical guiding principles of the Communist Movement reinvented by Chairman Mao Zedong insist that China must be forever driving upward and making progress. All efforts should be directed at pushing China to meet its destiny of taking a dominant position in the world. If China did not reach the top, it would remain a sheep not a shepherd. The volumes of collected concepts and quotes could not offer answers for Beijing to quickly and effectively contain the coronavirus, Having failed to meet the needs of its people, Beijing then failed to prevent a coronavirus outbreak worldwide which it must have come to term with by now. Thereby, any sense of failure has likely been intensified. Yet, Beijing has refused to give up the ghost and has continued to extol the virtues of its medical, scientific, and advanced technological capabilities. The identity of the Party is dependent on a certain worldview concerning the Communist Movement, the teachings of Mao, China’s greatness, and China’s world dominance in the future. When that worldview was threatened, the Party would only hold even more tightly to it and potentially double-down on that line of thinking. That possibility of doubling-down most likely led to the decision by Beijing to contain the virus in China as robustly as possible and contain any information just how bad the situation was. Certain medical approaches were approved and taken. Concern over what might have happened outside China was not given equal importance. and few real steps, if any, were taken that related to a concern over an outbreak. No alternative ideas concerning an almost certain outbreak from the discerning and wise in Beijing–academics, scientific scholars, any with relevant expertise–were investigated or allowed any light. Controversies were to be avoided. Those few who said anything contrary to the Communist Party of China line were effectively silenced.

Indisputably, the Communist Party of China’s line on the coronavirus pandemic clashes with the truth. It has been questioned in the West, especially in the US. Although finger wagging at the US in response may seem morally invigorating, it has not resulted in some grand conversion of anyone in the US or anyone in the world to China’s point of view. It certainly has not improved relations with the US. In China, the Communist Party of China, the National Party Congress, and the State Council of China are the immediate sources of all the daily needs of the Chinese people, that certainly would include information. The government would like to convince the Chinese people that international affairs, it says what it has to say, does what it has to do, to lay up a future of world dominance for China. Given this, perchance Beijing has continued this course because it believes the rebuke of the US has served to assure the Chinese public that there is no ambiguity in what the Communist Party of China has determined are the facts. Beijing may believe it is helping Chinese citizens live their lives fully and clear because they are provided “the truth.” By now, though, a good number of Chinese citizens are aware that one cannot know with certainty what is real from what one hears from the government.

In hac re ratio habenda est ut montio acerbitate. (Reason should be held to (applied) in this matter so that the admonition may be without harshness.) While greatcharlie would prefer to avoid being seen as providing advice to Beijing–which in reality would most likely have no interest in its meditations on the matter. Nonetheless, one might say out of academic interest, greatcharlie has sought to conceptualize what Beijing could have done on the world stage when the coronavirus epidemic began in China and offers some thoughts on what it could still do today to recurvate better present itself as “a leader” on the world stage. Related to that, greatcharlie also takes a brief look in the abstract at why any immediate change in the attitudes and behavior may not occur so quickly as its diplomatic tool, the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been going through a type of transition contrary to its purpose of building better relations with other countries.

As a net result of its ongoing tack concerning the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has thoroughly encased itself in the dreadful mistakes it made by unintendedly, yet repeatedly, shining light on what it did not do right and by its continuous attempts to muscle its way out a disastrous situation with words and actions cobbled together inconsistently in an unsuitable emergency public relations campaign. It would seem that in undertaking its current course, not one appropriate contingency has been considered.

If one were to allow Beijing a bit of latitude, purely out of academic interest, its response to the Western, particularly the US, may be the sense that Chinese leaders might have seared into their psyches over decades about Western perceptions of China. That sense might be informed by utterances of identifiable relics of bigotry from a bygone era to the effect that China is nothing for the West to worry about and the Chinese lack the intellectual power and scientific and technological know-how to ever match US capabilities. That was the case when former US Vice President Joe Biden stated: “I mean, you know, they’re nice folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” To that extent, Chinese leaders view their country a being wronged for too long and they endeavor to right that wrong. (Interestingly, in the administration of US President Barack Obama from which political leaders who have made such statements mostly emerge, a laissez faire attitude resulted in policies on China lost in the wilderness that failed to genuinely protect or promote US interests. The delinquency and lethargy of previous administrations also allowed for the steady progress of China versus US power and further advances in technology.)

Certainly, the moment for immediate action has passed. However, a better course than the one taken, to be brief, would have been to accept the reality of their situation, listening to those in their own country who presented the truth about the virus, and fully acknowledging all of the different developments as they happened, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most important would have been to be the very party that sounded the global alarm, proactively suggesting constructive precautions to all countries, interacting closely with those leading industrial powers which could have a real impact in stemming the problem worldwide while there was still at least a modicum of time for all countries to act, not just China. Beijing could have worked strenuously with international organizations to include the UN Security Council, fully alerting them that the threat that global pandemic may be in the making. Within those institutions, practical and promising forward-looking recommendations to forge a synergistic international response could have been formulated and promoted by China. The flurry of positive action, that would most noticeably include Beijing’s humble recognition of its errors, would have been an astonishing, powerful display of international leadership by Beijing, albeit over a crisis it caused. The fact that something akin to this approach was not undertaken, and perhaps not even considered, has been a sticking point for Trump.

If it so chose at this stage, Beijing could still direct energy and resources at pecking away at the shell in which they trapped themselves much as a chick breaking out an egg. Nuanced approaches requiring positive action by all relevant bureaucracies across the government to create a positive image and firm, favorable picture that a sanguine China is taking all affirmative steps possible should need to be developed. They would need to be finessed, reshaped continuously, to maximize impact upon viable opportunities to break out its self-inflicted shell the country’s earlier missteps. It would also require more humble cooperation with the rest of the world, not reckless antagonistic verbiage that has so far only triggered the never previously considered process of genuinely isolating China from the international community, international trade and political economy, that is slowly gaining momentum. Rather than experiment with anything new, thoughtful, and inspired, Beijing simply turned to the derivative tactics of locking down and concealing less-desirable and outright unpleasant developments. Disappointingly, the leadership of China appears to lack the reflexes, sensibilities, and sadly, the sophistication, to turn toward the more advanced notions required for positive cooperation. Perhaps, brooding leaders of the Communist Party of China have managed to convince themselves that the main front in all of this is a battle of wits between East and West, in which two disparate political and economic systems compete for dominance.

If no erosion of its current positions occurs, and Beijing stays on its current course, one can expect activities in support of them to intensify. Seemingly, the quondam Cold War era, in which such thinking held prominence is apparently not dead, at least not in the foreign affairs parlors of the Communist Party of China, as well as the Chinese intelligence services, particularly the Ministry of State Security (MSS), and to an extent, departments of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and intelligence elements of the Communist Party of China. The MSS, a civilian intelligence agency, comparable to some degree to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is the embodiment of the logic that created the Chinese system’s intimidating, authoritarian order. Since 1983, it has choreographed events to accomplish the Communist Party’s purposes worldwide. With regard to China’s coronavirus crisis, MSS possesses the know-how through specially trained personnel in political warfare units and officers overseas who could engage in active measures, propagating the line of the Communist Party of China. So far, the apparent political warfare attack against the US, has not been the smashing success leaders of the Communist Party of China were hoping for. However, its effects are doubtlessly being felt throughout the foreign and national security policy apparatus of the Chinese government. With regard to the MFA, large swathes of activities concerning China’s foreign relations with other countries have been taken out of the hands of the diplomats and other professionals at the MFA and put in the hands of the intelligence services.

Materiam superabat opus. (The workmanship excelled the materials.) In the offices of the MFA, there is very likely a very quiet sense of resentment among professionals having chosen to represent China and promote its policy interests worldwide only to have their legitimate activities regularly superseded and supplanted by the machinations of the Chinese intelligence services at the behest of Communist Party of China. After decades of proudly engaging in complex, meaningful diplomatic work, mostly behind the scenes, with the goal of having China respected and reckoned as a power that can have a significant impact in international affairs by the international community, it is surely difficult for MFA diplomats and other professionals to watch as China, instead of further establishing its place among dominant powers, is now earning a reputation as an international pariah.

The purpose of diplomacy should be to prevent war. Bilateral and multilateral contacts with other countries, statements, press releases, and other messaging should not have the aim of antagonizing and raising the ire of leaders and other decisionmakers in foreign capitals. MFA diplomats and professionals would surely prefer to avoid a tit-for-tat situation with the US in which one act of retribution would lead to another from China. With every new act, the chance that a serious outbreak of violence increases.

As mentioned, MFA is ostensibly the primary government agency with a portfolio of implementing the foreign policy and managing diplomatic affairs of China, however the ministry now finds its diplomatic efforts with the US being increasingly supplanted by MSS efforts to conduct active measures such having journalist, academics, and other policy scholars promote the Communist Party of China’s hardline and by intensifying its efforts to steal a wide variety of technologies from US companies and universities. More recently, that nefarious work has included efforts to steal the fruits of money, time, and research into therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus. MFA diplomats may find themselves more and more dragged into MSS operations and those of other Chinese intelligence services as their efforts intensify. In a recent incident, it was discovered that a biology researcher at the University of California-Davis lied about her ties to the PLA. After being interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she sought refuge in China’s San Francisco consulate. While it has not been definitively established that she was engaged in intelligence work in the US, there is a high probability she was. The PLA would not knowingly deploy an officer to the US without tasking her with some intelligence function. MFA is a consumer of information from cloak and dagger work, and it’s diplomats would prefer not to be sacked into the business of obtaining it.

One might suppose that it was already enough for MFA diplomats to tolerate a policy generally understood to be in effect that has MSS personnel assigned to China’s embassies and other permanent diplomatic missions overseas for up to six years, with a few remaining in post for 10 years if required. Reportedly, in the US, there are seven permanent Chinese diplomatic missions staffed with intelligence personnel. When the accommodations to the MSS aforementioned are added to this, it most assuredly piles on to a heap of discontent that has been long standing.

To enlarge on the point of how MFA is intriguingly being utilized in the larger more belligerent approach of China toward the US, recall how early into the coronavirus crisis, the world witnessed the Department of Information of the MFA using a far sharper tone. As time moved on, it seemingly devolved into being simply a direct mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, providing some cover for the Party’s own offices. What was being declared about the US has been far from plausible, and apparently manifested anxieties, fears, over outcomes of grave errors made within China. Press briefings amplified those statements online with a bit more vigor. Spokespersons propagating the stronger line were abrupt in what is the approved Party fashion. Indeed, all MFA officials comported themselves publicly with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Disinformation was also being spread from MFA sources through posts on Twitter. Those who are following this matter closely will hardly forget the shocking and incredulous tweet from Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in which he tried to direct blame at US for the coronavirus epidemic in China. From @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

The hallowed diplomatic doctrine of the MFA has been moderation in all things. Calmness and authority must be shown not only in diplomacy but in all circumstances. The more recent assertive approach has pulled MFA officials from their more traditional conservative, stolid posture. Reportedly, the transition in approach is due to something called “Wolf-Warrior diplomacy.” The name derives from high grossing, action films, “Wolf Warrior” and “Wolf Warrior II,” that feature Chinese special operations forces in battle against China’s adversaries. While the films present a false reality, the nationalistic ideas and ideals they  promote apparently cross-polinated with thinking of China’s leadership on real foreign and national security issues.

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.) With good reason, somber and astute foreign policy analysts worldwide have found it difficult to believe that MFA diplomats and professionals are pleased to adhere to a policy that is named after and centered upon a banal amusement. There is some indication that the Wolf Warrior diplomacy is not novel, but rather has been in effect for a decade. However, the requirement that MFA diplomats and even officials of other government ministries take on a “fighting spirit” has really been something insisted upon by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Wolf Warrior diplomacy is all seen is a response by Beijing to highly biased perceptions of China presented especially in Western media. Recall, that notion was touched upon earlier here. Biases heard from overseas by China are often perceived not only as ideological but racist. There is also a prevalent perception in China that as the country has become more powerful on the world stage, other countries increasingly sense that it poses a threat to their respective interests.

The official position on the impact of Wolf Warrior diplomacy on Chinese diplomats and professionals is that it has raised their morale and encouraged a more assertive style. Yet more plausibly, MFA diplomats and professionals feel Wolf Warrior diplomacy is a load of bollocks, and they could mercilessly dissect the shortcomings of that diplomacy and anything produced under it. Intriguingly, expressions of traditional Chinese diplomacy and professionalism have been heard here and there. Comments of that nature made by the People’s Republic of China Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing were highlighted in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Reportedly, Cui told the HBO news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. However, despite such coruscating flashes of what could be called true MFA sensibilities, strong disagreements felt by diplomats and professionals are generally left at the door of their office buildings. At best a very cautious demarche should be attempted in house by the most secure diplomats in the face of decisions and policies of the leadership in an authoritarian, and arguably totalitarian, Communist state. That demarche should never be looked upon by outside observers as a fuite du courage, as much as a pragmatic, existential necessity.

Perchance, more MFA diplomats and professionals disagree with Communist Party of China line policies than one could imagine. No one hoping for the best for China would want to see good thinking officials engage in some une enterprise désespérée that could result in having them brutally weeded out of the system. At least for the time being, nothing that could relatively “bring down the house” should be uttered. Having been directed to promote policies based on the attributes of a fictitious character from an action film, MFA diplomats and professionals have done so without question both overseas and at home. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated: “It is the mark of an educated man to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

At one time, the MFA had a clear cut choice between being a mediator and an enforcer of China’s foreign policy. Its diplomats displayed a certain style and nuance as they made offers and discussed the proposals to resolve issues with other countries. Wolf Warrior requires a hardline stand every time. Insights will not advance efforts, dogma will. In following, as time passes, the MFA will likely be forced to make half turns away from the truth, ensuring that it is never on the correct side of issues. As the MFA is used more and more as a tool to proclaim the aggressive message of the Communist Party of China, it places into question whether the ministry will even keep its main job of making peaceful entreaties with foreign governments. While diplomats might meet with the foreign diplomatic counterparts, there would be superficiality to those contacts. It would be diplomacy after a fashion, albeit in an unsatisfactory way. The work of MFA diplomats, as it once was, would be finished. Maliuolum solacii genus est turba miserorum. (A crowd of fellow suffers is miserable kind of comfort.)

The fact that the Chinese government initiated the ongoing coronavirus disaster cannot be credibly truthfully argued against. Sadly, Beijing so far has not demonstrated any interest in acting appropriately concerning the present matter of the coronavirus. It will most likely attempt to continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. Nevertheless, despite that having transpired, it is not too late to turn the situation around. China can put the present time to good use. The US, as the true dominant power in the world must maintain its poise. It must not react. It must act in a measured way using effective means, at a time and place of its choosing. Despite all the dissatisfaction and disappointment felt toward China, the US must interact as amiably as possible. Surely, the two countries are not at a point yet when the dark waters of despair have overwhelmed their leaders. When diplomats from both sides meet, they must approach each other with a certain buoyancy and hope. Consilio melius contendere atque vincere possumus quam ira. (We can compete and prevail better through wisdom than through anger.)

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


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

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

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

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


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

Prominent Europeans’ Responses to Trump at Munich

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

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


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

News Media Reports and Their Possible Impact on the Matter

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Demonization and Confirmation Bias

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

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

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

President Trump Meets With British PM Theresa May At The White House

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

Groupthink in Europe on Trump

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

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

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


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

European Leaders and Officials Must Act under Pressure

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Knowing the Real Trump

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

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


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

The Way Forward

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

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

Many times, from a bad beginning, great friendships have sprung up. Until Europe sets forth to establish firm ties with the Trump administration, there is only the prospect of receding into a gloomy world, in which the potential of the transatlantic relationship will be frozen. To escape from it, some might deny reality and create a substitute reality in which they might concede that the only prospect for peace is a concordance with their most likely adversary, Russia. The idea of wanting to turn desperately to false reality reminds of the poem Ode to a Nightingale by the English poet, John Keats. In this 1819 ode, Keats emphasizes the difference between the gloomy physical world and the dreamlike, spiritual world of the nightingale. In the fifth stanza, Keats stimulates the reader’s senses by describing that very fragrant, floral, gossamer imitation of reality: “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, / Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, / But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet / Wherewith the seasonable month endows / The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; / White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; / Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves; / And mid-May’s eldest child, / The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, / The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”

Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (above) wrote Duty not to tritely vent anger and disappointment over his recent experience in the US government, but to engage in a sincere effort to improve the government’s handling of defense and foreign policy issues. 

In a March 25, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the now independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow’s orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases.), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.”  Gates, an American statesman, a former cabinet member of two administrations, patriotic and dedicated to his country, now out of government, sought to contribute to the US policy debate on Russia by writing this assessment of Putin’s moves in Ukraine.  Much as he was compelled to use his experience as a national security official, and expertise on the former Soviet republics to write his editorial, Gates was inspired to write his latest book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Some reviewers have referred to Duty as a tell-all, arguing Gates was motivated write it by the urge to settle scores.  They point to the fact that it would seem impossible for any future president to hire Gates for a cabinet post.  However, Gates intentions were not so banal, and at 70, he certainly is not concerned with gaining a post in any future administration.  Just as when he decided to leave civilian life to take the position of Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration in 2006, Gates saw the possibility of sharing today the benefits of his experience, lessons he learned, and mentoring from those who selflessly protected the US for decades under far more demanding, dangerous circumstances.  As the US heads into dark territory with Russia and perhaps Iran and North Korea, his comments in Duty will prove significant to those who need to know what to do. Never wanting to see his country or president fail, writing Duty, with great passion and candor, was a way for Gates to ignite positive change and improvement.  Undeniably, he has managed to reach administration officials and Members of Congress, many of whom were unwilling to listen to his advice while he was serving in government.  In using this method to reach official Washington, calling attention to what he saw as the error in its ways, Gates put much at risk. Yet, in that way, Duty is truly an articulation of Gates’ generosity.

Some reviewers have found it enough to say Gates rose from the ranks at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining in 1967 via the US Air Force, but that is not enough to help readers understand the prism through which he views service in government.  The CIA of the Cold War years was different in many ways for the Agency today.  As he moved through numerous major events in his early career, Gates worked effectively as yeast within wheat flour, quietly, perhaps initially undetected.  Yet, over time, he was seen as having a positive impact through his work, eventually recognized as being part of the process of moving things forward.  He was never the sort to be negative or appear disgruntled.  During his career, Gates likely came in contact with CIA officers such as, Donald Gregg, Robert Ames, Gary Schroen, Jack Devine, Dewey Clarridge, Claire George, James Lilley, William Buckley, James Delaney, William Colby, Richard Helms, and Vernon Walters, with whom dozens of stories of ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism are coupled.  Contacts with such associates and a multitude of others helped Gates develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, on top of all he was learning directly through his duties as an analyst on the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As Gates reached the senior ranks of the organization, especially the job of Deputy Director of CIA, his work at headquarters was supplemented by travels worldwide, to establish or ensure understandings and agreements the Agency had with foreign personalities, some with whom most professionals and the average person would never wish to come in contact.  By that time, Gates was also made very familiar with the more esoteric, advanced, and somewhat frightening aspects of the US intelligence community’s activities.  Outside of CIA, he worked closely with Brent Scowcroft, as well as with Colin Powell and James Baker, legends in the world of US foreign and defense policy.  He was Deputy National Security Advisor during the fall of the Soviet Union.  Eventually he would become the Director of CIA. Gates’ counsel was highly valued among senior foreign and defense policy officials and presidents.

Before Gates came back to Washington to serve as Secretary of Defense, he served as President of Texas A&M University and a member of several corporate boards. He moved away from the worries of national security, leaving the job to the capable hands of others.  While developing the minds of young men and women was the concept and intent behind his service at Texas A&M, he also had a chance to reflect on his life and career.  That time of calmness and peacefulness allowed him to sharpen his discernment and see what is really inside himself.  It was likely in that period, that Gates recognized the importance of being candid and forth-right with associates.  Being polite is a virtue; silence is golden. However, remaining silent when change or action is necessary is wrong.  When the flock has strayed, remaining silent is failure.  Having developed a reputation for nearly a century for being discreet, Gates, with Duty, seemingly put the concept of being forthright in full effect in order to repair matters.  He is honest about his associates, appropriately self-critical of his own judgments, and candid in reflecting on issues that might have been handled better.

With much attention being given to Gates criticisms, the fact that Duty is an interesting history of his work as secretary is nearly lost. Gates feels that he met the job’s challenges to include: managing the activities of the armed forces globally; developing the department’s budget, overseeing the research, acquisition, and procurement process for new systems; directing the Defense Department’s relations with allies and partners overseas, managing relations with other departments such as State, Energy, Homeland Security; directing the relationship of his department with the White House and the Congress; and, managing the relationship between the military services and the president.  When Gates arrived at the Defense Department, its bureaucracy was comfortable and resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs as well as neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors.  Gates explains how he assured $16 billion was in a supplemental budget to get thousands of much needed MRAP troop-carriers built and sent quickly to Iraq and Afghanistan, against objections from the service chiefs.  He produced a budget in the first year of the administration of US President Barack Obama that cut or curtailed 33 weapons programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter.  He changed the Army’s promotion board and thus allowed some of the most creative colonels, whose careers had been thwarted, to advance to the rank of general.  When he discovered the horrors at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he fired the Secretary of the Army and fixed the situation immediately.  He also fired the Air Force Chief of Staff for slowing down production and delivery of reconnaissance drones, which in Iraq helped the troops spot roadside bombs and track down the insurgents who planted them.  In agreement with just about all other reviewers, Gates’ descriptions of how he managed to successfully lead and effectively direct the Defense Department with a combination of cooption and coercion, tempered by decades of government service at the senior level, makes Duty a book that should be read by every future US Defense Secretary, as well as political and business leaders, and defense and foreign policy makers in any country.

Yet, the history of his tenure as Defense Secretary served as background to all of his appraisals of behavioral and attitudinal changes among officials and officers in the government since he left in 1993.  Gates clearly saw it as emblematic of a degraded quality of service to the US.  That apparently startled him the more than anyting else.  At the lower levels, Gates found the behavior of young members of the National Security Council staff unsettling.  The National Security Council (NSC) staff was dominated by young congressional and campaign staffers who had little or no experience in foreign policy.  Gates explains the young staffers would engage in meddling to include making calls to four-star generals.  Having served in similar positions under four previous presidents Gates says such actions would have constituted “a firing offense” in previous administrations.  There was apparently no model for the young staffers to follow that remotely resembled what Gates had known in the past.  Rank and title had lost its meaning.  Perhaps the assumption was made by younger staffers that all were equally finding their way as students in school.  They were likely never told and never consiered  that most older, senior professionals possessed a depth of knowledge tha coiuld have been useful to them.  Interestingly, during the Cold War, the KGB and GRU likely would have avoided any attempt to contact such young staffers as described by Gates, judging them as too erratic, possessing a far greater sense of importance than deserved, and displaying questionable judgment.

While former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was praised by Gates, characterizing her as cooperative and capable, many other senior officials at the White House also drew criticism from him.  Gates appraised Tom Donilon, the second National Security Advisor in the Obama administration as suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership to the point of stating in a meeting that it was “insubordinate” and “in revolt” against the White House.  At one point in an Oval Office meeting, Donilon was so argumentative about military operations that Gates contemplated walking out of the room in anger.  “It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”  Gates referred to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as “hell on wheels” and “a whirling dervish with ­attention-deficit disorder.”

Gates’ criticism of US Vice President Joe Biden has received considerable note in the media.  He depicts Biden as being loud and garrulous and a comical “motor mouth,” obsessed with politics over substance.  At the same time, he says Biden is “simply impossible not to like.”  Gates explains how Biden presumes to know more about counterterrorism than an experienced Special Operations general.  However, Gates only assessed that as an aspect of Biden’s “relentless attack” on “the integrity of the senior military leadership.”  Gates noted that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  What he faults Biden most about is poisoning Obama’s relationship with his generals.  Gates stated, “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, everyday saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’ ”

Regarding the presidents he served as a Defense Secretary at war, Gates explains President George W. Bush and his aides squandered the initial military victories in both wars by mistakes and short-sighted policies.  He expressed dislike for Bush’s “freedom agenda” as “too simplistic” and his objectives in Afghanistan as “embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naïve).”  He believes that the invasion of Iraq and the revelations about renditions, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo “fueled further anti-American feeling.”  Yet, Gates admits admiring Bush as “a man of character, a man of convictions, and a man of action.”   Readers may find an incongruity in these statements, Gates understands that presidents also have feelings, make errors, but have the right to be treated respectfully.  Errors on the other hand do not have rights and errors made by authorities should be given attention. Gates successfully managed to assist Bush by accelerating the isolation of Vice President Dick Cheney with a number of political maneuvers.  He clearly saw Cheney’s advice as questionable.  Before he left office, Gates reveals that Cheney advocated bombing both Syria and Iran. Gates explained that he almost singlehandedly kept Bush following through on that suggestion regarding Iran.

Gates served Obama well, encouraging and supporting him.  Gates clearly understood there were enormous gaps in Obama’s background, knowledge, and understanding with regard to national security.  Coming into the administration, Gates let the president know that he would be with him and would stand by him.  He asked Obama to trust him, and promised not to fail him.  Gates hoped there would be a process by which he could impart the best of what he knew for the president to absorb.  Indeed, the president spoke in confidence with Gates, often seeking out his counsel.  For Obama the policy making process on Afghanistan was agonizing and left him wary of his generals.  Concerned over being disrespected by them, Obama asked Gates, “Do they think because I’m young that I don’t see what they’re doing?”  However, Obama eventually became non-receptive to certain reasoning. Gates indicates that was perhaps due to competing messages from Biden and others.  Such competing voices, even worse, were further confusing the situation.  Some officials misunderstood what Gates had learned long before that the weight only falls on the president’s shoulders.  Clarity of thought is especially critical on tough issues.

Gates explains a break occurred with Obama in April 2011, just he was departing the administration.  Obama had previously agreed that Gates would restructure the defense budget but that its size would not be altered. In the face of midterm elections and fiscal pressures across the board, White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, informed Gates that he would need to cut the budget by another $400 billion over the next 10 years. Gates explained “I was furious.”   He writes. “I pointed my finger at Daley and said, ‘This White House’s word means nothing!’ ”  True, the president’s job is to set national priorities, and political changes unavoidably alter those settings; it’s the Defense Secretary’s job to devise the best strategy given his limited resources.  Yet, Gates, well aware of that, perhaps is not recounting the whole story of the agreement.  Perhaps it included a quid-pro-quo that was reneged upon.  Gates disappointment also could have been due to what he recognized as a pattern of mistrust and suspicion plaguing the White House’s relations with the Defense Department since 2009.  Gates already had a deep distrust of Obama’s staff, feeling betrayed on major promises made about the defense budget and about the process of allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.  On top of that, Gates explained being in the White House Situation Room and thinking that “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

If there was a point in the book where Gates could be said to have been aggressive and questionably constructive, it is in his discussion of the US Congress.  Gates sensed a superficiality about Congressional efforts, in which Members were not thinking deeply in the long term interests of US.  He witnessed a senselessness among those seemingly addicted to the insignificant.  He calls Members of the Senate “hypocritical and obtuse” and is angered by the “kangaroo-court environment” in committee hearings.  Gates states that the House of Representatives has “more than its fair share of crackpots” and “raving lunatics.”  He points to “rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks” by Members.

Perhaps the real window into Gates soul was his thinking about the troops.  Gates really cares.  He was essentially traumatized by his role in sending US soldiers overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He admits to crying over letters of condolence that he signed, later mulling over in bed the lives of those killed or wounded.  His emotions are genuine.  At one point Gates writes “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense.”  At another, he recalls telling a friend in an email, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”  He reveals in Duty’s conclusion that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 19th century Hanoverian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz stated, “Strength of character does not only consist of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.”  Duty is not part of an effort by Gates to angrily vent disappointment over the government, but a sincere effort to improve US national security.  Too many have looked at the work from the wrong perspective. Gates understands that US strength was created through patriotism, dedication, hard work, and real sacrifice.  He has asked that those serving in the government now perform in that manner.  For that reason, Gates saves his criticism especially for those professionals and officials who set the example and standard for the young staffers.  With a sense of respect and collegiality toward his president and his associates, Gates was quiet while in government, but silence does not obviate intellectual inquiry or activity of the spirit and of the soul.  Now, Gates has voiced his thoughts.  Hopefully Gates will continue to speak out as loud as he can.  Without question, highly recommends Duty to all of its readers.  In time, it will be viewed as one of the greatest Washington insider memoirs ever.

By the way, Gates did more than assess the situation with Russia over Ukraine in his March 25th Wall Street Journal editorial.  He also offered a way forward worth considering. He explained: “The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.” If negotiations betwee the US ad Russia over Ukraine fail, we shall see if his advice is taken, and see how it goes!

Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by US and Allies: Things Aren’t Improving on Ukraine, But Maybe General Dempsey Can Change That

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is cast in the same mold of a long line of senior military leaders who have effectively advised US presidents in time of crisis.

According to a March 24, 2014, New York Times article entitled “Russia Is Ousted from Group of 8 by US and Allies,” US President Barack Obama and other leaders of the Group of 8 industrialized democracies cast Russia out of their organization to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his annexation of Crimea.  The leaders also threatened tougher sanctions against Russian interests if Putin escalates aggression against Ukraine.   When asked to discuss such efforts to compel a change in course by Russia, Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have literally shrugged their shoulders.  Other Russian officials have scoffed and mocked such measures with great bluster.  Where possible, Putin has taken parallel actions against US and other Western interests in Russia. 

Though it seems Putin may be content with his military achievements so far, US officials, policy experts, journalists, as well as pundits outside of the policy making process, insist upon ratcheting up the situation, publicly declaring that an even greater threat exists from Putin.  Indeed, they pessimistically imagine Putin engaging in further aggression, ostensibly attempting to also annex territories of various former Soviet republics in which ethnic-Russian populations dominate, using the pretext of self-determination with those groups.  In doing so, they perhaps unwittingly have suggested Putin’s actions may mirror former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s efforts to grab ethnic-Serbian held territory in break-away Yugoslav republics to form a “Greater Serbia.”

Putin is astute enough to realize Crimea may be more than enough for Russia to handle.  As former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage recently commented at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, “We’re going to see if Crimea becomes a small bone in Putin’s throat.”  In that vein, the US and its Western partners will have their hands full, too, trying to build Ukraine up economically, politically, socially, and militarily. Russian media reports remain rife with suspicions and accusations of US involvement in the collapse of the regime in Kiev that was friendly to Moscow.  They emphasize to the Russian people that their country has an upper hand in the situation.  One news anchor in Moscow reminded Russian viewers that “Russia is still the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”

On the positive side, meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have regularly worked together on other urgent and important issues for both countries, have already begun.  Every effective channel reportedly has been opened by the US to express a message to Russians of US concerns about Ukraine.  However, there seems to be a notion held by Putin and Russian officials in their heightened state of alert that any efforts to find common ground with the US would amount to appeasement.  Expressions of US positions have been interpreted as US demands, eliciting a reflex response by Moscow not only to reject those positions, but any proposals drawn from them.  Communications are now somewhat mangled.  All important telephone conversations between Obama and Putin have been reduced to bristling confrontations between the two.  By all accounts, the conversations very likely would have been a finger-wagging sessions between Putin and Obama if they had taken place face to face.  The situation remains tense and dangerous.

Thinking outside of the box, handling the Russians, even with very apparent political and diplomatic aspects of the problem, might be facilitated with more input from a member of the US national security team who had recent success in negotiating with senior Russian military officials on critical defense matters.  That individual is US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  In addition to knowing what the most concerning Russian military capabilities and possibilities for action might be, his professional military experience, depth of knowledge, understanding of history, insights and worldliness, make him someone Obama perhaps could rely on more heavily for advice on the Ukrainian crisis.  Indeed, as a senior military officer he may possesses the capability of being effective in advising Obama in such crises in a way perhaps not possible for other presidential advisers at the moment.

Dempsey was recommended for the job of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates had already nominated Dempsey to be the Army Chief of Staff. In his recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Knopf, 2014), Gates explains that Dempsey had commanded forces in Iraq and command in Iraq or Afghanistan was a quality he wanted in the next chairman.  Gates also thought Dempsey had also performed superbly as the deputy commander and acting commander of the US Central Command.  When notifying Dempsey of his decision to nominate him as chairman, Gates explained to Dempsey that he was well-equipped to face the challenges of the budget, to lead the chiefs as a team, to maintain cohesion, and to help a new secretary of defense manage the relationship between the military services and the president.  Obama has clearly been very satisfied with Dempsey, selecting him twice as chairman.

Dempsey has dealt with a challenging agenda since assuming his present post.  Most relevant in the Ukraine crisis has been Dempsey’s part of the process of ensuring sustained positive US-Russian relations.  Dempsey recently demonstrated his ability to manage line of communication and promote constructive conversations with the Russians when he met with General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on January 21, 2014, in Brussels.  In that long-scheduled meeting, Dempsey displayed solid judgment and diplomatic acumen to advance an agenda for bilateral military relations.  The two generals produced a workable agreement that detailed 67 activities on which the armed forces of the US and Russia would continue to cooperate, despite pre-existing political and diplomatic problems and new concerns that arose over security assistance at the Sochi Olympic Games.  Indeed, the meeting came amidst a blitz of criticism leveled against Putin and organizers of the Games by US officials.  Those criticisms served to create the impression worldwide that the Games in Sochi were not safe to visit. The comments were almost perfectly designed to evoke the worst reaction possible from the Russians. 

Upon seeing Gerasimov, Dempsey likely noted he was a tough general, but not totally devoid of charm. As recounted through press reports of the Moscow Times, RT, RIA Novosti, Interfax, and other Russian press offices and of the American Forces Press Service (AFPS), Reuters, and the New York Times, Dempsey sought cooperation from Gerasimov through encouraging him to consider their unique situation as commanders of the most powerful military forces in the world.  Both were well aware of the esoteric, advanced, and frightening technologies that could be brought to bear in war and the need to maintain peace and stability in their nations’ relations and throughout the world.  Cooperation was the best way to achieve that end.  Dempsey was quoted as saying, “I think we have an opportunity to advance the relationship on areas of common interest.” Issues such as the US missile defense system, vehemently opposed by Moscow, were discussed.  However, Dempsey noted to Gerasimov’s apparent appreciation that Russia was a vital partner to NATO providing supply lines for its mission in Afghanistan, agreeing to allow the movement of nonlethal material to and from the war zone through Russian territory.  That rail and road network is becoming increasingly important as protests in Pakistan choke efforts to use the more convenient supply lines there.  Dempsey reassured Gerasimov about US and NATO efforts to ensure stability in Afghanistan after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force at the end of 2014.  Gerasimov asked for regular updates on the US and NATO effort to train, advise, and equip Afghan National Security Forces, as well as Afghanistan’s ability to maintain and control transportation lines in and out of the country. In an AFPS interview, Dempsey was quoted as stating: “We agree that a stable Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests.”

By the end of the meeting, Gerasimov was comfortable enough to endorse “regular contacts” between their militaries as “quite useful.”  Pointing to the less than congenial political and diplomatic relations between the US and Russia, Dempsey said it was important for the militaries “not to foreclose on conversations, even if at some points there are disagreements that prevent the forward movement” in other parts of the relationship whether political or diplomatic.  There could be no better time to consider using of that effective line of communication than now.

At the same meeting, to ensure a safe and secure Olympics, Dempsey made a nearly open-ended offer to Gerasimov to provide “full assistance” from the US military, echoing an offer made to Putin by phone that same week.  Gerasimov’s reaction of expressing a need for anti-IED technology was plausible to the extent that Islamic militants could have used roadside bombs against Russian government or civilian vehicle at the Games.  However, Russian Islamic militants were viewed as more likely to carry out a martyrdom operation (suicide attack) than plant a roadside bomb and detonate it at a distance.  If Gerasimov hoped to exploit US concerns and generosity, that all stopped with Dempsey.  He understood the implications of just giving it away, nonetheless, Dempsey remained quite respectful of the Russians’ request.  He understood that it was after all the job of the Russian security services to seek advantages over potential adversaries, and the effort to exploit the thinking among US political officials should have been expected.  There was a guarantee that Dempsey despite Gerasimov’s push for US technology would be guided foremost by his duty to defend the US.  Abiding by that, Dempsey seemingly, instinctively stood his ground against Russian appeals “in the interest of improving military cooperation and communication” while truly seeking to further military ties likely more earnestly than his Russian counterpart.

Dempsey’s insight on working with military elements of the Russian government could help his president through this crisis.  Dempsey may very likely be able to demonstrate that there is a way to deal with Russians even under current conditions.  He may be able to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, despite the very militaristic and aggressive mindset in which Russian leaders are currently steeped.  In a pinch, he may very-well act as a brake on any possible runaway breakdown in US-Russian communications. 

However, to be most effective in providing perspective and military advice from the chiefs for Obama on Ukraine, Dempsey would need to heed lessons from his experience with Obama on Syria in August 2013.  From that experience, Dempsey likely foresaw difficulties advisers would have in getting Obama to rapidly come to terms with any plans or proposals offered on Ukraine.  Providing a range of military option to effectively achieve objectives based on the president’s concepts, would be not be sufficient enough with Obama.  On Syria, Dempsey was initially tasked with providing advice and viable options for calibrated military strikes in response to Obama’s expressed goal of deterring and degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. In his Rose Garden statement, Obama took comfort in Dempsey’s advice, stating confidently: “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.  Moreover, the Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now.”  Yet, Obama was actually driven to resolve the crisis not by military action, but in a manner that would allow his worldview—that problems can be solved at the diplomatic table using reason and logic—to win through.  Unable to quickly find that handle to the situation, uncertainty and indecisiveness ultimately prevailed.  Obama was apparently paralyzed by fears of a bitter scenario that would have the US and the region embroiled in a larger conflict as a result of such action.  That was coupled by his concerns over the legal ramifications and international implications of military action against Assad regime.  Not knowing how best to respond, Obama strayed from a path of assertive and decisive action which most likely would have achieved all military goals and had a strong educational effect on Assad.  After making very shrill accusations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed his red-line by using chemical weapons, Obama made the now world renown decision not to take military action.  Obama settled for a deal Russia proposed and negotiated with the US to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Seeing how wrenching and difficult the decision making process on Syria was for his president, Dempsey surely understands that to ensure advice to Obama on Ukraine would be effective, the advice of the chiefs on military aspects of the situation would need to go in tandem with helping Obama remain strong and of good courage in the face of daunting circumstances.  Fears of greater problems stimulate the imagination, can lead to a pessimistic outlook on the future, and often cause a leader to deviate from a path.  Remaining confident a resolute when a crisis is brewing is made more difficult in a dispute such as the one between the US and Russia on Ukraine, when party seems determined to maintain an environment unfavorble for communication.  Dempsey’s advice in that respect would need to be direct and personal.  An example of how Dempsey might proceed would be to first put matters in perspective by discussing Ukraine from the context of the military stalemate that has existed between the US and Russia during and since the Cold War based in part on first-hand experience as a US Army officer.  Following that, Dempsey could assist Obama in understanding the calculated risks and possible outcomes of a variety of diplomatic and military initiatives with Russia given assessments made both in the past and present to make the situation more controllable for his president.  Consideration of what is possible to do and what will likely be faced would also facilitate reaching decisions on options to help bring Putin and Russian officials to a point where negotiation on the issues might be possible.  That is the advice Obama apparently wants foremost.  Along the way, Dempsey could continually assure Obama that he has the full support of the military chiefs.  He could assist Obama in mulling over possible courses of action to ensure a sharpening of his perception and clarity of direction.

Boiled down, Dempsey’s role would be that of mentor or coach for Obama, who apparently is still trying to understand how to manage US military capabilities, leveraging US strength through diplomacy and engaging in decision making on the use of force to deter and defeat opponents.  Putin and Russian officials may discern “tweaks” in Obama administration’s message and communications prompted by Dempsey, and respond favorably to a request to negotiate.

The Way Forward

The US and its European partners have met to discuss and level sanctions and other economic actions against Russian interests in retribution to the Crimea-grab and to deter Russian efforts to further destabilize a weak Ukraine.  However, Putin has executed plans to annex Crimea and a return to the status quo ante will not occur.  For Obama’s advisers, finding ways to bring Russia to the diplomatic table, given the confrontational attitude of Putin and Russian leaders, has been challenging.  However, resolving the Ukraine crisis may more importantly require bringing Obama to see and understand that it requires a certain agility to develop solutions for coping with opponents whose thinking is different from his own.  “Might doesn’t make right,” an utterance recently heard from Obama, is not best philosophy to which one might subscribe when dealing with real aggression.  This is particularly true for the US which predicates its ability to engage effectively in diplomacy worldwide on its capability to enforce its policies and protect its interests with considerable military power.

Advisers such as Susan Rice, Antony Blinken, Wendy Sherman, and Samantha Power, in addition to well-experience officials as Joe Biden, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan, certainly have a great deal to offer to Obama.  Yet, results show that they, most likely for various important reasons, have been unable able to reach Obama over the Ukraine crisis in a manner that has allowed him to appear truly in control of the situation.  There is a certain “human element” to advising leaders in time of crisis. In recent history, a line of remarkable senior military officers have very effectively served their presidents in a manner described here. Included among them are: Maxwell Taylor, Brent Scowcroft, Stansfield Turner, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and James Jones.  Dempsey was recommended as chairman based on his military experience.  That same military experience made him “expert” in encouraging, advising, and coaching fellow commanders in difficult circumstances.  Dempsey’s counsel would truly help his president in dealing with Putin and the Russians beyond the battlefield or even the diplomatic table.  Hopefully, Obama will somehow come to understand the benefits that would come from more fully utilizing Dempsey, and seek “greater” counsel from him soon.