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

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

In the US, the news media serves as a watchdog over government power and political activity. It is a source from which the public can inform itself on the decisions and actions of elected leaders and appointed officials. The news media is at its best when it provides the public with an intimate look inside government bodies and operations. Its role in the society is sacrosanct. “Freedom of the press” is one the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution listing specific prohibitions on government power. Admonishment can be viewed as a warning, and one may seek to encourage, improve the quality of another’s performance by warning. However, news media criticism of US President Donald Trump appears aimed at bringing his administration down. Trump’s critics also seemingly have the goal of destroying him as a person, reduce him to a demimonde. It has become de rigueur to speak against Trump. All of the negativity catches the eye. Middle of the list journalists have managed to make a place for themselves at the top by presenting anti-Trump stories with reckless abandon. The ranks of his critics actually extend beyond the US news media to include: think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the Obama administration. Some of Trump’s critics are convinced that Trump does not really want to do well for the US public or the world. They make such assertions being fully aware that the consequence of them might be to harm the trust that many in the US public have in Trump. Indeed, critics may have infiltrated and despoiled the psyche of many US citizens, and perhaps may have even destroyed the possibility for some to have confidence in future US administrations, both Republican and Democratic. When Trump fights back, his comments are very rough and tough, but they unlikely do enough to prevent negative reports and commentaries, all the opprobrium of critics, from sticking.

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

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

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

The “Authentic” Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

In an unconventional mode, Trump will appear driven by the idea that bold action can turn situations around in the case he is facing. His goal is to exploit success, preserve his freedom of action on immediate matters, and reduce vulnerability from action by his competitors. He acts in a manner designed to gain advantage, surprise, and momentum over his competitors, achieving results that would normally require far more time and would be more costly to the US. This has been observed repeatedly in his interactions with foreign leaders. Trump’s discernment of events and situations as well as his planning and execution of actions against competitors greatly resembles what military thinkers define as maneuver. He rushes to place himself in superior position in order to overcome and defeat his opponents efforts. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

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

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

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

Who Is Watching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The US News Media and Trump Critics: Caveat Emptor

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

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

Some Discerning Leaders Can Distinguish Perception from Reality Re Trump

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

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

1. German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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

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

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

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

2. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

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

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

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

3. French President Emmanuel Macron

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The False-Consensus Effect

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

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

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

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

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

The Hurtful Monkey on Trump’s Back

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

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

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

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

Critics’ Attacks Have Done Damage to Trump

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

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

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

Trump’s Generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Key Issue on which the Generals Might Help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s Critics Rarely Offer Anything Constructive

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran’s Khamenei about Fighting ISIS; Khamenei Is Counting on Suleimani, Not US Cooperation

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani (above) travelled to Baghdad the week of June 9, 2014 with sixty-seven of his top advisers. An Iraqi official explained then that Suleimani was “in charge of arming, deploying forces, weaponry and planning the battles.”  He has achieved some success.  Iranian President Hassan Rouhrani said Iran would consider working with the US against ISIS if it sees the US begin to confront the terrorists.

According to a November 6, 2014 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Obama Wrote Secret Letter to Iran’s Khamenei About Fighting Islamic States”, in October 2014, US President Barack Obama sent a highly confidential communication to Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  The letter to Khamenei appeared directed at both bolstering the anti-ISIS campaign and prodding him toward a nuclear deal.  Those briefed on the letter familiarize the Wall Street Journal of its content.  Obama apparently wrote to Khamenei that expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posed a threat to both the US and Iran, creating a common enemy for both countries. Obama stressed that both had the goal of defeating ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria.  While Obama did not recognize Iran as the primary power in the region, as Tehran insists, he acknowledged in a way that Iran was “important” to his military and diplomatic campaign to push ISIS from territory it has gained in past months and dubbed the Islamic Caliphate.  Obama ostensibly sought to mitigate Tehran’s concerns over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.  Although the US is arming and training Syrian opposition rebels, Obama apparently wrote in his letter that US military operations in Syria were not targeted at Assad or his security forces.  Those familiar with the letter explained Obama did not explicitly propose that the US and Iran coordinate their military activities.  However, they said there was a strong implication that coordination was desired.  Concerning the nuclear negotiations, Obama informed Khamenei that cooperation on ISIS was largely contingent on Iran reaching a comprehensive agreement with the P5+1 (the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council—the US, United Kingdom, France Russia, and China plus Germany) on the future of Tehran’s nuclear program by November 24, 2014 deadline.  That point in the letter seemed to also imply cooperation would be more to Iran’s benefit.

News of Obama’s letter to Khamenei was somewhat confusing in the US given past statements by the administration on Iran.  When US National Security Adviser Susan Rice was asked on NBCNews “Meet the Press” on October 12, 2014, if Iran was providing help to the anti-ISIS coalition, she said “No!” Rice went on to state “We’re not in coordination or direct consultation with the Iranians about any aspects of the fight against ISIL [ISIS].  It is a fact that in Iraq, they are also supporting the Iraqis against ISIL [ISIS].  But we are not coordinating.  We’re doing this very differently and independently.”  Yet, despite Rice’s statement, Obama’s letter proposing the two countries cooperate in the anti-ISIS fight seems to be, at minimum, a move towards direct consultation with Tehran.  In the US Congress, Obama’s decision to send the letter revealed what the administration is saying about Iran may be different from its plans for Iran. Republican and Democrat Members of Congress are concerned that the administration is prepared to make far-reaching concessions to Tehran on a nuclear deal.  Members likely also sense the administration is uncertain of how to proceed regarding ISIS, having pledged not to commit ground troops for combat operations.  While willing to support the anti-ISIS fight with funding, they will likely wants to reign in what they see as Obama’s perilous approach toward Iran.

For leaders, discerning how to proceed on foreign policy is made more difficult in adverse circumstances.  Some choices that may appear wise are not.  Near desperation on wanting a situation to be a certain way has led many, well-intentioned leaders in error to project their “positive thinking” on that of a foreign counterpart, or worse, an adversary.  Such decisions are often supported by captivating assessments of positive outcomes not based in reality. Only a negative outcome would reveal the flaws of an approach for some.  Perhaps in its rush to respond to the ISIS problem, the Obama administration may have been blinded to the fact that it could be sending the wrong signals and creating conditions for future difficulties with Iran.  Qui totum vult totum perdit.  (He who wants everything, loses everything.)

Obama’s Letter: Cui bono?

Developing options for Obama has been vexing for administration officials and advisers. Obama has been adverse to taking military action. That has typically left a limited range of options that they have been able to present to Obama.  Even in situations where the use of force is almost absolutely necessary as with ISIS, officials and advisers likely presented options for actions that were light-weight, very small in scale, and calibrated precisely. The initial size and scope of the US anti-ISIS air campaign evinced that.  At the “human level,” among reasons sending a letter to Khamenei was determined acceptable may have been that letters had been sent to Khamenei in the past with satisfactory results.  (Indeed, the October letter marked at least the fourth time Obama has written Khamenei since taking office in 2009.)  Sending the letter was easy enough to do.  The option was a diplomatic tact and therefore more attractive to Obama than the “unappealing” military options already adopted for Iraq.  Discussion on the letter among officials and advisers fell outside the milieu of the unending military intervention debate in the White House.  Additionally, as previously discussed by greatcharlie.com, Obama has a predilection toward forgiving or, considering the overwhelming military power of the US, showing mercy toward an offending rogue actor.  The letter is one more example of that tack. The effort to bring Iran into the anti-ISIS fight as a partner, even nominally, certainly is in line with Obama’s policy of promoting multilateral cooperation, particularly regarding the  commitment of military forces.  His apparent obsession with making it work may be part of the impetus for his administration’s outreach to an unlikely ally. So far, the administration has not had much luck prodding its anti-ISIS coalition partners into ground combat operations against ISIS. In 2014, the Obama administration began insisting that the US would act only when multilateral approaches were available. The impression was given that this was a world in which once sufficient effort was made by the US to organize other nations, problems could be handled through cooperation. When ISIS was on the move, it seemed that the US State Department, in addition to “rearranging,” with good intentions, the Iraqi government, was most interested in gathering countries to become members of the “global coalition” to degrade and defeat ISIS. 

Qualifications for inclusion in that coalition were nominal. Of the sixty-two countries participating in the anti-ISIS coalition, the vast majority are not contributing militarily.  Many countries simply pledged their support.  As greatcharlie.com discussed in its October 25, 2014 post entitled, “Who Has Contributed What in the Coalition Against ISIS?; The Obama Administration Must Place Success Against ISIS Ahead of Creating the Appearance of a Broad Multilateral Effort”, the US has practically demanded more from some countries.  One country the US has pressured for action is Turkey. Although Turkey is a power in the Middle East region, the notion that Turkey, possessing far less military capabilities than the US would subordinate its own concerns and interests, to support and defend others under US pressure is flawed.  Turkey likely reached the same conclusions as the US about conditions for intervening in Iraq and Syria with ground troops.  In Syria, there would hardly be a Syrian opposition force with which Turkish troops could work.  If Turkey’s operations in Syria were to “creep” beyond destroying ISIS and the Assad regime was displaced, political leaders in Turkey would likely feel ambivalent about simply turning over a nation on its border, Syria, to the very dysfunctional Syrian opposition.  Even if Turkey controlled or greatly influenced the Syrian opposition, it is hard to see how taking on the stewardship of Syria, which would surely be a political, economic, and social basket case, would be to Turkey’s benefit.

Responses in Tehran to Obama’s Letter

The thinking on Obama’s letter in Tehran was certainly different than his administration must have hoped.  An adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ali Khoram, speaking in Oman, confirmed to the Arabic daily, Asharq al-Aswat, that Obama reached out directly to Khamenei in a mid-October letter.  However, Khamenei’s foreign affairs adviser, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian State media that he was not aware of Obama’s outreach.  Khamenei’s web-site does not acknowledge receipt of the letter.  Obama’s letter, on its face, likely aggravated Khamenei, particularly to the extent that Obama did not render appreciation or even praise for the considerable effort and sacrifices already being made by Iran against ISIS.  That was a massive “oversight” if the goal of the letter was truly to promote cooperation at some level with Iran.  Using the anti-ISIS fight as a basis for dialogue with Khamenei perhaps had become a futile effort after he declared in October 2014 that “America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions—the wicked government of Britain—have sharply increased their efforts of creating divisions between the Sunnis and Shiites [Shi’a].”  He further stated, “They created al Qaeda and ‘Islamic State’ in order to create divisions and to fight against the Islamic Republic [Iran], but today, they have turned on them.”  It is possible that to Khamenei, the letter may have appeared more as a manifestation of Obama’s attitude than a response to a foreign policy problem.  Khamenei may have viewed the letter as an expression of Obama’s uncertainty over the US’s ability to shape the outcome of the anti-ISIS fight on his terms.  Khamenei, a spiritual, religious leader, likely sensed Obama’s inner-struggle over using the US military.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had already expressed ambivalence about continued communication between leaders in Washington and Tehran.  The Associated Press reported Rouhani stated in October 2014 that the time “wasn’t right” for another phone conversation or a meeting with Obama “because of the sensitivity that still exists between the two countries.”  The Associated Press also reported Rouhani as stating there must be substantive reasons with “high objectives” for conversations between world leaders.  If not, he said, “telephone calls are somewhat meaningless.”  Rouhani explained a phone conversation between leaders “would only be constructive and fruitful when it is done according to a precisely laid plan with precisely clearly stated objectives.” Otherwise, he said, “it will never be constructive or effective.”

Obama’s letter most likely did much to boost confidence among Iranian leaders, particularly the IRGC and political and religious hardliners that the US was not moving with an assured step and posed no threat to plans Iran has in Iraq or the region.  The failure of the US to act effectively and decisively in Iraq right away and the abysmal results shown for the nearly decade long US training program for the Iraqi Army and police forces very likely mitigated fears within all quarters in Tehran that the Obama administration might take military action against Iran or use Iraqi security forces to attack Iran.  Officials and advisers to Khamenei likely feel the fight with ISIS has caused Obama to consider what the US might face from the Iranian Armed Forces and other security elements globally if it attacked Iran’s nuclear program.  They certainly believe going to war with Iran would be a far greater enterprise for the US than fighting ISIS.  They probably feel certain that the US would never attack Iran while the anti-ISIS fight was raging.  They likely believe Obama would totally reject the idea of fighting Iran and ISIS simultaneously.

Iran’s Efforts in Iraq

Sitting right across the border from Iraq, Khamenei, Rouhani, the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and hard-line political and religious leaders, saw an even greater danger from ISIS than the US did, and immediately attended to it.  Rouhani has stated “We’ve actually been the ones countering terrorism in the region for years.”  He also stated, “Had it not been for Iran’s timely assistance, many of the Iraqi cities would have fallen to the hands of these vicious terrorists.”  The Iranians were never going to wait and see what the US does next once ISIS was on the move. They needed to stop ISIS. Iranian leaders certainly realized that waiting could lead to tragic consequences.  ISIS had begun engaging in abuses and summary executions of civilians as well as captives.  Syria provided a reliable model to understand just how bad things can become for Iraqis in ISIS controlled territory.  Back on June 15, 2014, insurgent fighters from ISIS posted images purporting to show the execution of hundreds of Shi’a fighters.

Iranian military and security officials knew that ISIS could reach a level of strength that it could threaten to execute entire populations of towns and villages to deter attacks against its fighters.  ISIS would follow through with their threats without hesitation.  ISIS has since committed such acts in Iraq. The Iranians also knew ISIS would set up an Islamic state in captured territory, sustainable or not.  If ISIS managed to establish itself in Iraq, the Shi’a community in Iraq would not be the only ones at risk.  ISIS would surely attack Iran.

Iran has IRGC General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani handling the situation in Iraq. The eyes of Iran are on him.  The Sunday Times of London reported on June 15, 2014 that Suleimani travelled to Baghdad the week of June 9, 2014 with sixty-seven of his top advisers. A senior Iraqi official explained then that Suleimani was “in charge of arming, deploying forces, weaponry and planning the battles.”  The Iraqi source also said Suleimani brought “light and medium weapons, rockets, heavy machine guns and lots of ammunition.”  Much publicity has been produced by the Iranian government over Suleimani’s presence on the ground in Iraq.  As it was predicted by greatcharlie.com, Suleimani began his operations against ISIS by using the Quds Force, which are IRGC special operations forces that he directly commands, and small numbers of other IRGC combat units.  Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) personnel, supported by Quds Force troops increased intelligence collection through surveillance and reconnaissance in ISIS held territory.  By moving throughout Iraq, particularly in the so-called Islamic Caliphate, Iranian intelligence officers have gained information on all aspects of their opponent’s operations and kept their ear to ground, also getting a sense of the Iraqi peoples’ reaction to events. Positive links certainly have been established with commanders of Kurdish fighters and Iraqi security forces to make the process of gathering information about ISIS militants less complicated. Those contacts with the Iraqi security forces have reportedly also allowed for the collection of information on, and creation of informal communication with, US military and intelligence elements operating on the ground in Iraq.  Intelligence collected concerning ISIS has been utilized in the development of an operational plan. When necessary MOIS and Quds Force personnel, have been used tactically, fighting primarily alongside Kurdish fighters against ISIS.  Indeed, Iranian forces have done a lot of fighting, and they have gained the Kurds’ respect and confidence.  Suleimani ramped up the training and equipping of Iraqi Shi’a militiamen.  Battle-ready units have been deployed in defense of Shi’a dominated parts of Iraq and Holy Shrines.  Others are being sent directly into the combat against ISIS.  Suleimani has reportedly deployed Lebanese Hezbollah to Iraq to work with the Shi’a militias.  Truckloads of arms and equipment from Iran continuously flow to the Shi’a militiamen. Some supplies and weapons are being flown in.  Five Sukhoi-25 fighter-bombers were from Iran into Iraq for the Iraqi Air Force.

Once operating in the shadows, photos of IRGC General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani (center) on the battlefield in Iraq have recently appeared in Iranian state media, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

How Iran Could Proceed

Iran is still not counting on the US to act on the ground in a muscular way against ISIS any time soon since it has just begun training “its Iraqis.”  In the meantime, Iran might opt to greatly increase its level of commitment in Iraq.  Back in June 2014, Senior Foreign Policy Adviser to the Supreme Leader and Head of the Expediency Discernment Council Strategic Research Center, Ali Akbar Velayati, in a lengthy interview with the Chinese CCTV network on June 19, 2014, stated, “We can do in Iraq what we did in Syria, meaning we are capable of providing the same type of training to the Iraqi Army that we have been able to provide the Syrian Army in confronting terrorists…We have much experience in this field.” That apparently meant having greater numbers of IRGC, Quds Force, and MOIS personnel pour into Iraq to join their comrades long since operating there.  The more Iran can accomplish against ISIS, the less the US will need to do.  There would also be less for US trained Iraqis to do.  Even with the specter of sectarian strife hanging over everything, Iran will be viewed among many average Iraqis as rescuers.

As discussed in greatcharlie.com’s June 30, 2014 post entitled “While the US Explored Talks with Iran on the Crisis in Iraq, Iran Acted, And May Do a Lot More!“, a  further increase in Iranian intervention might include bringing heavy artillery and rocket batteries in country. Massed fire missions could be executed with heavy artillery and heavy rockets, along with airstrikes, not coordinated with the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition, to destroy ISIS units being organized and armed for an attack or traveling. Marshalling points and supply routes for arms and military materiel away from urban areas could also face artillery onslaughts.  Armored and mechanized units would also become more apparent.  They would provide Kurdish fighters, Shi’a militia, some Iraqi security forces, and all Iranian units in Iraq with mobility and firepower and a maneuver capability that ISIS would be unable to match.  Combat support and combat service support units could be sent in to support the advance and help control recaptured territory.

With Iraq’s consent, Iran could deploy a close air support capability from attack helicopter units to fighter-bombers to facilitate movement by ground units.  A huge deficit in the Iranian effort if Suleimani’s plan is to defeat ISIS is close air support.  Regardless of the availability of artillery, close air support is the best, most rapid means to exploit tactical opportunities in the offense or defense.  It can provide fires, with appropriate ordinance, to destroy, disrupt, suppress, fix, harass, neutralize, or delay ISIS forces.  Iran’s fight against ISIS now is one-dimensional.

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that Iran, just as the US, and just as Turkey, will not commit itself so heavily to Iraq without expecting to acquire even greater influence over it.  With greater control over the Shi’a community and increased influence with the Kurds, it is hard to see how Iran would not be able to shape the political, economic, and social situation in Iraq for years.  If the Iranians manage to shape the military situation on the ground in Iraq—and that could happen depending on the scale of its of intervention even though some Western analysts have expressed doubts, they will have much to gain.  Iran’s position as the dominant power in the region would be furthered.  Military and security officials may become the primary voice in the ear of Khamenei who still has a decision to make on Iran’s nuclear program.

The Way Forward

Unfortunately, on Iraq, as well as Syria, Obama really seems to be searching for answers. Some might derisively state he is paralyzed with uncertainty over what to do.  Given that possibility, Obama’s letter on ISIS likely satisfied Khamenei although he rejected it.  In the US, “cynics” among Obama’s political opponents hearing of the letter may have wanted to quote to their president the warning of conservative political commentator William F. Buckley, Jr. that there is always a need to combat the devilish conceit that peace might issue from a concordance with evil.  Intimation of a willingness to do so can only lead to disaster. Devising foreign policy approaches requires that US decision makers to possess shrewd insights into human nature.  Obama, himself, must respond to issues not based on his personal needs, values, and principles, but those of the US.  His country’s needs must come before establishing his legacy.

As US National Security Adviser Susan Rice confirmed in October 2014, US forces and Iranian forces are both operating in Iraq to support local elements in their battle against ISIS.  The Iranian commander, Suleimani, does not have any friends in the US military given his activities against US forces during the Iraq War.  US military and intelligence officials would certainly like to get their hands on him.  However, as US and Iranian forces have been tasked to operate in the same space, it had to be expected that they would cross paths.  Informal cooperation between Suleimani’s Quds Force operatives and MOIS officers and US special operators and intelligence officers, albeit through the Iraqi security force intermediaries, has resulted.  For example, in the fight for Amerli, Iraqi security forces, Shi’a militiamen, and Iranian operators, maneuvered on the ground against ISIS fighters while US airpower struck ISIS targets with multiple airstrikes.  US and Iranian commanders “coordinated informally” by passing messages to each other through commanders of the Iraqi security forces in the fight.  Such professionally handled interactions will likely continue to occur.  While some cooperation agreement by national leaders might prove helpful, US and Iranian interactions in Iraq must be sorted out on the scene.

The Commander-in-chief’s confidence in US military commanders at the Pentagon and US Central Command and officers and enlisted men on the ground in Iraq is the most important factor in all of this.  Rather the send letters to Iranian leaders at this juncture, Obama would do more to enhance chances of success in Iraq by communicating with, and encouraging, his own fighters.  He should meet those he has sent to Iraq confidentially, perhaps even on the ground, and let them know directly how important they are to him and how important their mission is to the US.  He must let them know that he has complete confidence in their capabilities and that he is relying on them to successfully complete their mission.  German Field Marshal Walter Model, the controversial World War II battlefield genius, was known to use a line from Goethe to praise his finest officers: “Den lieb ich, der umogliches begehrt! (I love him who craves the impossible!)”  The special operators that were sent to Iraq to perform the advise-and-assist mission may not be able to perform the impossible.  However, knowing they have the full support and confidence of their commander-in-chief, they will do whatever is humanly possible to destroy ISIS and perform beyond any projections by analysts in or out of the military.  Significant achievements of those “quiet professionals” in Iraq could inspire the Iranians to reach out to the US regarding “coordination.”  After all, when Rouhani was asked in September whether Tehran could formally work with the US to tackle ISIS, he stated, “We can think about it if we see America start confronting the terrorist groups in Iraq.  We all should practically and verbally confront terrorist groups.”

Russia Tells Iraq It’s “Ready” to Support Fight Against ISIS; But Russia Must Take “Direct Action” in Iraq and Syria for the Sake of Its Own Security

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin greets members of Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Alpha Group). Russia has pledged to support Iraq and Syria in the fight against ISIS and other Islamic militant groups. However, the threat to Russian security posed by Russian citizens in those groups makes action by Putin in those countries imperative.

According to a September 26, 2014 NBCNews.com report entitled, “Russia Tells Iraq It’s ‘Ready’ to Support Fight Against ISIS”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the pledge to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York that Russia would help support Iraqi in the fight against ISIS. The Russian Foreign Ministry stated through the Itar-Tass state-run news agency that “During the meeting, Lavrov confirmed Russia’s support for Iraq’s independence, territory integrity, and sovereignty.” The Russian Foreign Ministry further stated “Moscow is ready to continue supporting Iraq in its efforts in fighting the terrorist threat, and, first of all, the one from the Islamic State.” On September 19th, Ilya Rogachev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for New Challenges and Threats, told the Interfax news agency that Russia still declines to participate in the US-led effort against Islamic militant groups in Iraq or Syria. However, Russia pledges to continue its aid to Iraq, Syria, and other nations that are fighting terrorists. Indeed, in the form of a sillitude he explained, “The anti-ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant used interchangeably with the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)] coalition is not a club party—we do not expect any invitations and we are not going to buy tickets.” Apparently, the Russian government has not amended its position even though the first round of US-led airstrikes on Islamic militant groups that began on September 23rd obviated its contention that the air strikes would be used as a pretext to attack the armed forces or any other elements of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The air strikes actually hit a range of target including leaders, command and control centers, communications facilities, training camps, and supply depots of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the Al-Qaeda linked Khorasan Group, and its parent organization, the Al-Nusra Front. While the US executed the majority of the strikes from bombers, fighters, cruise missiles, and drones, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar in the second and third wave of attacks in the strike formation and through reconnaissance flights. The US began air strikes against ISIS in Iraq on August 8th.

The Khorasan Group, a collection of seasoned Al-Qaeda operatives, that the West feels poses a direct threat to targets in Europe and the US, should be of particular interest to Russia. Its members include several fighters from Chechnya, as well as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen are included among its members. Khorasan’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, fought against Russian forces in Chechnya and was trained there in the use of firearms, anti-aircraft weapons, and explosive.

Since the initial days of the Syrian conflict, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he had no plans to intervene on the ground in Syria with Russian forces. At the same time, he made it clear last year that he was following the movement of Russians and Europeans to Syria very closely, and was concerned about their capabilities and possibilities for action against Russia. Surely, the conscience of the Russian people has been struck while watching the Islamic militants move through Syria as well as Iraq. Some may recall the ruthlessness of Nazi forces in the rear areas as they moved through Russia during World War II. Unlike some Western countries, Putin has not been compelled to respond with force to the anguish and outrage of Russian citizens, after witnessing a public execution of a Russian citizen by extremist Islamic militants in Syria or Iraq. Putin wants Russia to look strong, but sitting on the sidelines and relying on the US to manage the entire situation does not allow Russia to look strong. Interestingly, standing aside practically amounts to a conceit that US leadership and support for countries, militarily, financially, or politically can ensure positive things are accomplished internationally, and that the importance of the US is unmatched on the world stage. That is precisely the perspective of the US that Putin has tried so hard to knock down in speeches and published statements. It is also a gamble. ISIS, the Al-Nusra Front, and its off-shoot, Khorasan pose a genuine threat to the Russian homeland. They have declared that. Only force will have a sustained impact and strong educational effect on these groups. Some of Putin’s advisers may counsel that using force in Iraq and Syria would prove ineffective and pointless. Others may reject the idea fearing Western condemnation and retribution over unilateral intervention by Russia. Yet, if a search and destroy operation by Russian military or other security organizations against Russian elements in Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria will make Russia more secure, it should be undertaken. Virtus tentamine gaudet! (Strength welcomes the challenge!) 

Russia and Islamic Militant Groups

Putin has been continuously engaged in an effective fight against Islamic militant groups in Russia. Counter-terrorism has been a key aspect of Russia’s national security policy for many years due in great part to longstanding security problems the government has faced from the Islamic insurgency near the Caucasus Mountains. The insurgency, organized into a loose alliance of rebel groups known as Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate), has been simmering more than a decade after it drove separatists from power in the North Caucasus province of Chechnya during Putin’s first term. They seek to carve an Islamic state out known as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria from a swath of southern Russia. That group posed the greatest threat to the Olympic Games in Sochi.

The possibility that Russian fighters from these groups that have fought in Iraq and Syria may return home to engage in terrorist activities remains one of Putin’s greatest concerns. Back in June 21, 2013, at a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Putin made the claim that 600 Russians and Europeans were within the Syrian opposition fighters’ ranks. While the US and European intelligence services expressed concern over the viability of vetting Syrian opposition fighters to discover who among them are Islamic militants, the Russian intelligence service apparently already possessed files on the identities of a considerable number of Syrian opposition fighters. The London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization estimates that the number of Russian fighters in Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria, including those in the field now and those that have returned home, is around 800. Putin has not provided any new estimates publicly. 

In his September 11, 2013 New York Times Op-Ed, Putin discussed the danger posed to international peace and security by Islamic militant groups in Syria. Putin explained, “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.”

Taking Action

Assad and Abadi would most likely give their consent for Russia to conduct operations in their countries and provide Russia valuable support in its efforts. Finding Russian citizens in Iraq and Syria among reportedly over 30,000 fighters of ISIS may be akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Yet again, the potential benefit of thwarting potential attacks in Russia by extremists Islamic militants underscores the efficacy of such an undertaking. Given the degree of difficulty involved, Russia should use special forces units from the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, Directorate “A” of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Alpha Group) and Directorate V of the FSB Special Purpose Center (Vympel) groups. Russia could also employ Zaslon (Barrier), a special services group of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Of the many special service groups established in Russia, Alpha Group and Vympel are the most well-known and respected. Alpha Group, an elite stand alone sub unit of Russia’s special services, is a dedicated counter-terrorism task force of the FSB. It primarily prevents and responds to violent acts in public transportation and buildings. Vympel is officially tasked with protecting Russia’s strategic installations, however it is also available for extended police duties, paramilitary applications, and covert operations in Russia or abroad. The profile and capabilities of both units have increased, and they have taken over and consolidated roles and personnel from other organizations. Over many years, Alpha Group has acquired a reputation for using ruthless methods in response to terrorist acts. Zaslon has not been publicly recognized by the Russian government. Zaslon personnel are said to be former spetsnaz troops and serve under the sole command of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) headquarters in Yasenevo, on the outskirts of Moscow. In his book Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces Since 1991 (Osprey, 2013), Mark Galeotti, of NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, explains that Zaslon has been linked with everything from assassinations abroad to gathering up documents and technology that the Russian government did not want the US to seize when Baghdad fell. In Syria, Galeotti suspects Zaslon may be providing additional support for Russian military and diplomatic personnel, and is likely already earmarked to extract people, documents, or technologies Russia would not want to share if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began to collapse.

Air strikes should continue to disperse ISIS fighters as they try to avoid certain death from US bombs and cruise missiles. Perhaps operating as mixed “combined special groups” (svodnye spetsialnye gruppy (mixed special groups) or SSGs, Russian special operations forces could go into ISIS and Al-Nusra Front controlled areas and kill Russian elements or when the opportunity presents itself, collect prisoners. If ordered by Putin to present a plan for such an operation, senior Russian special services’ planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee. In Syria, for example, Russia special services’ efforts might entail some of the following steps. Russian special services should exploit all of its intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to assist in locating rouge Russian elements on the ground in Syria. FSB and other Russian intelligence and security services apparently already possessed files on the identities of Russians who have traveled to Syria. Support from FSB operating in areas of Russia from which the suspected nationals originate will also support Alpha Group, Vympel, and Zaslon operations. With assistance from the Syrian military intelligence services, Mukhabarat, Russian special services could interact with Syrian citizens to collect granular information on the Islamic militant groups including the size of specific units, the locations of its fighters, the backgrounds of individual fighters and commanders, unit capabilities, and its combat and nonlethal resources. Russian special services may benefit from liasing with elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force. From that work, an effective operational plan can be developed. Russian special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance means would be used to monitor the locations, daily movements, and activities of the hostile Islamic militant groups. Leaders, arms, supply lines and depots, and financial support would be targeted. All entry points of Islamic militants could be identified and placed under special reconnaissance and electronic surveillance. Penetrating the Islamic militant groups, if Russia’s SVR has not already done so, would unlikely be helpful and would place any assets engaged in that effort at risk, especially once direct action is taken against those groups. All of that would be done while trying not to cross paths with US-led air assets.

Eventual strikes against Russian targets in the Islamic militant groups must be executed swiftly and covertly. Retired US General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command, has offered hints on how to exploit situational awareness which were summarized in the January 7, 2014 greatcharlie.com post entitled, “Obama, Putin discuss Olympics Security in Call; Putin Has Got It Covered and He Will Keep His Promise to the Terrorists, Too!” When striking at a terrorist group’s network, the goal is to paralyze its nervous system. Hitting it intermittently, or every other night, allows the opponent to become stronger, having become accustomed to resurrecting itself. However, McChrystal explains that if you strike at enough targets simultaneously, taking down key leaders, the group will be thrown into chaos and confusion and have a difficult time “regenerating.” That will allow for decisive effects.

Units also can be better utilized as a result of excellent situational awareness. As McChrystal explained “Traditionally, if we did a raid and we thought we were going to need 20 commandos, to actually be on the target, we might take 120, because we had to put security around the site to protect it from enemy reinforcements, and we might have to put a support section and a command and control section there because you need all those things to account for the unexpected. But when you have very good situational awareness and good communications, you only send the 20, because your security comes from being able to see, and then you can maneuver forces if you need them. So suddenly, the 120 commandos aren’t doing one raid; their doing six raids, simultaneously, and you start to get the ability to do 300 raids a month.”

To speed the process and achieve a high level of success, the Russians could adapt a form of “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze” (F3EA) developed by McChrystal. Under the concept, security forces would understand who or what is a target, locate it, capture or kill it, take what intelligence one can from people and documents, analyze that, then go back out execute the same cycle again. If Russian security services want to act at a speed as fast as US special operators in Iraq under McChrystal ‘s command, decision-making would need to be de-centralized because of the high number of raids. Subordinate elements must be allowed to operate quickly. It is very likely that FSB has been using sophisticated technical means to monitor the movements and activities of individuals and groups, likely to engage in terrorist acts, has been on-going. Such surveillance efforts could also be used to develop leads for the operation.

Assessment

On September 11, 2014, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated on a Voice of America radio broadcast that the administration of US President Barack Obama was disappointed by Russia’s initial reaction to the president’s speech on ISIS, which indicated the group represented a direct threat to Russia itself. Kerry explained in his view Russia must join the international fight against ISIS. Prompting by the Obama administration will unlikely cause Putin change his position and join the multinational effort against Islamic militants groups in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, it would more likely cause him to turn away from it. Yet, clear headed, practical choices must be made on Iraq and Syria in the Kremlin. As a result of US-led air strikes, there are opportunities being created for Russia in Iraq and Syria to enhance its security. Putin, his military commanders, and senior security officials know the capabilities of specific individuals and units in Russia, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be. They must also recognize the real possibility for success in enhancing Russia’s security if Russian special services acted in Iraq and Syria against Russian targets.

Of course, if Putin targeted Russian members of Islamic militant groups in Iraq and Syria, he would be contributing immensely to the international effort against those groups. Indeed, in addition to the Chechen members of Khorasan, a number of the senior leaders of ISIS are Chechen. An ethnic Chechen named Omar al-Shishani is one of ISIS’ most prominent commanders and at one point was the face of the group. Putin demands that Russia should be recognized as a world power, but Russia also must act in a manner consistent with that title. While he has shown a willingness to intervene in the former Soviet republics bordering Russia, Putin has certainly not had Russian forces gallivanting outside of its region, attempting to secure Russian interests. Taking action in Iraq and Syria as proposed here would be more about establishing Russia’s security than posturing. Yet, as result of the action, Putin would demonstrate not only to the Russian people, but to the world, he is a leader who is able to respond effectively to security issues. Putin would be able to show the Russian people and the world, that Russia is a global power.

Zarif’s “Meet the Press” Interview Offers Insight into His Thinking on the Nuclear Issue; US Critics Responded Harshly

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose ministry has been Iran’s lead agency on the nuclear negotiations, would like to see a final agreement reached with the P5+1 countries.  Yet, he knows constructing a final deal would require a transformation in thinking among all parties at this late stage.  Given that, a final deal appears less likely.

On the July 13, 2014 episode of NBC News “Meet the Press”, a US Sunday morning news program hosted by David Gregory, a special feature presented was a recording of Gregory’s earlier interview with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Vienna. Presented in a truncated manner, the taped interview covered an array of topics including Iraq, Syria, and why Iran wants an extensive nuclear capacity and whether it wants a nuclear bomb. Afterward on the program, Gregory asked a bipartisan guest panel of both Republican and Democratic political commentators to critique Zarif’s statements. Representing the Republican perspective was former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. The Democrats present were former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press. With a synoptic view, the commentators rejected Zarif’s statements with harsh remarks, expressing considerable mistrust over Iran’s intentions. They viewed Zarif’s statements as unhelpful, and highlighted what they felt was his shortsightedness and equivocation. However, the commentators’ examinations of Zarif’s statements were quite superficial. Their accusations that Zarif was insincere and that the Iranians were untrustworthy were already pretty well-worn.

It was initially difficult to fathom why Zarif would make the effort to provide an interview for the mainstream US news media when the nuclear negotiations were at a critical point. The issues surrounding the negotiations are not simple. Zarif has articulated Iran’s positions superbly. Perhaps he wanted to share insights to impact views of the negotiations in the US. Yet, the “Meet the Press” interview format did not allow him to truly delve into the matter. He could only touch the surface of important aspects. The interview turned into a shallow entrapment for Zarif. Heightened skepticism could have been expected from the commentators given the current uncertainty over where the nuclear negotiations are headed and the history of uncongenial relations between the US and Iran since 1979. However, Zarif’s remarks should have been looked at beyond the surface. Their value could be revealed only through a deeper, profound consideration of them.

Zarif’s Remarks

Among his most noteworthy comments, Zarif explained: “I think what we have said should give confidence to people that were not looking for nuclear weapons. We have said that our entire nuclear energy program can fit in a very clear and well defined picture. That is, we want to produce fuel for our own nuclear reactor. Nuclear power reactor! And we have a contract that provides us fuel for that reactor. But that contract expires in seven or eight years.”

Gregory asked Zarif how he “could not see the benefit in having a nuclear weapon, particularly as a Shi’a state surrounded by Sunni states, many of whom are your enemies.” Zarif responded by saying such calculations were wrong. He explained: “In fact, we need to go out of our way in order to convince our neighbors that we want to live in peace and tranquility with them, because the politics of geography, the fact that we’re bigger, the fact that we’re stronger, the we’re more populous, the fact that we have a [sic] better technology, the fact that our human resources is [sic] by far more developed than most of our neighbors. All of these provide us with inherent areas of strength that we don’t need to augment with other capabilities.”

Additionally, Zarif stated: “In fact, I believe nuclear weapons reduces countries’ influence in our region. It doesn’t help anybody.” “The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction, that is the way the United States, Russia and others, get, seek, peace and security. Through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over is simply mad.” “And that is why this mentality that nuclear weapons makes anybody safe. Have they made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible. Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that’s what we are calling for.”

The Political Commentators’ Criticisms

The responses of the political commentators on Zarif’s remarks were wholly negative. Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal commented that the Iranian nuclear issue is “a good example of bipartisanship in Congress . . . both in the Senate and in the House. Democrats and Republicans, they don’t want to go backwards. They want tougher sanctions.” Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press commented, “I think anyone [sic] on the globe thinks that we don’t need more nuclear states in general. And we are certainly don’t need this state [Iran] which has shown itself to be responsive. The interview you heard earlier today shows how irrational the thinking is.”

Former Senator Rick Santorum stated “we were laughing at him [Zarif] saying, “He must have the toughest job. I wanna [sic] go after him lying, just bald face, irrational lying. No one believes him. Nobody on either side of the aisle believes that these folks [the Iranians] are trustworthy partners.” Former Governor Jennifer Granholm concurred about the group watching in the green room (the guests’ waiting room at the television studio) laughing at Zarif.

A Second Look

Unlike the political commentators, Zarif has been part of the nuclear negotiations. He has direct knowledge of the mystery of exactly where things are headed. By granting the interview, he provided policy analysts, academics, and political and business leaders in the US a delicate indication of a possible path to reaching some concordance on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear program. Zarif was not telling some Oriental tale full of distortion and exaggerations. Rather, his words were austere and natural sounding, stemming from deep thought and experience with the nuclear negotiation process. By their statements, the commentators seemingly sought to arrest Zarif’s efforts to share his insights.

Zarif does not proffer any illusions of assured success or narcissism for the nuclear negotiations as an enterprise. However, more percipient to him is the fact that the US is still fully engaged in the nuclear negotiations. It affirms the confidence the administration of US President Barack Obama, and the other P5+1 governments (The United Kingdom, France, Russia, China plus Germany), have in the process. They want a deal. Unlike Zarif, the “Meet the Press” commentators were apparently unaware that relations between the US and Iranian diplomats and officials have reached a more positive stage. The negotiations have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts to acquire a better understanding of various aspects of one another’s thinking. The improved understanding of their respective positions was further strengthened by back channel talks. The commentators remarks indicated that the nuclear negotiations are not as “fashionable” an issue as they were in the exhilarating days in July 2013 when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won the presidential election in Tehran, and in September 2013 when the first direct talks were held between Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry at the UN and Obama and Rouhani spoke directly by telephone.

Zarif statements may have provided a hint of the discourse in Tehran on the nuclear negotiations at the most senior level, and he is the one individual capable, and apparently willing, to do so. Zarif would undoubtedly be positioned on the more moderate side of the nuclear issue relative to the Supreme National Security Council, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and other key political and religious organizations and senior leaders concerned with foreign policy. He has publicly advocated for continued negotiations to reach an agreement with the P5+1 on the nuclear program before the Iranian Parliament. Perhaps Zarif was even presenting arguments he may have made in Tehran in sub rosa policy debates on the nuclear negotiations. He may very well have included in what he stated on “Meet the Press” points similar to those he has presented to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will make the final decision for Iran on an agreement. The commentators heard those same words, but could not hear what Zarif said.

The Way Forward

All things considered, it appears, by providing the interview Zarif actually sought to “clear the air” with the US public regarding relations between the two countries. He sought to build confidence, eliminate some ambiguities about Iran’s positions, and quiet guessing over Iran’s actions, intentions, and motives. Looking through a lens untinted by the conviction that Iran is again engaged in a deception, Zarif spoke to the US audience with a certain kind of humility, not with an assertiveness that might be expected of a foreign minister speaking with certitude over his country’s positions. As the point man for Iran’s negotiation effort, under great pressure, Zarif appeared humble of heart. One would need to be humble of heart to hear what he was saying. The hardened heart would block the information. What is audible to the ear becomes incomprehensible. The “Meet the Press” commentators illustrated how hardened hearts react.

The prime way to understand the situation regarding the negotiations is by understanding human experience: history. Nearly every US president has had to take some major risk on foreign policy. Along with great achievements, there have been grand mistakes. Despite recent progress through talks between US and Iranian diplomats and officials in Geneva and Vienna, distrust lingers in their respective capitals after years of mutual loathing. All sides are very cautious. For a final agreement to be constructed, all sides must exhibit a requisite degree of generosity. That would mean risking much, making it less likely states engaged in the process would do such. If all sides cannot approach the process with this in state of mind, the desired outcome will not be reached. Everything achieved so far will likely fall by the wayside. The next debate will then begin on a way to move forward, as unpopular or undesirable as it may be.

Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy; After Crimea Is Firmly Under Russian Control, Perhaps He Will

Russian troops, well-trained and very capable, moved rapidly into Crimea and achieved the military objectives set for them by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

According to a March 6, 2014, NBCNews.com report entitled, “Ukraine Crisis: Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy,” Russian President Vladimir Putin stuck to his position on the escalating crisis in Ukraine, saying Moscow must not ignore calls for help from Russian speakers in the country.  During a lengthy call with President Barack Obama on March 6, 2014, Putin said Ukraine’s government came to power as the result of an “unconstitutional coup” and was “imposing an entirely illegitimate decision onto Crimea and the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine.  Russia cannot ignore calls for help on this matter and is responding accordingly in full compliance with international law.“  Additionally, on March 6th, the parliament of the semi-autonomous and largely pro-Moscow region of Crimea decided to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, and set the date for a referendum on the subject for March 16th.   The White House earlier said that President Barack Obama had told Putin that the Russian incursion into Crimea was a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and that the US and its European allies had “taken several steps in response.”  A March 6th BBC.com article entitled, “Ukraine Crisis: Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy,” reported Obama told Putin there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine, and Russian forces returning to their bases.  This was the second telephone call between the two leaders on Ukraine in less than a week.

In Ukraine, Putin is in the process of executing what was known during the Cold War as the “Hamburg grab.”  In Europe, the common characteristics of US assessments of a possible conflict initiated by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites was a surprise attack across the Iron Curtain with conventional weapons.  As Bernard Brodie explained in renown work on military affairs and statecraft, War and Politics (Macmillan, 1973): “The attack might be general along the line, intended to wipe out NATO and take over Western Europe to the Pyrenees, or there might be some variation in diminished form, like what became known as the ‘Hamburg grab.’  In the latter instance, the Soviet forces would slice around the important city of Hamburg and then leave it up to us to try to take it back—which without large conventional forces we obviously could not do unless we were prepared for a nuclear holocaust.”  Unlike Hamburg, Ukraine, even more, Crimea, falls within what Russia once called its “near abroad.”  However, the same as with Hamburg, trying to take Crimea back from Russia without triggering a nuclear war would likely be impossible.  Putin in his March 6th telephone call reportedly told Obama that US-Russian relations “should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.”

Obama and his advisers should have understood that they would unlikely persuade Putin to respond favorably and reverse course as a result of a couple of telephone conversations.  Putin would hardly look past all that has transpired in his interactions with Obama.  A break occurred between the leaders over a US proposal for nuclear reductions a few short months ago, which was an uncharacteristic aspect in US-Russian relations in recent history.  When Obama came to office, he had established a very positive relationship with Putin’s protégé, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  Obama had become so confident in his relations with Russia based on his successes with Medvedev that he declared a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries.  Obama made the mistake of believing his positive relationship between Obama and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev would transfer to his relationship with Putin.  Interaction between the two leaders became tense very fast.  True, there have been public displays of coordination between the US and Russia on foreign policy.  They include the formulation and implementation of a plan for Syrian chemical weapons removal; the Geneva II talks between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition coalition; and, the Iran nuclear talks.  However, the relationship is best marked by: Putin’s decision to allow NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; Putin’s “thought provoking” letter to the US public, published in the New York Times Op-Ed section; and ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the FBI in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks.  Things really soured on August 7, 2013 when Obama cancelled a Moscow summit meeting set for September.  Washington sent arms reduction proposals to Moscow seeking steep reductions in its nuclear forces, but Putin refused to consider them concerned with the efficacy of taking such an audacious step.

Putin’s rejection of the proposals, as one unidentified senior administration US official told the New York Times, ended Obama’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   An unidentified administration official also informed the New York Times that “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.”  That source went on to state, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians.  They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.”  The reduction of nuclear forces and reductions in conventional forces have been issues US and Russian leaders have dealt with for decades.  Yet, because they had a contentious relationship, Obama and Putin were unlikely to be the ones to resolve any nuclear issue.  There was really a personality clash between the two leaders.  Obama prefers to solve problems at the diplomatic table using reason and logic, and insists on trying to convince Putin to accept his point of view based on the quality of his arguments.  Obama’s tact evinces a refusal by him to recognize that Putin sees the world differently.  Andrei Piontovsky, executive director of the Strategic Studies Center in Moscow was quoted on August 7, 2013 in the New York Times article as saying, “Putin sensed weakness in Mr. Obama that could lead to more dangerous confrontations.”  He went on to state, “Putin openly despises your president, forgive my bluntness.”  The notion that a “legacy quest” drove the Obama administration to use the summit as a platform to push forward its political agenda and secure an historic agreement  with Russia on arms control, more than perturbed Putin.  Pushing Putin to accept proposals on nuclear force reductions in which he was not at all interested would never achieve anything positive.  Insisting the September summit be used to deal with such proposals was a doomed effort.   (See August 17, 2013, greatcharlie.com post, “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”)

Obama should have understood that maintaining a constructive relationship with the Russian leader is not a personal matter; it is part of the business of being president.  During the Cold War, despite proxy wars and other confrontations and conflicts, of high and low gradients, along the course of the Cold War, both states, while possessing the unique and mutual capability to annihilate one another and the world with their nuclear arsenals, did not.  Even during the most troubled times, relations between US and Russian leaders were maintained through a difficult process of summit meetings.  Such Cold War meetings may also have been distasteful for leaders on either side to undergo.  Summit talks built confidence, eliminated ambiguities about positions, and prevent and guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.  Talks allowed leaders to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns they had within their own high-level relationship.  The eventual establishment of a “red-phone” or direct communication between the White House and the Kremlin contributed greatly to maintenance of global peace and security.

One cannot help but imagine that relations between the US and Russia would be completely different if Obama had not cancelled the September 2013 summit and focused not on just proposals, but rather on establishing a better relationship with Putin.  Obama had the opportunity to use “encouragement”, through regular telephone calls, messages, and meetings, to promote even subtle change in Russia’s approach on issues. That might even have allowed for a greater chance, well in advance of the Ukraine crisis, to find ways in which Russia, working with the US, could promote its interests.  Speaking by telephone only when difficult or contentious issues arise, especially when relations are already uncongenial, is akin to a divorced couple communicating by telephone to discuss divergent opinions on important child custody issues.  If there is a very negative history, or contentious break-up, despite their best efforts, the couple will bring animus to the conversation.  That animus may find its way into the discussion in the form of tense talk and hostile comments.  The result will not be a solution, but greater disagreement and frustration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has established a constructive dialogue with Putin.   Merkel told Obama early on in the crisis, that she sensed Putin had lost touch with reality having spoken with him by telephone.  That was very troubling news.  Putin may very well be having hubristic thoughts on Russian power.  The military operation in Ukraine transpired on the heels of the successful 2014 Winter Olympics Games in Sochi while there was still a sense of renewed national identity, national pride, and patriotism among Russians.  However, Putin seems to have gone a step further.  On the March 9, 2014 broadcast of the NBCNews program, “Meet the Press”, senior diplomatic correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported that she learned from well-sourced reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Russian National Security Council, and economic advisers were “clueless” of Putin’s plans for Ukraine.  Putin allegedly made the decision to move into Ukraine having discussed the issue with three “old buddies” from KGB days in the 1970s and 1980s.  As events developed in Kiev, Putin understood that he still had strong cards to play, and he used one, moving into Crimea, to gain an advantage in what is a negative situation for Russia.  He seemingly annexed Crimea in return for the loss of a friendly government and Russian influence in Ukraine.  (Interestingly, when Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov responded to a US offer to assist with the Sochi Games security, he requested anti-improvised explosive device technology, although it was difficult to see why such US-tech would be needed to defeat attacks the Russian government had never faced from domestic Islamic militant groups.  Perhaps Gerasimov was actually considering the technology to defeat an insurgency his forces might face in a coming push into Ukraine!)

As the West pushes back, US and European officials have flooded the media with talk of not only sanctions but also shrill responses on the use of force.  However, there is no quick fix for Putin’s “Crimea grab.”  Sanctions may support Western goals in this crisis, but against Russia they may be double-edged given significant investments of large US and European firms there.  What is more, proposing the use of force against Russia, against Putin, may very well be akin to proposing a rush to doomsday.  Putin will respond aggressively to any threat to Russia.

While the title “Strongman of Russia” surely fits Putin, he is not a fanatic.  He knows that after the dust settles regarding Crimea, peace and stability must be established.  Recall that he said it was unnecessary to sacrifice US-Russian relations over an independent international issue.  this The solution to the Ukrainian crisis will unlikely to be truly satisfactory to the US and the Europeans.  Putin will not back away from Crimea and it will likely go the way of East Prussia for the Germans and North Cyprus for Greek Cypriots.  Crimea will not return to Kiev’s control in the foreseeable future. What is most important at this juncture is a reset of the conversation between the US and Russia.  Meetings between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who have regularly worked together of other urgent and important issues for both countries, have already begun.  However, every effective back channel should also be opened, and leaders such as Merkel, should be sought out to serve as third-party envoys for Obama and Putin if communication breaks down.  There is much to discuss about: the meaning of events in Ukraine for the US, its European partners, and Russia respectively; what comes next in Ukraine politically, economically, socially, and militarily; and, other urgent and important issues on which the US and Russia must cooperate.  Hopefully, further talks between the US and Russian officials and diplomats on Ukraine’s future will be successful, and constructive talks between Obama and Putin will occur soon on a more frequent basis.

Iran’s President Tweets Condemnation of Syria Chemical Attacks: Is Twitter Part of Rouhani’s Approach to the West?

In an August 29, 2013, NBCNews.com article entitled, “Iran’s President Tweets Condemnation of Syria Chemical Attacks,” Robert Windrem, an investigative reporter for NBC News, reported on the online statements of new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and other top Iranian leaders on the crisis in Syria.  Windrem’s article focuses on the tone of Rouhani in his statements over a twenty-four hour period moving from condemning the use of chemical weapons to requesting the international community use prudence in resolving the Syrian crisis.  He had Hooman Majd, author and Iran expert, analyze the statements.  What is most interesting is Windrem’s coverage of Rouhani’s comments on Twitter and the fact that Rouhani has decided to use the social media service as a tool to communicate his views, in English!  While Rouhani’s comments on Twitter stand as an official reaction of the Iranian government to the major issue of the day, they cannot be seen as windows into the thinking of Rouhani or the Iranian government as Windrem proffers.  This is not to state conversely that Rouhani’s comments on Twitter should be considered de minimus.  Rather, Rouhani’s use of Twitter as Iran’s president is in its nascent stage, as he only took office in August.  His “tweets” have not yet become a reliable source to determine whether their text, tone, or nature reflect the desires, goals, any underlying meaning, and the united position of the Iranian government.  For “greatcharlie.com,” Rouhani’s tweets make for an interesting case to follow.  The examination of government tweets representing official positions permits us to develop and present our perspectives on a variety of issues in international affairs for our readers.  That allows us to cover issues beyond those discussed in our blog posts.  Before presenting any official comments through Twitter on greatcharlie.com, we engage in a vetting process to ensure messages represent official views and are not part of an effort to deceive or manipulate their audience.  (This is not to imply that Iran would ever engage in such an effort through Rouhani’s tweets.)

Twitter

Twitter is a free “microblogging” site that a growing number of national governments and government officials are using to present policies, approaches, and statements on issues and events internationally, given Twitter’s reach through the internet.  They also use Twitter to reach their constituencies of their domestic audience.  Launched in 2006, Twitter users send and receive brief messages, limited to 140 characters of text over the internet.  Using the site requires the creation of a profile page, including a title or “handle.”   Users can then send messages to those they desire to have as followers, or followers suggested by Twitter based on a user’s profile.  Those messages called “tweets” can include web addresses or TinyURL (Uniform Resource Locator), a service that provides a short alias for long URL addresses.  This allows followers to go to web sites or blogs for anything ranging from articles, editorials, blog posts, reports, documents, archives, photo galleries, YouTube videos, sound recordings, and television and radio programs. 

Iranian Officials and Twitter

Iranian leaders who currently use Twitter to communicate their views in English include the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (using the handle @khamenei_ir) and President Rouhani.  (Who actually has two profiles and three handles: @President_Iran; @HassanRouhani; and, @HassanRouhani_)  For his August 29th article, Windrem quoted tweets from the profile and handle: @HassanRouhani.  While government leaders around the world use Twitter in this fashion, it is rather surprising to have Iranian leaders utilize this social media tool whose use US and other Western officials have mastered and whose tweets, as far as government officials go, dominate the service.  Apparently, Iranian officials believe there is enough room for them to make some headway on Twitter and eventually promote their views on urgent and important issues and Iranian interests in English to an audience equivalent to those of their foreign counterparts. 

Rouhani’s tweets are really not directed at a domestic audience.  Younger generations of Iranians are steeped in internet technology, well aware of all social media available, and typically have studied English in school.  So, they may actually look at, learn from, and comment on their leaders’ tweets in English.  However, older generations would be less likely to use Twitter, and less likely to be as fluent in English enough to read or fully comprehend the tweets meaning.  Attempting to reach either audience using tweets in English would be a poor use of the tool.  Western foreign and defense policymakers and decision makers, political and business leaders, policy scholars, academics, and journalists are unmistakably the target of Rouhani’s English communications, including those sent on Twitter, remains.  It is plus whenever Rouhani manages to reach an audience of ordinary citizens in the West. 

True, Rouhani’s tweets are from profiles and handles in their names.  However, it would be more than surprising to discover that the Iranian president would actually devote any time to composing tweets given the multitude of issues that require his time, attention, and energy daily.  His tweets are not mundane comments about events, daily activities, or personal stories.  While not earth shattering or controversial in any way so far, Rouhani’s tweets are still official statements of the Iranian government’s positions on issues in international affairs that reach a global audience, particularly Rouhani’s counterparts in Western capitals.  For that reason, despite Rouhani’s accepted command of English, his tweets are logically drafted by scholars and experts, fluent in English on his staff.  They should be viewed as such, and not a personal effort by the Iranian president.  Drafting a concise official tweet, effective enough to communicate the desired comment in 140 characters, practically requires a newspaper editor’s hand.  Rouhani would be invested in his staff’s Twitter efforts to the extent that tweets they promulgate are based on his concepts and intent for the conduct of Iranian foreign and defense policies.  Those ideas can only come from Iran’s most senior leaders.  It is the political perspectives and goals of the Iranian leaders’ upon which policies and approaches of the Islamic republic are formulated.

Distinctions

Although Rouhani’s tweets are produced by his staff, it is very conceivable that his office  would also very likely consult with his ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence and security over communications on an issue, especially when specific content is of absolute importance.  Ministers, and subsequently their own staffs, could possibly assist in the drafting of a specific tweet or set of tweets.  Rouhani selected his cabinet ministers because of their expertise and capabilities, and his sense that with them he could establish a rapport and from them he would receive the best advice available on issues.  There would be little reason to exclude their input from important communications of Iranian policy.

It would be a goal of staff scholars and experts when crafting tweets to avoid telegraphing Iran’s moves or leak any classified information or plans of the Iranian republic over Twitter.  Searching for such gems of information from Iranian officials’ tweets would be a fool’s errand.  Utilization of Rouhani’s tweets as an intelligence tool for efforts and manipulation or deception would also be very unlikely.  Rouhani’s credibility would be at stake as the tweets, profiles, and handles are in his name.  While an Iranian patriot, undoubtedly willing to sacrifice for the Islamic republic, Rouhani would not want to engage in that practice.

Any signs of disunity in thinking within the Iranian government would hardly be found on Twitter because the Supreme Leader and the president are the only officials with English Twitter profiles.  The ministries and ministers of Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Intelligence and Security do not have such profiles, although that situation could change.  While their comments may at times have a stronger tone, they actually represent the logical application of the concept of force and diplomacy to cope with opponents of the regime.  Iran’s military capabilities and financial wherewithal aside, the ability to assure that Iran’s can promote and protect its interests, in Iran’s view, requires declarations of Iran’s determination to defend those interests.  Those expressions serve to some degree, to deter threats but are for the most part, genuine avowals of Iran’s willingness to fight.  (Albeit, some military officials could accomplish that task using “:less-passionate” statements.)

English Proficiency

The unlikelihood that Rouhani’s tweets were drafted by them is actually evinced in the examples of his tweets provided by Windrem in his NBCNews.com article.  Windrem points to Rouhani’s August 27, 2013, tweet, which stated: “As UN resumes its investigation, President #Rouhani calls on international community to show prudence over Syrian crisis and observe international law.”  This tweet, allegedly drafted by Rouhani, has him referring to himself as “President Rouhani,” in third person.  For Rouhani to refer to himself in this manner would be rather unusual.  This statement, while reflecting Rouhani’s thinking, was clearly drafted by someone other than Rouhani.  Interestingly, while tweets are sent under Rouhani’s profiles and handles, the Iranian president’s office has not given notice or any definitive statement indicating that he prepares his own tweets.  That would certainly be newsworthy information.

Twitter’s 140 character limit for messages normally requires most English speaking users to abbreviate outside of accepted English grammar rules.  However, in his messages, there is evidence non-native English speakers drafted the text.  Rouhani’s tweets are laced with “inter language grammar,” normally observed in the writing of non-native speakers of English (or any language for that matter).  Since that is the case, it is clear that the tweets from the Iranian president presented in Windrem’s article could represent an effort at deception or manipulation by the Ministry of the Intelligence and Security.  If the Ministry of Intelligence and Security were preparing tweets, its officers would have insisted upon using native English speakers, perhaps from the US, Canada, or Britain, who were expert in preparing concise messages on Twitter.  That would serve to avoid misstatements and ambiguities in the communications.

Tweets as Targets for Examination

What really makes Rouhani’s tweets a real target for examination is the almost ubiquitous desire among Western foreign and defense policymakers and decision makers, political and business leaders, policy scholars, academics, and journalists to identify every statement and action he takes as an effort to approach the West.  It is what led Windrem’s intriguing choice to examine Rouhani’s tweets.  The search for signs that a comprehensive compromise might be found on the nuclear issue and others between Iran and the West, appears akin to a virtual quest for the Western foreign policy “Holy Grail.”  Yet, that search maybe for naught.   Rouhani and his cabinet seek to bring Western leaders to their views and positions, and not, themselves, be influenced.  For Iran, the possibility of a compromise would be seen only when signs exist that Western leaders are willing to alter their views on issues concerning Iran.

 Assessment

When the situation in Syria reached crisis level with the use of chemical weapons, US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, was invariably swamped by the demands of organizing reports, meetings, briefings, travel, visits to Congress, and other important national security policy issues unrelated to Syria.  Rice would hardly have the time or opportunity to compose concise and effective messages sent under her handle and profile: @Ambassador Rice.  Undoubtedly, a staff member from Rice’s office, perhaps the National Security Council spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden or her staff, prepared Rice’s tweets.  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, tweets, but his tweets, usually very general statements on policy, are sent from the rather generic Department of State profile: @StateDept.  Perhaps every US official has a Twitter profile, managed by staff.   In this respect, methods used by Iranian officials to prepare and send tweets would be little different from methods used by US officials. 

 There is certainly potential for Rouhani’s tweets to develop into a significant resource for understanding his thinking and concepts, and Iranian government policies and approaches in international affairs.  Detractors of the Iranian government would claim that disunity exists in Iranian policymaking to such a degree that Iran’s official statements are never definitive, and should not be given consideration.  However, Rouhani’s tweets could indeed become part of a process of establishing normalcy with regard to Iran’s presentation of its positions.  Through Twitter, Rouhani could potentially provide carefully crafted, official statements of such quality and quantity as to help eliminate ambiguities or doubts of Iran’s position on issues.  (Of course, dialogue is the best way to build greater confidence, eliminate ambiguities about positions, and prevent further guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.)  It would be ideal for Iran if Rouhani’s tweets supported movement in Western officials’ thinking from mutual suspicion toward the direction of mutual trust, and set the stage for constructive dialogue.  Potentially, his tweets could help to encourage the West to engage in, what Iran would consider, a fair and respectful dialogue, in which goals and interests are exchanged.  That may lead to greater steps relevant to reaching agreements.