Commentary: Beijing’s Failed Political Warfare Effort Against US: A Manifestation of Its Denial Over Igniting the Coronavirus Pandemic

US President Donald Trump (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (right). While a tremendous amount of energy and effort is being focused on the coronavirus pandemic crisis in the US and the rest of the world, the Beijing has placed its focus on a cause far less noble. It ignited a confrontation with Washington by making the utterly absurd and impolitic official declaration that the US Army had ignited the COVID-19 virus (the novel coronavirus) while visiting Wuhan, China, and that the virus was developed in a US military laboratory. There was the attendant declaration that use of the terms “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus” was racist and xenophobic. By telephone, Trump and Xi offered one another messages of unity in the war against the coronavirus and appear to have resolved the matter. However, given all that was said, greatcharlie feels compelled to look at how Beijing reached its peculiar conclusions and offers a discussion on what it was likely trying to do.

When covering a subject, it is the fervent desire of greatcharlie’s editor to avoid the appearance of flogging a dead horse. To that extent, in approaching the issue of the incredibly false claims by the government of the People’s Republic of China that the US had ignited the COVID-19 virus (the novel coronavirus) in China, it does not want to dredge up what may beginning to settle down. However, the whole episode has been so peculiar, greatcharlie feels compelled to metaphorically take look under the hood. Continuing from what was just briefly mentioned, Beijing instigated the whole row by declaring the US Army while visiting China to participate in the 7th CISM Military World Games in Wuhan in October 2019, well before any reported outbreaks of the coronavirus. Beijing alleged that the virus was developed in a US military laboratory. There was the attendant declaration that calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus”, “Chinese coronavirus”, or “Wuhan virus” was somehow an expression of racism and xenophobia. No evidence has been shown by any reliable epidemiologist worldwide that the coronavirus originated anywhere but China. Experts believe that the virus emerged from animals sold in a market in Wuhan, where the first cases of the disease were discovered. All of the declarations from Beijing were bizarre, and similiar ones of that sort were made by it afterward. While a tremendous amount of energy and effort in Washington is being focused on the coronavirus crisis in the US and the rest of the world, Beijing has decided to place a considerable portion of its focus and energy on a cause far less noble.

Much has been written and stated about this grave matter in the US news media. After first hearing of Beijing’s claims, US President Donald Trump addressed it from the White House Press Room on March 17, 2020. He adroitly countered Beijing’s declarations by stating: “China was putting out information which was false that our military gave this to them. That was false. And rather than having an argument, I said I had to call it where it came from. It did come from China.” Perhaps greatcharlie is going on a slender by stating Trump’s words were firm but still rather measured. Trump is certainly concerned with the US first and foremost, but while speaking about the matter, he may have had his positive relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping in mind and may have wanted to keep the door open for conversation with him to sort the matter out if necessary. Since that time Trump stated he would refrain from using the term “Chinese virus” and he had a constructive telephone conversation with Xi concerning the whole matter. A considerable effort has been made by greatcharlie in it’s posts to alert foreign capitals to the pitfalls of following false information from Trump’s political adversaries in the US who have from his first year in office minus one have sought to thoroughly distort the picture of his team’s  good work and accomplishments. In this particular case, China, a highly-developed, industrialized economic power, has chosen to amplify the attitudes and behavior of Trump adversaries.

Thomas Paine, 18th Century American political writer, theorist, and activist (of the American Revolution), wrote in his work, The Crisis No. V: To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Although it finds the perspective on the coronavirus proffered by its senior officials in Beijing objectionable, the goal of greatcharlie here is not to argue against it but simply to offer its own perspective of what Beijing was likely attempting to do. Admittedly, China is not really greatcharlie’s patch. Nevertheless, in an effort to better this matter, greatcharlie takes a deeper dive into what Beijing is doing, what is the thinking of its leadership, and why it is fervently hoped its current behavior will stop and will be avoided in the future. Quis nescit, primam esse historiæ legem, ne quid falsi dicere audeat?; deinde ne quid veri non audeat? (Who does not know that is the first rule of history not to dare to say anything that is false?; and, the second not to dare to say anything that is not true?)

Leaders of the Communist Party of China at plenum (above). It does not feel as if greatcharlie is going out on shaky ground to state that there is a cultural angle by which Beijing can be imagined struggling to cope with a presumed loss of face, a sense of shame and embarrassment, for being unable to respond adequately and in a sure-footed way to the medical crisis. One could also imagine that the leadership of the Communist Party of China believed a torrent of precautions against the coronavirus would exceed the dangers to be avoided. They abandoned the Chinese people to destiny. Left with their egos hurt, and feeling angered and self-conscious about their country’s situation, some among the leadership of the Communist Party of China, amidst all that was transpiring, rather than sit maudlin, likely decided to use the country’s foreign policy apparatus to inappropriately lash out.

An Act of Daylight Madness by Beijing

Once an agrarian country dominated for centuries by foreign powers, China has since the end of World War II has reached amazing heights. Confident and competent, China today is an economic superpower. It has achieved tremendous scientific advances, has sent satellites and probes into far space and is gearing up its space program to meet the challenge of sending a crew to the Moon and return it home safely. China undoubtedly believes it has impressed the world with its achievements. Indeed, it has been extolled by many in the world for its great strides. However, likely sensing the world looking over its shoulder with a mix of disapprobation and commiseration at the unsteady handling of its coronavirus epidemic as the death toll in its country rose, it did not feel so sure, nay feared, that it was not holding its own as scientific powerhouse and engine of scientific advancements. It is difficult to say with certainty how the same proud, mature, self-confident, self-assured leadership of China got to the point in which it decided to ascribe culpability for the spread of the coronavirus to the US. Perhaps the place to look to understand how Beijing feels about this whole coronavirus matter is the Communist Party of China.

Indeed, what the Communist Party of China feels and says about any matter in China is always of great consequence. In spite of all that could be stated about China being an advanced and leading industrialized power, it functions under the rule of a one party, authoritarian system. The Communist Party of China would insist that from leadership, wisdom radiates in all directions. There are eight other, subordinated political parties that are allowed to exist and they form what has been dubbed the United Front. The Chinese government, itself, functions under a people’s congress system, taking the form of what is called the National People’s Congress. The National People’s Congress exercises the state power of amending the Constitution and supervising the enforcement of the Constitution; enacts basic laws of the state; elects and decides on the choices of the leading personnel of the highest state organs of China, including the President and Vice President, the choice of the Premier of the State Council and other component members of the State Council; elects the Chairman of the Central Military Commission and decide on the choice of other component members of the Central Military Commission; elects the President of the Supreme People’s Court and the Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate; examines and approves the plan for national economic and social development and the report on its implementation; examines and approves the state budget and the report on its implementation; and make decisions on other important issues in national life. The National People’s Congress is elected for a term of five years. It meets in session during the first quarter each year and is convened by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. In accord withbwhat was earlier explained, it is leadership is composed of leaders from Communist Party of China. As for the leadership of the Communist Party of China, it is divided among a number of elite bodies. The 370 member Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is the largest. The Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, or Central Politburo of the Communist Party of China, is a 25 member group of leaders elected by the Central Committee that actually overseas the larger party. Within the Politburo, power is centralized in the smaller Politburo Standing Committee selected by current Politiburo and retired Politiburo Standing Committee members. The day-by-day operations of both the Politburo and its Standing Committee are executed by the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China. The Secretariat can even make decisions on how to carry out tasks set by both organizations, consulting them when necessary. All important to the Communist Party of China is upholding and perfecting the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the promotion of the modernization of state governance. Socialism with Chinese characteristics refers to the fact that the country’s economy largely follows the principle of a market economy while being Communist in name. The Communist Party of China believes it has provided clear direction for its country and a path for vigorous development. Although maintaining lasting peace and stability is also stated focus, the Communist Party of China believes its country moves closer everyday to a time when it will be the world’s dominant power. When the Communist Party of China causes citizens any suffering through its leaders decisions, it will without empathy, chalk the matter up as being necessary for the greater good, for the sake of the Communist Revolution. Ensuring the population’s adherence to the strictures of the Communist government is a function of its security services. The People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest military forces, often performs ancillary functions for the security services. From almost day one of the Communist government, there has been an insistence that a watchful eye needed to be kept over threats to the system. It was understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. The response had to be strong enough to match “the severity of the disease.” It was in the performance of that mission that the Chinese government has earned a reputation among many worldwide for being an oppressive, authoritarian regime.

It does not feel as if greatcharlie is going out on shaky ground to state that there is a cultural angle by which Chinese can be imagined struggling to cope with a presumed loss of face, a sense of shame and embarrassment, for being unable to respond adequately and in a sure-footed way to the medical crisis. One could also imagine that the leadership of the Communist Party of China believed a torrent of precautions against the coronavirus would exceed the dangers to be avoided. They abandoned the Chinese people to destiny. Left with their egos hurt, and feeling angered and self-conscious about their country’s situation, some among the leadership of the Communist Party of China, amidst all that was transpiring, rather than sit maudlin, likely decided to use the country’s foreign policy apparatus to inappropriately lash out.

The coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China, in late December 2019 according to available evidence. The New York Times on March 13, 2020 reported that scientists have not yet identified a “patient zero” or a precise source of the virus, though preliminary studies have linked it to a virus in bats that passed through another mammal before infecting humans. A senior official from China’s National Health Commission, Liang Wannian, proffered the idea at a briefing in Beijing in February 2020 that the likely carrier was a pangolin, an endangered species that is trafficked almost exclusively to China for its meat and for its scales, which are prized for use in traditional medicine. The first clustering of patients was recorded at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, and studies have since suggested that the virus could have been introduced there by someone already infected. The overwhelming amount of cases and deaths have been in Wuhan and the surrounding province of Hubei. Reportedly, Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor, tried to raise alarm about the coronavirus outbreak, was targeted by police in an effort to silence him. He has since succumbed to the coronavirus. Another Wuhan doctor, who was immersed in the battle against the coronavirus and tried to sound the alarm as to the magnitude of the threat, has reportedly disappeared.

Chinese state media has generally praised Beijing’s efforts in containing the virus. On March 17, 2020, a China Daily editorial stated that the world should learn from China’s example in aggressively quarantining and detecting the virus. Yet, At the height of the outbreak in China, local governments were reportedly criticized for excessive measures and lack of supplies and capacity. However, those who closely follow online social media noticed numerous conspiracy stories were emanating from China spreading falsehoods including the idea that the coronavirus might have been brought in by US military athletes who visited Wuhan to participate in the 7th CISM Military World Games, which opened on October 17, 2019 and closed on October 27, 2019. Coronavirus was being labelled by those sources as an “American disease.” Those conspiracy theories were continously recirculated on China’s tightly controlled internet. There is not a shred of evidence to support that, but the notion received an official endorsement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose spokesman accused American officials of not coming clean about what they know about the disease. Then, the disinformation was suddenly being spread from official sources such as a series of posts on Twitter by Zhao Lijian, the Director of the Information Department of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its top spokesperson. In a now famous tweet from @zlj517 on March 12, 2000, at 10:37 AM, Zhao wrote: “2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!” For Zhao, his exertions could hardly have been morally invigorating as he would certainly have known full well, and as aforementioned, that all credible experts believe the coronavirus originated in a wet food market in Wuhan, China, where it was likely passed from different animals until a host carrying the disease transferred it to a human. Zhao who has a reputation for making use of Twitter, though the platform is blocked in China by the government, to push what some policy analysts call Beijing’s new aggressive, hawkish, diplomatic strategy. Yet, in this “campaign” Zhao surpassed himself. Zhao took the posture of a positive serpent. Other senior officials of the government comporting themselves publicly when discussing the coronavirus epodemic did so with an astringency which some regime critics would say uncloaked the true nature of the regime. Lin Songtian, China’s ambassador to South Africa also tweeted that the virus might not have originated in China. Fallacia alia aliam trudit. (One falsehood thrusts aside another.( i.e., leads to more))

After giving an address on March 16, 2020, warning of a possible recession, the US president posted from @realDonaldTrump on March 17, 2020 at 12:16AM on Twitter: “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!” Chinese officials took a similar acidic approach to Trump’s reference of the pandemic as the “Chinese virus.” Zhao’s colleague, Geng Shuang, deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department, at a press briefing in Beijing on March 17, 2020, stated: “Some US politicians have tried to stigmatise China … which China strongly condemns.” He went further to explain: “We urge the US to stop this despicable practice. We are very angry and strongly oppose it [the tweet].” When asked if comments such as his and Zhao’s reflected Beijing’s official views on the virus, reportedly he did not directly comment. Instead, he replied: “The international community, including the US, have different opinions about the origin of the virus,” he told the Reuters press agency, adding that the origin of the virus was a scientific matter and as such, scientific views should be listened to. (Perhaps there would be a need to twist his tail to force him to mimic the obloquy of his colleagues.) Then the superior of Geng and Zhao at the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its director Hua Chunying, sent out a tweet amplifying, with a bit more vigor, Geng’s line of argument. He included a link to a video clip that included the director of the US Centers for Disease Control, Robert Redfield stating on March 17, 2020 that it was wrong to refer to the coronavirus as a “Chinese coronavirus,” noting while it first emerged in China it has since severely impacted countries such as South Korea and Italy. Hua’s tweet from @SpokespersonCHN on March 12, 2020 at 3:26AM was the following: @CDCDirector Dr. Robert Redfield: Some cases that were previously diagnosed as Flu in the US were actually . It is absolutely WRONG and INAPPROPRIATE to call this the Chinese coronavirus. …”

One could call what Beijing was doing as diplomacy after a fashion. Yet, certainly it is diplomacy conducted in an unsatisfactory way. On the coronavirus matter, Beijing appears to have little interest in holding themselves to what generally might be understood to be higher standards international statesmanship. Going directly to the source of Chinese power, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued “strong US objections” in a telephone conversation with Yang Jiechi, director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Communist Party of China. CCTV, Chinese state television, reported that Yang also issued “strong objections” to attempts by the US to “slander and smear” China’s efforts in combatting the virus. That unfortunate response from a key Communist Party of China official was quite telling. With the exception of the two national leaders, Beijing at almost every level was all over Washington, and in turn, Washington, at nearly all senior levels, was all over Beijing.

What is quite troubling was the way Beijing’s effort smacked of provocative efforts during a previous era of a geopolitical struggle between East and West, Communism versus Capitalism. There was a paranoia that eventually hardened both East and West, seemingly giving rise to intractable negative beliefs and harsh convictions of each side’s respective intentions. One would have hoped that era was dead. It would seem that in the minds of some in Beijing, particularly among the leadership of the Communist Party of China, that era is still very much alive. To that extent, a defacto bigotry toward the US appears to exist in the thinking among a number of them.

Other than an eventual good telephone call between Trump and Xi, the only bright spot in the middle all that has occurred was comments made by the Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai about the anti-US declarations from Beijing. Reportedly , Cui told the news program “Axios on HBO” that he stands by his belief that it’s “crazy” to spread rumors about the coronavirus originating from a military laboratory in the US. Cui even called this exact conspiracy theory “crazy” more than a month ago on the CBS News program, “Face the Nation.” well before the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs first began publicly promoting the conspiracy. It would seem that true professionals in the Chinese government would prefer to stick with the primary problem instead of rooting around extraneous matters and bizarre claims. Cui apparently holds firmly to the belief that good diplomacy among advanced industrialized societies, to preserve peace and security, must not exceed what is decent.

Zhao Lijian (above), deputy director of the Information Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One could call what Beijing was doing with its impolitic declarations about the US as diplomacy after a fashion. Yet, certainly it is diplomacy conducted in an unsatisfactory way. On the coronavirus matter, Beijing appears to have little interest in holding themselves to what generally might be understood to be higher standards international statesmanship. With the exception of the two national leaders, Beijing at almost every level was all over Washington, and in turn, Washington, at nearly all senior levels, was all over Beijing. What has been quite troubling was the way Beijing’s effort smacked of provocative efforts during a previous era of a geopolitical struggle between East and West, Communism versus Capitalism.

A Possible Political Warfare Strategem

What Beijing has expressed may very well be a projection of its disappointment with itself. Knowingly speaking vaguely, it is not hard to imagine leaders in Beijing, particularly within the Communist Party of China, smouldering over the embarrassing reality that the coronavirus pandemic was due to their incompetence. It was not something embarrassing that could be hidden away. The resulting choice for Beijing, not to behave as a good player on the international stage, was the wrong one. Looking upon the matter of Beijing’s declarations with more discerning eyes, it cannot be ruled out that the leadership there has done more than simply green lighted  some unconstructive propaganda by the senior members of the foreign ministry. The implications and indications are that their declarations have most likely been part of a greater political warfare stratagem.

Male cuncta ministrat impetus. (Anger manages everything badly.) Beijing’s nose has certainly being put out of joint. If greatcharlie’s  supposition that Beijing had launched a political warfare attack is valid, its primary purpose would be getting the rest of the world to tear the Chinese name off of the virus was part of a larger effort to conceal the fact that the virus had any connection to China and save face after an absolutely failure to respond to it appropriately and contain it. Indeed, throwing the yoke of embarrassment off China’s shoulders would mean everything to its leadership. It would no longer be the cause for so much torment and anguish worldwide. It would no longer be the scapegoat for the pandemic. In an eccentric way of thinking, Beijing may have seen this tact as a way to make amends for quite a failure. With seemingly little hesitation, they apparently chose to threaten the civilized order. Their minds were confined to what has already transpired and unwilling to open to the potential of the future. It would seem, much as it has been said by the many who have suffered its wrath and by those foreign journalists and scholars who have closely oberved it in action, the voice of deception and hypocrisy lingers in China via the Communist Party.

In an April 30, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “US-Led Military Strikes in Syria Were a Success: Was a Correlative Political Warfare Success Achieved, Too?”, the features of a political warfare effort were outlined. It was noted by greatcharlie that political warfare consists of the international use of one or more of the implements of power–diplomatic, information, military, and economic–to affect the political composition of decision making within a state. Citing Brian Jenkins, a renowned security affairs analyst at RAND, the post explained that political warfare reverses the famous dictum of the 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that “war is the extension of politics by other means,” as political warfare is really the extension of armed conflict by other means. It could take the form of the following: economic subversion; propaganda–not tied to a military effort; psychological warfare–as part of a military effort; conditional aid to a state; aid to political parties; aid to resistance groups; political accommodation; and, even assassination. Those engaged in political warfare perceive an opposing side not as a monolithic force, but as a dynamic population of individuals whose grievances, sense of humiliation, and desire for revenge, honor, status, meaning, or mere adventure could propel them to resistance. Political warfare recognizes that usually members of the opposing side are constantly calibrating and recalibrating their commitment. It sees every member of the opposing side as a potential convert. Many of these features are readily discernible in Beijing’s effort.

Likely Hopes in Beijing for Its Possible Political warfare Attack

One might believe that it would be a risky leap of faith to attempt to include the mighty US on the list of the league of countries and peoples who have been targeted by Beijing’s disinformation campaigns focused on concealing its own misdeeds. Included on a short list of ongoing targets of such deception would be the Uhigars of China, the people of Tibet, the people of Hong Kong, Taiwan (officially the Republic of China), Vietnam, and South Korea.

Trying to manipulate thinking and events the US, however, would not at all be an alien concept. Along with the Russian Federation, China also was detected meddling in 2016 US Presidential Election. This fact has been highlighted by Trump’s adversaries in the US for their own varied purposes. In fact, it was perhaps viewed as a low risk. To that extent, within the Communist Party of China, the operation very likely made plenty of sense from certain perspectives. The attack would be launched from China. Since physical courage would not be required, they would likely flatter their own egos by displaying the political courage to act in such a way. Beijing likely believed that they had superior operational awareness. They felt they knew terrain and all of the actors on the other side. They likely felt confident that they could make profound use of detailed all source intelligence concerning the US. Having reviewed endless reports and commentaries produced by Trump’s adversaries that were already calling him racist and xenophobic for saying the Coronavirus was from China, and calling it the “Wuhan Virus”, and observing them try to tie the word racist to his tail in general, was surely encouraging in Beijing. The know-how was in their possession through specially trained personnel in political warfare units in their intelligence services and perhaps even in the Communist Party of China itself. Whether the political warfare attack came to the personal attention of Xi himself is uncertain. Considering his likely desire to preserve his line of communication and relatively good relations with Trump, Xi would probably find the presumed political warfare operation too rich for his blood. He would also likely have intuited that it would all become an untidy situation in the end.

An likely important goal of Beijing’s political warfare campaign would be to exploit individual weaknesses in the US on a large scale. The focal points surely woukd be the feelings, sensibilities and sentiments of those unable to find assurance and security in what has been done by the US President so far. Without question, Beijing targetted Trump’s adversaries, particularly anti-Trump members of the US news media. Those members of the US public who were bewildered by all the news about the coronavirus and ambivalent about what was being done in response were also likely primary targets of the attack. With proper measure, Beijing believed it would chip away at reality and replace it with the false reality it had constructed. The key would remain getting the US public and the people of the world to accept what it was saying. Beijing apparently believed that faith would be out into its words and that there was a considerable lack of faith in Trump and the US government both in the US and in the rest of the world.

Xi (center) at ceremony with Communist Party of China’s leadership. What Beijing has expressed through its impolitic declarations about the US may very well be a projection of its disappointment with itself. It is not hard to imagine leaders in Beijing, particularly within the Communist Party of China, smouldering over the embarrassing reality that the coronavirus pandemic was due to their incompetence. The resulting choice for Beijing, not to behave as a good player on the international stage, was the wrong one. It cannot be ruled out that the leadership there has done more than simply green lighted some unconstructive propaganda by the senior members of the foreign ministry. The declarations may have been part of a greater political warfare stratagem. Whether the presumed political warfare attack came to the personal attention of Xi himself is uncertain. Considering his likely desire to preserve his line of communication and relatively good relations with Trump, Xi would probably find such an operation too rich for his blood and intuited that it would all become an untidy situation in the end.

Targeting the US News Media

In Book II of his masterwork, Paradise Lost (1667), the great 17th century English poet and intellectual, John Milton,  wrote: “But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropp’d manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, 4 to perplex and dash Maturest counsels.” As adversaries of Trump, the rhetoric of the US news media has only been second in virulence to the utterances of some political adversaries in the opposition Democratic Party. On list of Trump’s adversaries, however, there is a far larger group to include: academics; think tank scholars, other policy analysts; political pundits on television, radio, print media, and online; former senior members of the previous administration of US President Barack Obama; television personalities; and, Hollywood celebrities. For whatever reason, they have some inextinguishable, inexhaustible need to injure Trump. They are all absolutely comfortable with expressing the most fanatical rebukes possible as opposed to constructive criticisms.

One should be under no illusion concerning an extreme dislike of Trump in the US news media. From the first days of the Trump administration, there has been an “us-them” approach taken by the majority of the US news media toward anything it does. Reporters and pundits in the broadcast media have gone beyond the point of being gadflies. Primacy is given to an effort to shape the thinking of the public against Trump, as well as provoke the US President, with daily stories that harshly criticize him, gainsay his administration’s decisions and actions, and chastises administration personnel from senior advisers to middle level staff. Opportunities to make platitudinous objections to Trump are never missed. Words used are beyond hostile and aggressive. The distance that many journalists are willing to travel away from past norms is unknown. Into the second year of his first term in office, the news media remains all Trump, all the time. Journalists discuss hypotheticals sometimes with only a tenuous connection with the realities of ongoing events rather than informing the US public of facts from solid reporting and analysis based on studied patterns of decision making. The facts offered are more often bleached to the point of being superficial. Deeper dives into facts are avoided, and gaps are filled with opinions. Journalists will even seek to capitalize on Trump’s criticism of their stories whenever he decides to get involved with them. It is puzzling how for so long  in the US news media has raged a fever in their blood. The reason for their commitment to such anger and aggression has begun to appear demonically inspired from Hell.

As noted by greatcharlie in its February 25, 2020 post entitled, “Commentary: With the Impeachment Results In, Foreign Capitals Can See Clearer How Their Relations with Washington Add Up”, foreign capitals able to discern the angry and hateful language of Trump’s adversaries for what it was, have managed to establish good relations with his administration and to reach new, balanced agreements with US over the past three years. Their respective leaders have enjoyed good person-to-person communications with Trump. Economic improvement, growth, and a greater sense of hope in their own countries can be seen.

A trove of information could be found in open source reporting from the US news media for those foreign capitals bent on promoting odious ideas about Trump and his administration. Clearly, Beijing stands alongside those foreign capitals willing to take that path. Its worst opinions about the Trump administration and the US were surely satisfied via that stream of information. However, what Beijing has done goes beyond just rereporting useful negative information from US sources. Doubtlessly watching carefully how members of the US news media and Trump’s adversaries would grab at essentially any morsel to attack him, made use of that penchant.  Indeed, Beijing likely calculated that Trump’s adversaries would not be able to resist its statements about alleged US Army activities in Wuhan, which they of course would conclude Trump ordered. Declarations that Trump was racist and xenophobic for using the terms Chinese coronavirus and Wuhan virus was figurative catnip for them. Suffice it to say that many, true to form, picked the figurative low hanging fruit and have continued to grab what has been dangled before them. Conference rooms of US news media outlets were likely set ablaze over talk about the statements. Almost immediately, the false statements from Beijing were found in broadcasts, online sources, and print media. Upon learning what has very likely transpired, however, one should hardly expect anti-Trump members of the US news media to assume a virtue.

Targeting the Bewildered and Ambivalent in the US

Decipit frons prima multos, rara mens intelligit quod interiore condidit cura angulo.
(The first appearance deceives many, our understandings rarely reach to that which has been carefully deposed in the innermost recesses of the mind.) Targeting the feelings and sensibilities of those in the US public who are unsure of what is what during the coronavirus would make good sense from an adversary’s perspective. At best, under ordinary circumstances, such declarations by Chinese officials would not overly concern the US public. It would most likely sound much as a conspiracy theory by those who might ponder it. Some perhaps harboring negative impressions of Trump has performed might leap to use the nonsense proffered from Beijing to support their worst impressions. Many were led by the nose during the Impeachment debacle in the US Congress, the claims of what the Investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller would find regarding Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian Federation Government, and absolute farce that Trump was a Russian Federation spy. Some who might find difficulty recognizing the good intentions of the Trump administration due to unique preconceptions on how it operating might find it easy to fold what was declared from Beijing into their own sense of the bigger, uglier picture of the what the administration is all about. The overwhelming and baffling nature of it all might cause some to believe it serves as evidence that elements of the secret world have been at it again. Those judgments most likely would be based almost exclusively upon what has been produced in Hollywood about US intelligence services. Hollywood’s version, of course, was created as a commercial amusement and never intended to inform viewers of the realities of the intelligence business.

Although their behavior may be condemned by the informed, more astute, self-assured, perhaps those bewildered and ambivalent members of the US public who may have fallen prey to the disinformation generated by Beijing should not be hastily, or too harshly judged. There is always the chance that the Information one might receive about a matter could be false, a deception, fraud. Yet, tell anyone anything and up9n immediate impression, it will likely arouse some feeling. If it is tragic information about someone, the feelings can be sorrow, pain, sympathy, and  regret. If it is good news it can lead to feelings of satisfaction, happiness, joy, and pleasure. If information is bad it can create resentment and anger. Feelings of anger when stirred by information, even if it is false, can also lead to hostility and violence. If one is willing to act solely on feelings, one cannot hardly be certain if the facts are true and feelings are warranted. Given the intensity of feelings one might manifest about information, one, without really giving it a thought, might simply accept that the truth is already in ones possession. One’s impressions about a source can also lead one to make that determination that enough proof exists. Yet, only to the limits of one’s knowledge and trust of the source can be one certain that they have the truth. Over time, the impulse, to find truth through stirred feelings or mere impressions, can become a habit. However, it is a bad habit. It is error self-taught. It leaves one open to manipulation from all directions. Surely, one must only act on truth; a better than sufficient amount proof. When available, data must be collected and considered. Prima sapientiæ gradus est falsa intelligere. (The first step towards wisdom is to distinguish what is false.)

Where Beijing’s Possible Political Warfare Attack Went Wrong

The clever boots in Beijing who likely fashioned the messages put out by officials were likely drawn from scholarly analytical cells of their diplomatic service, intelligence services, and intelligence elements of the Communust Party of China. They doubtlessly as a duty closely follow US politics and public opinion and have been closely observing the progress of the coronavirus epidemic in the US. They were likely quite cognizant of the anxiety and fear created by the “all virus all the time” reporting on broadcast television, on the internet, and social media, and daily publications. Even if any had expressed doubts about the potential success of the political warfare attack, they surely would have been ignored. Assuming that those who executed the presumed political warfare attack were gung-ho across the board, perhaps just before its execution, they might likened themselves as the final push from behind to a ball they already saw moving in the right direction. Yet, rather than pushing a ball in the right direction to hurt Trump and the US, they metaphorically dislodged a boulder on a cliff above their own homes that came crashing down through their roofs. They were essentially sabotaged by their own ignorance,

Beijing’s Impolitic Declarations Defied Reality

As discussed earlier, there were already plenty of odd things being promoted about Trump from everywhere. As the likely operation was executed and the declarations about the US were made, it all seemed too unnatural, too unusual, and stood out in a big way. The declarations made actually mimicked the tone of the most zealous and loyal elements of the Communist Movement and the Communist Party of China. Indeed, what Beijing has been declaring are such a extravagant deviations from what was already understood and had settled in worldwide about the origins of coronavirus. More than anything else, for the overwhelming majority of people who can across it, Beijing’s anomalous expression, that points to the US Army as the initiator of the crisis, was one more example of its perfidy. Among the more compassionate though, perhaps Beijing’s exertion about the US appeared more as a cry for help, having been subsumed by efforts to stave back and resolve the crisis they created for themselves. Perhaps for a few, Beijing’s decision to proffer such ideas actually garnered pity rather than disapproval. Multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentientem, sicuti adhuc fecerunt, speculabuntur atque custodient. (Without your knowledge, the eyes and ears of many will see and watch you, as they already have.)

Due to human nature, immutable as it is, one would more likely expect to hear a vacuous claim concerning the US and the spread of coronavirus as an impolitic, off-color witticism, surely unacceptable, softly spoken as a blague during conversation around a tea trolley at a club, rib-tickling nonsense mumbled to amuse colleagues in the pantry or around the water cooler in an office, or shouted out in the locker room in a gymnasium or fitness center as a wisecrack to stoke a jovial atmosphere. Presumably, even the more infamous shock comedians, such a jib might be seen as potentially striking too close to the nerve right now and hardly be attempted on the comedy circuit, which is presently closed down, same as the other sites of congregation mentioned, due to coronavirus concerns. One might chalk up the declaration of such absolute nonsense about the US Army by China’s venerable Foreign Ministry as the second embarrassing episode that Beijing has had to face in a very short period of time.

The US team during the Opening Ceremonies of the 7th CISM Military World Games in Wuhan (above). Perhaps confusion in Beijing that led to the impolitic declaration about US service members visiting Wuhan may be rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of how different the US military is from that of their authoritarian system. US military personnel cannot be ordered to potentially put themselves at risk by carrying a virus overseas rather than seek treatment, interact among his or her fellow US military athletes in transit and at the site of the competition, and potentially make them ill, all with the goal of passing the virus to the Chinese people. If the US had used a goodwill visit by its military personnel to Wuhan as a pretext to get an infected service member to China and launch a covert biological warfare attack, it could have been viewed as an act of war. One would think if Beijing truly believed the US used a Trojan Horse scheme to launch some form of biological warfare attack from Wuhan, the response from Beijing would have been far more severe than unsubstantiated declarations from their foreign ministry.

The Fallacy That a US Service Member Brought the Coronavirus to China

The US sent 17 teams with more than 280 athletes and other staff members to participate in the 7th CISM Military World Games in Wuhan. If one were to give consideration to whether the coronavirus virus was brought to inadvertently by a service member on the US military team, purely out of academic interest, several pertinent facts would arise that would well-refute the idea. They should not be overlooked. It is hard to imagine that any toned athlete anywhere, primed to successfully compete in an international competition would not notice that he or she was not up to par. They would most likely inform their trainer or coach and seek treatment in order to get back to snuff. If that were not possible, the best choice would be to step away from the competition. While this suggestion is frightfully out of court, one might suppose an athlete displaying symptoms of some illness, and wrongheadedly, and likely full of emotion, might insist upon participating in a competition. In such a case, his or her trainers, coach, and fellow athletes would undoubtedly to note and respond. They would all know that attempting to compete in any event while ill would be foolish. They would insist the athlete get a full medical check up. The athlete would certainly be removed from the roster of competitors and reminded that if one cannot perform at their best, there is no reason to compete. From these angles, it would hardly be the case that a service member who was infirmed would have travelled on the US military team to China. The same tact would likely be taken with regard to coaches, trainers, and the team’s other support staff. To go a step further, athletes who were members of the US team sent to Wuhan had to qualify among their fellow service members to compete. Coaches typically conduct qualifying competitions to see who will represent the US military in each event. The top qualifying competitors take the slots available in their events. However, a depth chart is usually made with their names as well as the names of those athletes who competed well but did not qualify given the number of slots available. If a service member who qualified to compete became ill or was unable to compete, the next best qualified service member on the chart would move up into the vacant slot. One of the unqualified athletes would suddenly be qualified to go to the competition. Perhaps the clever boots in Beijing who came up with the vacuous idea that one of the US military athletes went around Wuhan making everyone ill, likely never participated in any team sports or organized athletics and are unaware of the system that typically exists. Perhaps those who came up with the idea were hoping to prey on the ignorance of those for whom the information was targeted.

Perhaps confusion may be rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of how different the US military is from that of their authoritarian system. Travelling with an illness is a bad idea under any circumstance. US military personnel cannot be ordered to potentially put themselves at risk by carrying a virus overseas rather than seek treatment, interact among his or her fellow US military athletes in transit and at the site of the competition and potentially make them ill, all with the goal of passing the virus to the Chinese. That would fall under the category of an illegal order in the US military.

To insinuate that the US, through a goodwill visit to China by military personnel to participate in international competition, sought to knowingly launch a potential, unprovoked biological warfare attack against China, is truly so beyond what is decent  that it shocks the conscience. This claim serves as evidence of how the paranoia carried over from the previous era can take its toll. In reality, if the US had used a goodwill visit by its military personnel to Wuhan as a pretext to get an infected service member to China and launch a covert biological warfare attack, it could have been seen as an act of war. Nothing was indicated in statements from US officials that there was any hostility toward China so strong that would cause the US to do anything of the kind. Nothing indicated that the US would even do anything so odious to any country. There were no threatening military movements ordered by Trump prior to the Wuhan games. The US and China were still trying to get each others assent on a Phase One trade agreement. One would think if Beijing truly believed the US used a Trojan Horse scheme in order to launch some form of biological warfare attack from Wuhan, the response from Beijing would have been far more severe than un substantiated declarations from their foreign ministry. Indeed, the response, if the claim were really believed in Beijing, could be characterized as extremely relaxed. Whether one might accept that Beijing’s declaration that the US Army brought the coronavirus to Wuhan was a simple expression of propaganda or the first part of a political warfare campaign, it seems almost certain that the claim was not thoroughly thought through. Again, as mentioned earlier, no evidence has been shown by any reliable epidemiologist worldwide that the coronavirus originated anywhere but China. Experts believe that the virus emerged from animals sold in a market in Wuhan.

Regarding the Racism and Xenophobia Claims

The argument that Trump’s use of the terms “Chinese coronavirus” and “Wuhan virus” is racist and xenophobic fallacious on its face. It must be acknowledged that questions were never before raised concerning the correctness of this long standing practice until this point. While it may have satisfied those already hostile to Trump, presenting such a flawed case to a global audience was a wasteful exertion. The argument that naming diseases, illnesses and viruses after the locations in which they originated is a long-established practice, nondiscriminatory, bias-free, and apolitical is quite convincing.

In a March 13, 2020 article in the Federalist entitled “17 Diseases Named After Places Or People”, it was demonstrated that the practice of naming diseases after their places or origin is actually centuries old. Consider the following: Guinea Worm was named in the 1600s by European explorers for the Guinea coast of West Africa; German Measles was named in the 18th century after the German doctors who first described it; Japanese Encephalitis was named in 1871 after its first case in Japan; Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was named in 1896 after the mountain range spreading across western North America once first recognized first in Idaho; West Nile Virus was named in 1937 after being discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda; Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever was named in 1940s after its discovery in Omsk, Russia; Zika Fever was named in 1947 after its discovery in the Zika Forest in Uganda; Lyme Disease was named in 1970s after a large outbreak of the disease occurred in Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut; Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever was named in 1976 for the Ebola River in Zaire located in central Africa; and, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was named in 2012 after being reported in Saudi Arabia and all cases were linked to those who traveled to the Middle Eastern peninsula.

Was Beijing Attempting to Influence the 2020 US Presidential Election?

Pointing out what is obvious, a possible intention was to influence the 2024 US Presidential Election. Beijing may have been  convinced by its intelligence services, observations of US politics, and the US news media and writings and presentations by Trump’s other adversaries that was looked upon widely with disfavor in the US public. While seemingly tossing a sack of coals on the political fire with Beijing’s likely hope would be that its declarations of the US Army’s role in the spread of Coronavirus and raising issues of race and xenophobia over use of the terms Chinese Coronavirus and Wuhan virus, would stoke the political fires in the US by providing Trump’s Democrat political opponents with one more figurative box of ammo to use against him.

Chinese intelligence services may pride themselves in having what it believes to be considerable expertise on the US affairs, it surely is not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. Few foreign intelligence services are. Clearly, Beijing completely missed the mark in appraising Trump’s political opponents in the 2020 Election Campaign. They have contributed their respective fair share of propoganda about Trump to the mix, too, primarily by promoting falsehoods about his record. One significant fact that Beijing should have noticed immediately was that both former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders were beset with considerable problems of their own that would have hardly allowed them to turn toward their attention to whatever nonsense was being put out by China. The frontrunner so far based on state primary results, Biden, was very noticeably displaying signs of cognitive impairment even before wild accusations about the US Army, racism, and xenophobia were made from Beijing. More importantly, the coronavirus epidemic in the US has essentially put their campaigns at a standstill.

Unless greatcharlie is terribly mistaken, Chinese intelligence analytical cells are presumably managed by loyal members of the Communist Party of China. What they have plenty of ostensibly is revolutionary zeal and an immense desire to please their superiors. Fervent dedication to their own system, and focus on their own society,  and being most familiar with politically skewed interpretations particularly of Western capitalist societies would presumably leave them with nothing reality based upon which they could find their interpretations and conclusions.  They very likely lacked points of reference within their own political systems which resembled what was happening in the US. What can typically be the case among bigoted, inflexible, often bumptious individuals who are Hell bent on following the party line, is the display of unwillingness to accept open-minded analyses that may very well have correctly contradicted their understanding of matters.

Given its compatibility with the thinking of many in Beijing, from what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene regarding the 2020 US Presidential Election, primacy was likely given somewhat popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries about Trump propagated by his adversaries. Beijing also likely enjoyed data collected from social media provided by emotional individuals across the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. There is the real possibility that very little of anything collected in Beijing reflected thinking within the US public. Such information could only lead to the development of incorrect interpretations of US political activity. Using those incorrect interpretations in support of a political warfare operation would ensure that its failure from the start.

Trump (center) in the White House Press Room. What likely was a frightful miscalculation of so-called experts on the US in Beijing was the failure to foresee that most in the US public would appreciate Trump’s performance during the coronavirus epidemic and find that he proved himself most Presidential. The overwhelming majority in the US public knows very well that the coronavirus pandemic was caused through no fault of Trump, but by those outside the US who have sought to distort reality with outright lies about the pandemic’s origins. Polls support the argument that the US public well-appreciates what Trump is doing. He has been seen everyday with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, state governors, medical professionals, leaders of all industries creating a synergistic effect, bringing the full power of the US to bear on the problem to reach a speedy and successful resolution.

Reality Check for Beijing on US Public Opinion

What likely was a frightful miscalculation of so-called experts on the US in Beijing was the failure to foresee that most in the US public would appreciate Trump’s performance during the coronavirus epidemic and find that he proved himself most Presidential. A great many in their number would even begin to adore him. The rapid spread of the coronavirus beyond China’s borders surprised and shocked many in the health care professionals in the US. A few US infectious disease experts got permission to go into China to better understand the problem. Trump quickly developed a good sense for what was happening based on information he was provided. He did not get off to a slow start protecting the US public. Rather, as it is his strong suit, he began to tackle the coronavirus crisis by immediately cracking on to the heart of matter. He is observed working hard daily by the US public, trying to to find answers. He has been seen everyday with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, state governors, medical professionals, leaders of all industries creating a synergistic effect, bringing the full power of the US to bear on the problem to reach a speedy and successful resolution. In all areas, public-private partnerships have been forged. Trump has displayed a superb possession of will and ideas. He has developed a comprehensive plan of attack against the coronavirus that will defeat it, safeguard the US economy, and protect the well-being of the US public. In addition to asking the US public to stay out of harm’s way, Trump has asked them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial. What he has done marvellously is keep the US public calm has been to keep the people informed. He wants them to rest assured that they are getting their information for the highest sources. He sought to ensure despite disruptive voices of doom and destruction, admonition and contempt of his adversaries, he has made certain that the truth is out there for them to know. Trump has referred to himself as a Wartime President engaged in battle with what he characterized as the “hidden enemy.”

The overwhelming majority in the US public knows very well that the coronavirus pandemic was caused through no fault of Trump, but by those outside the US who now seek to distort reality with outright lies about the pandemic’s origins. Data supports the argument that the US public well-appreciates what Trump is doing. In Harris’ national surveys conducted March 17, 2020 and March 18, 2020, the US public’s approval of Trump’s management of the coronavirus crisis rose to 56%. His handling of foreign affairs rose to 52% in the same timeframe. Overall approval of Trump was 55%. Harris Insights and Analytics surveyed 2,050 American adults online in two waves on March 14, 2020 and March 15, 2020 and later on March 17, 2020 and March 18, 2020. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released March 20, 2020 reported that 55% of respondents approved of Trump’s management of the public health crisis, while 43 percent disapprove. The latest figures represent a boost in the president’s rating from the previous iteration of the survey, published one week ago, which showed only 43 percent approval for Trump and 54 percent disapproval. According to Gallup the US public has given Trump positive reviews for his response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, with 60% approving and 38% disapproving. By political affiloation, 94% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 27% of Democrats approve of his response. In fact, according to Gallup, Trump’s overall approval rating by the US public is 49%! Line graph. 49% of Americans approve of the job President Trump is doing, up from 44% in early March. On the day that the crisis finally subsides, Trump will very likely stand about 8 feet tall in the minds of the US public.

If the political warfare attack was a trial balloon, the intent would likely have been to determine whether Beijing could have an impact on perceptions in the US public in a piecemeal way, much as water dripping in a stone and eventually breaking through it making its mark. If Beijing concludes that its venture was successful, more virulent efforts could be expected. If an appropriate assessment were made just on what was observed so far, it would be that little was really achieved by the operation. Pressing forward on the matter would only be a wasted effort. If it was a full fledged effort, again the results should have shown Beijing that the impact of such disinformation wanted small. The best course of action would be to count their losses, cut their losses, and close the book on an operation that was ill-fated from the get-go.

Among those who constructed the plan of attack for Beijing’s political warfare tact there are unlikely any flashes of merriment at the moment. Undoubtedly, someone fairly senior in the mix in Beijing who fancies miracles managed to get the  whole cabaret off the ground. The failed political warfare attack was a stumble of the type that would likely stir some young go-getters to have designs on his spot.

Trump and Xi

Trump rarely refrains from stating publicly that he considers Chinese President Xi Jinping a friend. Trump’s political adversaries disparage and mock him for stating this claiming it was further evidence of his alleged affinity for dictators. Looking at their friendship in an abbreviated way, one finds that Trump and Xi are both solid experienced men, who wield significant power daily, under tremendous pressures of leadership, yet still manage to make the right decisions. Although greatcharlie has recognized the following intriguing quality of Trump in previous posts, it could be stated confidently that both men seem to have been born with an innate sense for leading very large organizations, in this case the US and Chinese governments respectively, with a dominant sense and intuition of what is happening with all of their near infinite moving parts at any given time. Often such abilities go unnoticed much as the fine strokes of a master painters brush. The two men were raised in two different cultures and two different systems of government. Those differences at certain points are considerable. Yet, there is a respect between them and as important, a willingness by both to treat one another as they would want to be treated. That practice can even be seen when the two leaders are together publicly.

Key elements of their interactions have been honesty, frankness, and wisdom. Honesty is ostensibly present when both leaders speak for they “tell it like it is” at least from each other’s perspective, and use each other’s respective understanding of an issue to construct a solution with which both can be satisfied. Through frankness, both make it clear that they are interested first and foremost in what is best for their countries and national interests first, and view each other as competitors in the world, but not enemies. With wisdom, while being frank with each other, both are able and willing to listen and accept explanations while speaking in businesslike terms about situations knowing both countries are far better off when they can reach solutions, and that allows for good, congenial communications and the ability to understand each other’s opinions and positions. To that extent, Trump and Xi have really provided the path upon which that advancement of US-China relations can travel. In difficult times, their relationship has served as the thin line between chaos and order.

Xi knew that he would need to come figuratively knocking at Trump’s door with une explication très élégant before the situation between the two countries got to a full gallop. He also likely recognized that it was his country overstepped certain boundaries. As aforementioned, he likely knew before anyone else in Beijing that the political warfare attack, which greatcharlie has presumed was launched, could not possibly succeed. Thus, when he called Trump on March 26, 2020, he did so from a less than favorable position. Yet, at long last Xi was able to say a few words of his own concerning the US. Given the circumstances, they certainly should not be viewed as anodyne statements.

Reportedly, during the call, Xi somewhat side-stepped the matter of the statements that were the reason for US concern. He primarily presented Trump with a message of unity in the war against the coronavirus. China’s official Xinhua News Agency made no mention of the previous spurious claims that the US spread the coronavirus from Wuhan or that use of certain terms were racist or xenophobic. No US news media outlets picked up on any exchange of that kind either. According to Xinhua, Xi told Trump that relations between the two sides were at a “critical moment” and vowed to cooperate to defeat the deadly illness. Reportedly, Xi continued: “Both sides will benefit if we cooperate, both will lose if we fight each other.” Xinhua further quoted Xi as saying: “Cooperation is the only correct choice. I hope the U.S side could take real actions. The two sides should work together to enhance cooperation fighting the virus and develop non-confrontational” relations.” Xi also reportedly expressed concern about the outbreak in the U.S., which has surged ahead of China’s number of confirmed cases and turned New York City into a global epicenter. On that matter, Xi said, “I am very worried about the outbreak in the U.S., and I’ve noticed the series of measures being taken by the U.S. president.” He additionally remarked: “Chinese people sincerely hope the outbreak can be contained very soon.”

Surely, Trump managed to express his feelings to Xi during the telephone conversation. When he presented his impressions of the call directly through Twiiter. Through @realDonaldTrump on March 27, 2020 at 1:19AM , he graciously stated: “Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet,” Trump tweeted Friday. “China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!” Trump did not use the telephone call as an opportunity to pounce on Xi. Perchance Xi, getting to know Trump as he has, intuited that he would not. To that extent, having such a sense about Trump would have likely fortified Xi when he made the decision to make the call. Xi likely believed Trump would not go about it the wrong way and take the high road. Trump did. Assurément, Trump was not simply going through the motions of talking with Xi. He doubtlessly let him know that he expected results from their talk, measurable ones. Trump, after all, spoke from a clear position of moral authority given all that had transpired, for as Milton wrote in Areopagitica (1644): “For truth is strong next to the Almighty. She needs no policies or stratagems or licensings to make her victorious. These are the shifts and the defences that error uses against her power.”

From left to fight) Peng Liyuan, Xi, Trump, and Melanie Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017. Looking at both Trump and Xi, both are solid experienced men who wield significant power daily under tremendous pressures of leadership. Both men seem to have been born with an innate sense for leading very large organizations, in this case the US and Chinese governments respectively, with a dominant sense and intuition of what is happening with all of their near infinite moving parts at any given time. Often such abilities go unnoticed much as the fine strokes of a master painters brush. The two men were raised in two different cultures and two different systems of government. Those differences at certain points are considerable. Yet, there is a respect between them and as important, a willingness by both to treat one another as they would want to be treated. That practice can even be seen when the two leaders are together publicly. They are competitors, but they are also friends.

The Way Forward

Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determination of nature and of truth.) Nothing discussed here should sound extravagant. Beijing has proffered wild ideas about the US beginning with the farce about the US Army’s role in the spread of the coronavirus. It does appear that was very likely part of Beijing’s effort to score a political warfare victory. The political warfare attack was method, wrongfully implemented, poorly executed, and absolutely unnecessary. It is all sad and unfortunate. The entire industrialized world is presently caught up with defeating this virus pandemic and doing their best. It is unfortunate that your country suffered first and dearly over it, but despite embarrassment or disappointment, even shame that may cause, that is a reality. That, however, should not be the immediate focus. What the world does not need is the distraction of attacks to deflect culpability. It does not solve the crisis, does not demonstrate goodwill, and does not display an appropriate use of China’s national power along the lines of excellence. If anything, the political warfare attack has resulted in a loss of political currency in the world, which ironically is what China sought to protect with the effort. Lies do not last with age. The truth is usually discovered.

China is a great nation, a nation of great achievements, and it certainly has ambitions to accomplish even greater things. However, at the present, with the exception of Xi’s telephone call to Trump, it is not acting as such. Hopefully, his words have set the true course for the Chinese government from this point on. Indeed, rather than focusing on what has occurred emotionally and ascribing fault, and igniting discourse over a farce, China’s focus should be finding solutions. That would greatly impress the world. When a solution is found, that will garner far more praise than reproach for fault. If establishing a positive image for itself has become some immutable cause, China might show the world just how hard at work it is in finding that solution as a good member of the community of nations. Again, achievements made in that direction will shape the image of China not political warfare. Deus hæc fortasse benigna reducet in sedem vice. (Perhaps God by some gracious change, will restore things to their proper place.)

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


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

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

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

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


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

Prominent Europeans’ Responses to Trump at Munich

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

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


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

News Media Reports and Their Possible Impact on the Matter

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Demonization and Confirmation Bias

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

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

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

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

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

Groupthink in Europe on Trump

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

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

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


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

European Leaders and Officials Must Act under Pressure

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Knowing the Real Trump

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

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


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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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