Donald Trump’s Own Appointees Are Telling World Leaders To Ignore His Tweets

President Trump's tweets, other public statements, and actions are causing world leaders to doubt the reliability of the United States on the world stage.

While President Trump continues to hijack the political conversation here in the United States, and around the world, the top people in his Administration are basically telling the world to ignore what he says in public:

Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to global affairs, U.S. officials had a message to a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.

U.S. lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: the United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

But Trump himself engaged in a running counterpoint to the message, taking aim on social media at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, because he “forgot” on Saturday to tell the Munich Security Conference that the results of the 2016 weren’t affected by Russian interference, a conclusion that is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. They say they will likely never be able to determine whether the Russian involvement swung the election toward Trump.

The determination to ignore Trump’s foreign-policy tweets has been bipartisan.

“There is a lot more support for continuing our past policies than it might appear from some of the statements,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told an audience on Sunday that was comprised mostly of Europe’s foreign-policy elite. “The unanimity comes from those folks who are actually operationalizing policy.”

 ”The values are the same, the relationships are the same,” said Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). “What you do see is this administration willing to put pressure upon the systems.”

The question of whom they should believe — the president or his advisers — has befuddled European officials. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confessed Saturday that he didn’t know where to look to understand America.

“Is it deeds? Is it words? Is it tweets?” he asked.

He said he was not sure whether he could recognize the United States.

Away from the glare of television cameras, many European diplomats and policymakers echoed the same concerns. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid provoking Trump, asked whether policymakers like McMaster who adhere largely to traditional U.S. foreign policy positions were falling into the same trap as Germany’s elite during Hitler’s rise, when they continued to serve in government in the name of protecting their nation.

The answer, the diplomat said, might be found following “nuclear war,” which he feared could be provoked by Trump administration’s hawkish approach to North Korea.

Testing those lines, McMaster offered a starkly different view of the world from his own boss, saying that the “evidence is now incontrovertible” that Russia intervened in the U.S. political system. Trump has downplayed Russian involvement, saying that he believes the reassurances of Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin was not involved in the election.

McMaster even walked back some of his own previous tough language. Asked about a Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-authored with White House economic adviser Gary Cohn last year that said they embraced a world that was “an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage,” McMaster said it was actually a call for greater cooperation among Western powers.

It’s easy to understand why McMaster and other officials who represent the United States abroad would be making assurances like this to leaders of even some of our strongest allies should be readily apparent. Over the course of the past year, the President’s Twitter feed and other public comments have served as a platform from which he has made statements that have no doubt caused many of these allies to wonder, with good reason, what exactly they are dealing with when it comes to this new President, and whether the United States can be relied on to continue to be the leader in world affairs that it has been since the end of World War Two. For example, through his Twitter account and other comments, the President has made comments about areas of the world ranging from the Middle East and the fight against ISIS to what was probably the biggest international issue of 2017, the increased tension on the Korean Peninsula between the DPRK and the United States and its allies in South Korea and Japan. In that case in particular, Trump has both engaged in a tit-for-tat war of insults with Kim Jong-Un and threatened “Fire and Fury” against the DPRK, causing some to wonder if this was some indication that the President of the United States was threatening a nuclear first strike against the north or otherwise inching the United States closer to war in Korea than it has been at any point since the armistice went into effect sixty-six years ago. Additionally, on several occasions last year he used his Twitter account to undermine diplomatic efforts that his Secretary of State was undertaking as he shuttled between Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing, seemingly without Tillerson even knowing what Trump was doing and saying.

These efforts by people such as McMaster to reassure world leaders are in stark contrast with previous White House statements that have declared that Trump’s tweets represent official White House policy:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday President Donald Trump’s tweets are indeed official statements.

“The President is the President of the United States, so they’re considered official statements by the President of the United States,” Spicer said, when asked during his daily briefing how they should be characterized. Spicer did not indicate whether that included both of the President’s Twitter handles: @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS.

Spicer, who fields a lot of questions about the meaning of the President’s tweets, was asked if Trump undermines his own agenda-setting when he tweets. On Monday, for example, rather than focusing on his administration’s planned roll out of a week focused on infrastructure, Trump knocked his Justice Department’s handing of his travel ban in the wake of a terrorist attack in London.

“The President is the most effective messenger on his agenda,” Spicer said. He then touted Trump’s 110 million followers across social media platforms.

Given this statement, and others that have been made in the eight months since Sean Spicer made that statement during 0ne of his daily briefings by White House officials who say that what the President tweets are as much White House policy as the official statements put out by his Communications Office, these efforts by McMaster and others to convince world leaders that the kind of behavior that we see on pretty much a daily basis seem as though they’re likely to fall on deaf ears. Instead, the marked differences between what people such as McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and others are saying publicly when they are abroad, and what they are apparently saying behind the scenes, and what the President of the United States says publicly on his Twitter account, in his appearances before television cameras, and at the campaign-style rallies that he continues to hold even though the election was over fifteen months ago and the next one is two and a half years away appear to be confusing world leaders and causing them to doubt the reliability of the United States on the world stage.

Looking beyond Trump’s tweets and other public statements, the efforts of Trump’s foreign policy team to reassure world leaders that his statements shouldn’t be taken seriously are also belied by the President’s actions in the world of foreign policy.

In one of his first foreign policy actions as President, Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That action led Canada and the nations that were going to be part of the TPP to form an international trade partnership of their own. In addition to that, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital notwithstanding the outstanding issues regarding its status. The later decision was roundly criticized at the time by allies such as the United Kingdom and France, both of whom continue to hold the position formerly taken by the United States that the final status of Jerusalem is something that can only be decided as part of a comprehensive peace deal between Israel.

Trump also decided to decertify Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Trump took this action despite the fact that both Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well has McMaster, reportedly advised against the action. This led France, Germany, and the United Kingdom,, the European allies who were involved in hammering out the deal along with the United States, Russia, China, ad Iran to distance themselves from the United States The leaders of all three of these nations  haave made it clear that they accept the findings of the International Atomic Energy Association that Iran is complying with its obligations under the agreement, As result, British Prime Minister Teresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have said = that they would not be going along with the United States in trying to renegotiate or scrap the agreement.

Furthermore, on his two biggest foreign trips during his first year in office to Europe and Asia, the President has taken steps and made statements that have only increased concern among American allies. During both trips, both his behavior and his rhetoric have come across in the worst possible respect and he has managed to most especially irritate people living in the nations that have historically been some of America’s most important allies. Most recently, of course, he referred to immigrants from African nations and from other nations such as Haiti as coming from “shithole” countries. Taking all of this into account, it’s easy to see why world leaders are concerned about the President’s words and actions and becoming more so by the day.

All of this brings to mind something that Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, wrote last month as we approached the first anniversary of Trump’s first day in office:

Every president, whatever his virtues, has had his terrible flaws: from Nixon’s brooding darkness to Carter’s dour naivete, from Reagan’s sunny cluelessness to Obama’s lightweight self-regard, from Bush 41’s disconnected privilege to his son’s smirky frat-boy mien. But all of them understood the gravity of the job, and in turn, they made us feel it, too. We made fun of them, we criticized them, we immortalized them as “Saturday Night Live” caricatures. But they were presidents, and we knew the burden that rested on their shoulders, including responsibility for the safety of not just Americans but billions of other human lives.

Trump, however, has turned the presidency into a spectacle. Important matters of public policy disappear the moment he drops a curse word at a meeting, like a naughty child at a birthday party, or gets ahold of a cellphone and tweets something outrageous, like a vandal on the loose with a can of spray paint.

Some of Trump’s supporters defend these reduced expectations of the Oval Office as a welcome diminution of the imperial presidency. And yet Trump is the most imperial president in modern history, at least if measured by his status as a celebrity or a god-emperor among his supporters. To his base, Trump is a conquering hero “triggering the libs,” a middle finger to the globalists and the intellectuals, a source of anxiety to those effete Europeans who cheered Barack Obama in Berlin.

He is everything, in fact, except our chief magistrate and the head of the executive branch of our government. Rather than feeling bound by the Constitution “to take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” Trump sits atop a structure of laws and norms he attacks daily. Courts? How dare they impede his executive ukazes. The Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA? Disasters. All part of the “deep state.” And the First Amendment? An annoyance that needs to be cleared up by rewriting libel laws to protect those in power from a free press.

Journalist Salena Zito’s formula for Trump — that his opponents take him literally but not seriously, and that his supporters take him seriously but not literally — may have been true during the campaign, but a year later, there is no evidence that anyone, at home or abroad, takes Trump seriously.

And yet, this is a paradox: If Trump is so unserious, so inconsequential, how can his damage be so lasting?

The answer is simple. Wrecking things is easier than repairing them. Spending capital is easier than accumulating it. Chaos is easy; order is hard. It takes architects years to learn how to build a house, while ignorant scavengers can strip it bare and destroy it in hours.

Trump has deprived the presidency of its majesty, its gravity and its ability to inspire. In doing so, he has distilled the role of executive power to its elemental minimum as an almost purely destructive force. When Trump talks policy, he is ignored. But he is still the most powerful man in the world, so there is no avoiding him when he seems bent on creating havoc.

Trump’s tweets and off-the-cuff remarks have blown up a summit with Britain, deepened a standoff with North Korea and precipitated a coming constitutional crisis within our government. It’s all hilarious reality show stuff that doesn’t matter — right up until it does.

(…)

This tendency is especially dangerous in foreign affairs, where Trump is laying down a legacy that will bedevil future presidents and endanger Americans for years to come. Trump taunts North Korea, and the North Koreans test more missiles. He pulls America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and China steps in. He withdraws from the Paris climate accords — a purely symbolic act if ever there was one — and instead of the United States getting a “better deal,” France and the other Europeans decide we should be ignored.

Regardless of whether it comes in 2021 or 2025, there will come a time when Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States. Before then, though, it seems inevitable that we are likely to encounter a crisis that President Trump will have to deal with. If it’s on the international front, which seems to be the most likely source for such an event, then we’re inevitably going to need to rely on allies that Trump has undercut on a regular basis and on a reputation that our word can be trusted. What all this means is that, notwithstanding what his advisers may be trying to get world leaders to believe, as long as he remains in that office there’s every indication that he will continue to Tweet and speak out in the same erratic, irrational, and disruptive fashion that he has over the past year. Given that, it may turn out that he has done such serious damage to the nation’s credibility that no amount of reassurance can fix the damage. Once Trump does leave office, though, it will be up to whoever succeeds him to repair the damage he’s will have done to American politics, our political culture, and our standing around the world. Assuming it will be possible at that point, that is.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    I’ll ignore his tweets when MAGA hat wearing kids stop shooting other children.
    In addition, these tweets are the only window into the delusional workings of the mind of the most powerful man in the world.

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  2. Hal_10000 says:

    One of the things I keep saying: just because we haven’t tumbled into full disaster in Trump’s first year doesn’t mean it’s not coming. Few people appreciate just how delicate the current world order — the most peaceful and prosperous in history — is. Trump is a schoolboy pulling bricks out a dam because it makes his friends laugh. The only question is whether the dam will prove sturdy enough to outlast him. Things could get very ugly very fast. And it will be cold comfort to us when Trump is blaming Obama, the Democrats, the media and everyone else for his idiocy.

    One other thought: a lot of people criticize those who agree to work in Trump’s Administration. I get that, but I have to admire them too (well, some of them). Many of them are trying desperately to hold things together despite the infant in the oval office. If we escape the Trump era with the economy and world order intact, it will mainly be because of their efforts.

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  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Trump is a schoolboy pulling bricks out a dam because it makes his friends laugh.

    Nicely-turned phrase, that.

    The question I have is whether the people serving in the administration are protecting us from Trump or just prolonging the agony until his eventual collapse.

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  4. Mister Bluster says:

    @Hal_10000:..Many of them are trying desperately to hold things together despite the infant in the oval office.

    Who are these masochists?

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  5. KM says:

    It’s becoming increasingly hard to tell when Trump’s speaking as his usual idiot self and when he’s ex cathedra. He deliberately blurs the lines when he claims he uses Twitter to “reach the people” and his tweets need official explanations via the Press Room. He blends the official POTUS account with his personal one by liking and retweeting his own crap, thus putting a patina of “respectability” on them. It’s all about him and what he’s thinking/ feeling/ emoting at the moment so the WH is constantly having to explain brain farts from a man that *won’t* keep his personal foibles out of the Office.

    If we can’t be sure he’s serious, how can we expect the rest of the world to determine that, especially non-English countries that might miss some of the slang and connotations of his phrases? So we resort to literally telling people to ignore the President of the United States, we’ll tell you what the crazy man really means. We marginalize and hedge the most visible world leader’s words – no matter Republicans love Trump, even they have to admit that’s a blow to our image as an authoritative voice of freedom and leadership.

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  6. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The question I have is whether the people serving in the administration are protecting us from Trump or just prolonging the agony until his eventual collapse.

    This may be a distinction without a difference, unfortunately.

    There are, I think, three distinct groups within Trump’s cabinet and advisers: the actively malevolent, the merely incompetent, and the actual patriots.

    The first group is definitely Miller, probably Kelly, Sessions, Mnuchin, Mulvaney, possibly Pompeo.

    The last group is probably Mattis and McMaster, possibly Coats. I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head who would qualify.

    The middle group is everyone else.

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  7. KM says:

    @Hal_10000 :

    Many of them are trying desperately to hold things together despite the infant in the oval office. If we escape the Trump era with the economy and world order intact, it will mainly be because of their efforts.

    I used to believe that – that their patriotism outweighed their self-respect and concern for career and they were taking one for the team. I just can’t anymore. The carry-overs and lifers are doing what they always do – their damn job regardless of who’s at the helm. That’s who is going to save us.

    It seems a vastly disproportionate amount of the newbies this Administration acquired are in it solely for the grift or for their own agendas. I’m not even referring to the heads of depts but the new hires that are increasingly our and proud alt-righties intent to MAGA the hell out of the federal government. Like hires like and if the boss is a greedy, amoral jackass the chances of hiring saints or even passable good people is remote.

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  8. CSK says:

    @KM:

    Trump has said that his personal Twitter account is the best vehicle he has for conveying the “truth” to people.

    @michael reynolds:

    I like to think that some of them are trying to control him.

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  9. teve tory says:
  10. reid says:

    Yes, but Obama once bowed to a foreign leader and wore a brown suit. Talk about losing respect in the world! (This sort of snark, including Hillary’s emails, needs to be repeated endlessly to point out the utter hypocrisy of those on the right.)

    5
  11. Mister Bluster says:

    test

  12. CSK says:

    Trump went into a Twitter rage at Oprah Winfrey this morning, and dared her to run in 2020 so she could lose like all the others.

    Oprah. Winfrey.

    I can hear the chorus of international horse laughs.

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  13. teve tory says:

    Out of respect for the Parkland shooting, Trump didn’t go golfing on Saturday. So he’s going golfing today.

    MAGA: Millionaire Àsshole Golfing Again.

    2
  14. teve tory says:

    @CSK: Oprah shouldn’t run, and we shouldn’t vote for her in the primaries if she does, but publicly insulting her and making her an enemy, is extremely stupid.

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  15. CSK says:

    @teve tory:

    Certainly, but this is the perfect illustration of the level on which Trump operates. This is what he thinks is important: rage-Tweeting at Oprah Winfrey because of a 60 minutes episode she did. This is what he reacts to. He’s probably sorry–to the very limited extent it impinges at all on his consciousness–that some teen-aged kids and a few teachers and coaches got slaughtered. But his real focus, and the only rightful one in his mind, is the fact that Oprah…Winfrey…insulted…him…on…television.

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  16. Kathy says:

    Given the time Trump spends watching TV and golfing, he’s likely left such things as policy and management to subordinates. He’s really enjoying retirement while the US tax-payer gets stuck with the bill.

    Most of what he says, be it Tweets or statements, is directed at his base. To keep them fired up and, to a lesser degree, to instruct them. Look at what his apologists have to say, here and in other places, and it tracks quite neatly with the Orange Twit’s Tweets.

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @Kathy:

    Given the time Trump spends watching TV and golfing, he’s likely left such things as policy and management to subordinates. He’s really enjoying retirement while the US tax-payer gets stuck with the bill.

    Don’t get me wrong but …

    I’m grateful for the amount of time Trump spends golfing at Mar-a-Lago and enriching himself and his family. That is time that he could have been spending trying to force feed the Republican Party and the public at large his preferred policies and agenda.

    I prefer that he keep on golfing. That appears to benefit us more than the alternative.

    2