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:
MUNICH — 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.