In December, Trump took to the stage to attempt a positive spin on a newly released national security plan that put renewed emphasis on his isolationist “America First” polices. Since winning the White House, Trump has repeatedly and recklessly pounded home his “me first” message, while simultaneously chiding our global partners, and praising some of the world’s most ostracized leaders, such as brutal Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte and a host of others. This has sent most of our oldest allies scrambling to forge new strategic partnerships on the world stage.
Is Trump Being Handled As An “Asset” By Moscow?
In Germany for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the wake of a stalled US trade deal with the European Union, has taken a lead role in reaching new trade deals with Canada and Japan — the latter of which was punctuated with the leader’s of both nations taking thinly veiled swipes at Trump. Further, she is said to be applying pressure to countries with developing economies such as India and Brazil to do more to protect free trade, and do more on climate issues. In the United Kingdom, policy makers worry that Trump’s illogical foreign policies lack any kind of coherence. In France, arguably the United States’ oldest ally, President Emmanuel Macron used the stark reality as a campaign issue, saying at a speech in March that “…the Americans seem to want to focus on themselves,” while simultaneously reaching out to Asia and the Middle East. Most European nations share a common fear of Trump’s outspoken disdain for the NATO alliance, which is understandable when tensions are rising quickly on the Korean Peninsula, and in the face of Russia’s recent aggression in the Crimea and in the 2016 US presidential election.
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But in order to attempt to find favor with the irrational US president, some world leaders have astutely leveraged his most obvious character flaw; his massive ego. The United Kingdom offered Trump the pageantry of a full state visit, replete with a visit with the Queen. In Prime Minister Theresa May’s case, however, that good will had limited results, with Trump promptly delivering a tactless, fear-mongering attack at London’s mayor (a Muslim) after a horrific terror attack in June. Japan, for their part, has employed a “well-calculated Disarm and Disengage” strategy, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first meeting Trump in a golf-centric weekend, with gift-giving, at Mar-a-Lago, where important issues were “off the table,” and then promptly “disengaging him from key policy matters,” in favor of separate diplomatic channels.
Most recently, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has seemingly seized on the same strategy of leveraging flattery in an effort to get Trump to lower his guard. This comes while there continues to be intense scrutiny of Russian’s interference with the US election. To be clear, most of the United States own intelligence chiefs all confirm that the interference indeed took place, including Trump’s own CIA Director Mike Pompeyo. As Special Council Robert Mueller, assigned to investigate potential collusion with Moscow and the Trump campaign, racks up the indictments and is getting closer to the man himself, Trump and Putin have in recent days become quite chummy. During his annual news conference earlier this month, Putin spared nothing in his effusive praise of Trump, while also taking great pains to discredit the Mueller investigation. Again on Sunday, Putin called Trump directly, thanking the US for providing intelligence that reportedly thwarted an apparent terrorist attack in Saint Petersburg. Trump, in return, used his national security speech to effectively praise the Putin phone call — one of two calls between the two in just the last few days — saying “that is the way it’s supposed to work.” Predictably, there was no mention of the alleged meddling, even though it was specifically mentioned in the written version of the national security strategy he was promoting.
All this has many US leaders quite concerned. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin (D), in an interview with MSNBC, on Monday, expressed concern that Trump “keeps giving Putin credibility,” while former US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in an interview on CNN, was more direct. Clapper ripped into Trump for his coziness with the brutal Russian dictator, and implied that the president is being played as a rube. In a remarkable assessment, he offered;
“I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer (Former KGB agent) Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an “asset,” and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”
Asked by host Jake Tapper to clarify, Clapper continued,
“You have to remember Putin’s background. He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some have had experience and (the) instincts of Putin has come into play here, and (he’s) managing a pretty important account.”
And so this is where the United States finds itself. Whether Trump’s isolationism and erratic behavior shreds our historic international alliances to the point of being unrecognizable remains to be seen. But as the world watches these types of exchanges, one can only assume that most world leaders will want to continue to keep Trump at arm’s length until something more coherent emerges.