Foreign Policy during the Trump Administration

Thread on foreign policy and world events during the Trump administration.

From WaPo: Putin ally said to be in touch with Kremlin, Assad before his mercenaries attacked U.S. troops

A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and ­Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February.

Prigozhin made front-page headlines last week when he was indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on charges of bankrolling and guiding a long-running Russian scheme to conduct “information warfare” during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Edit

3/1/2018

And that brings me to one of the most momentous mysteries of the new year. Did American and Russian forces just engage in a deadly clash in Syria, and was that clash the direct result of a Putin-approved effort to test American defenses? While Americans were arguing over Russian Facebook posts, did American air power and artillery leave up to 300 Russians dead on a Syrian battlefield?

Later,

…the situation in Syria is extraordinarily dangerous. It’s understandable that international eyes are focused on North Korea, but consider this: If reports of hundreds of Russian dead are correct, the American military just killed more Russians than it did in any single encounter throughout the entirety of the Cold War. That’s stunning. At present, a few thousand American troops are in the midst of the world’s most vicious war, rubbing up against hostile Russians, Syrians, Turks, Iranians, and Lebanese. Confrontations are inevitable. Proper management of those confrontations is not.

Therefore it’s more vital than ever that the Trump administration formulate and articulate a clear strategy for American involvement in Syria.

4/13/2018

This is worrisome:

Here’s the frame of mind for Trump today (not a parody account):

Edit

No way. I go a little crazy when I hear information like this.

4/28/2018

More on those Russian mercenaries and what happened to several hundred of them:

23 thoughts on “Foreign Policy during the Trump Administration

  1. Possibility of War with North Korea

    6/11/2019

    Some crazy remarks:

    3/8/2018: Kim Jung Un Invites Trump for Talks and Why That’s Probably Not a Good Idea

    Threads

    and this

    If I’m understanding Graham’s thinking here, he’s advocating for a recklessly dangerous approach:

    This is essentially a game of chicken. You don’t denuclearize, and I’m going to destroy you. To me, you only do this is if you’re willing to follow through–because if Kim calls your bluff and you don’t follow through, that’s a huge loss. Of course, if you follow through, then you have to do something awful, that would likely lead to thousands, tens of thousands, if not more, deaths. It’s the Mad Bomber/crazy man theory of negotiations. Convince the other person that you’re not rational, and you can get them to make concessions that they otherwise would not. But you either have to be a good actor or you have to be crazy–either way, that’s not a good thing.

    3/9/2018

    4/10/2018

    Not good if true.

    6/7/2018

    Summit was cancelled and now it appears to be back on. Here’s a recent comment from Trump about the upcoming meeting:

    6/27/2018

    6/30/2018

    This is not meant as “I told you so,” but this is not surprising, if true.

    What concerns me is how Trump and people like John Bolton will react–specifically, would push them toward military action?

    7/9/2018

    If Trump genuinely has confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract, I would say Trump is foolish.

    Edit

    The following seems like a good summary of the current situation:

    7/21/2018

    7/31/2018

    2/15/2019

    This is kind of scary.

    What makes this situation scarier with Trump: If there is solid justification for going to war with North Korea, I don’t see how Trump can convincingly and credibly explain that to Americans.

    2/16/2019

    Oh dang, now there’s a report that Obama aides are saying Obama never said what Trump claims above:

    2/24/2019

    Trump is meeting with Kim Jong Un again this week.

    My impression is that Trump’s negotiation strategy involves enticing KJU with the prospects of economic prosperity for his country, as an incentive to give up nuclear weapons. I’m far from an expert on North Korea, but KJU values a nuclear weapon, which will ensure his safety, far more than than the economic well-being of his country. Based on what I know, his people have been suffering, economically, for a long time, partly or mainly due to sanctions for North Korea’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. Unless I’m missing something, this just seems like a really big miscalculation on Trump’s part.

    More

    This is worrisome. I’m thinking of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    5/4/2019

    I’m far from an expert on North Korea, but I think the president is wrong, and doesn’t really, really doesn’t understand KJU or the situation very well. To wit, like KJU cares primarily about securing his power and nuclear weapons do that. He cares far less about the economic potential about his country. My sense is many if not all authoritarians are the same way. The tweet also reflects Trump’s belief that diplomacy is about personal relations–i.e., getting the other side to like you. If the tweet truly reflects Trump’s understanding, I think it’s an example of his ignorance and remarkably low intellectual capacity.

    5/25/2019

    This is a tweet from the POTUS. Something is wrong with him, emotionally, psychologically. The schtick would be acceptable for reality TV entertainment. It’s not for the POTUS. The fact that he doesn’t realize this or does realize this, but still acts this way is troubling. Something is not right.
    (On a side note, that he has no qualms being “with him” is disturbing and wrong.)

    5/27/2019

    5/30/2019

    8/10/2019

  2. Managing Decline

    Interesting thoughts about dealing with America’s waning power.

  3. Will North Korea Give Up Their Nuclear Weapons?

    I’d be ecstatic if North Korea stopped and got rid of their WMD, but I’m really skeptical for a variety of reasons (which I won’t go into here).

    I did want to say the thought that popped into my mind when I first saw this tweet. The move would probably insulate Kim from a first strike from the U.S. How could the U.S. attack North Korea now? They can continue diplomatic activity with South Korea, that hints at better relations, and they can negotiate with the U.S. to denuclearize their nation. As long as this process goes on, an U.S. attack on them would be really difficult. In the meantime, they can go on developing their weapons.

    5/16/2018

    I haven’t been following this story much. It’s a situation where I’m closing my eyes because I’m too afraid to see what happens. The tweet below provides one reason I feel that way.

    (In the article, the comment is based on one senior official. But many stories prior to this lend credence to the claim. I believe Trump doesn’t think he need to prepare much for this meeting. After all, this is a guy who thinks he’s smarter than generals, that he relies on himself the most because he has a big brain.)

    12/20/2018

    I didn’t read beyond the headline, but if it’s accurate, this was predictable.

    3/22/2019

    National Security Advisor supports sanctions. Next day POTUS says he’s removing sanctions, and the press secretary explains it’s because the POTUS “likes” the NK leader. Bad on several levels.

    8/2/2019

    Like many of Trump’s statements, I’m overwhelmed and stunned by the claims and what they seem to indicate about him–both seem unbelievable that my mind has trouble accepting them. Let me list a few off the top of my head:

    1. “I may be wrong, but I believe that Chariman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country” Unreal that he says this, given my understanding of Kim’s rule there. I feel bad for the Otto Warmbier’s parents if they read this as well. If Democratic president said this, GOP and Fox News would be going bonkers.

    2. “Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust,…” I have a hard time believing this is true. It’s also odd that someone would say this out loud. It almost seems like a simple-minded, psychological ploy one would use on a child. “I know Jimmy wouldn’t want to disappoint me, so I have faith he’ll do the right thing,” or something of that sort.

    3. “…there is far too much for North Korea to gain – the potential as a Country, under Kim Jong Un’s leadership, is unlimited….” Trump seems to be thinking that Kim is strongly motivated by improving his country, economically and maybe in other ways. That is, he’s dangling economic prosperity as a kind of “carrot.” If this is the case, there seems to be decades of evidence that this is not the case–that the Kim regime doesn’t really care about this, not in relation to ensuring their (the Kim family) safety and securing their rule.

    4. “He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump!” Again, the childish psychological approach here. And if it’s not that, what’s the alternate explanation for this? If I’m wrong that Trump thinks like a child, explain how a mature, intelligent adult would say something like this.

    Additionally, Trump seems to think that “being friends” is the key too diplomacy (and this isn’t the only evidence for that). If someone likes Trump, then the a deal will be done. I’ve heard other professionals comment on this approach. What they say is that friendship has little to do this getting deals–it’s about the interests of the nations or at least the leader that matters and then finding a way so that these interests are met, while ostensibly protecting American interests.

  4. You and everyone else, I think. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t trust crazy people or dictators.

    1. Same. I also don’t trust people that are ignorant and incompetent.

      If Trump manages to influence, to the degree that it leads to denuclearization, Trump will have done this by successfully convincing Kim that Trump was irrational and unstable (read: crazy). Basically, I believe Trump would have persuaded Kim that he was willing to bomb Kim even if it lead to thousands, maybe tens or hundred of thousands of American, South Korean and Japanese lives–which is nuts in my view. If Kimm believed that, it would make sense that he would make more concessions.

      OK, cool, but the problem is you’ve just persuaded everyone that you’re kinda crazy. I think that such a person is no longer a credible leader.

  5. The following article touches on domestic politics as well, but the overview of European politics, the fragile state of liberal democracy and emerging strongman populism, is what stood out for me, so I’m putting it here.

    The view is bleak, but worth keeping in mind. The main point: There’s reason to believe that Europe and the U.S. won’t tilt back to liberal democracies, but illiberal populism could become a more normal in the West.

  6. Is NATO and the Western Alliance in Jeopardy?

    Besides that remarkable comment–which falls in line with those who think Trump is compromised by Putin–the article focuses on the significant unease Europeans are feeling with Trump’s upcoming NATO meeting and the one with Putin. I don’t blame them one bit.

    Europeans cannot accept making collective security transactional, or dependent on actions on tariffs or specific spending targets in a relationship that is mutually beneficial, said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a policy institute in London.

    “It can feel like a protection racket, trading security for economic return,” Mr. Niblett said, especially as Mr. Trump “then goes off to see Putin.”

    I hope the following is correct, but I don’t put a lot of stock into it:

    Mr. Trump’s advisers have struck a far sharper tone against Russia.

    They say that the president is ready to confront Mr. Putin about Russia’s “malign activities,” and that the United States wants a strong and unified NATO. They also have dismissed any suggestion that Washington would consider pulling back its military presence or commitment to the alliance in response to what it considers to be under-spending by member countries.

    “The major thing, the major deliverable, the major overall theme of this summit is going to be NATO’s strength and unity,” Kay Bailey Hutchison, the United States ambassador to NATO, said in a conference call with reporters last week.

    It just sounds like empty talk. One question that comes to mind: How long can someone like Mattis or even Pompeo stand by, if Trump indeed really starts doing things to dismantle NATO and the Western Alliance?

    Also, there doesn’t seem to be any dispute that weakening or breaking up NATO and the Trans-Atlantic alliance are key Russian objectives. Whatever Trump’s motives, his actions are in line with those objectives, and as crazy as the hypothesis that Russia may be blackmailing Trump, these actions fit with that hypothesis.

    1. There was good reasons for the Europeans and NATO countries to be really uneasy last summer.

      This doesn’t help dispel the notion that Trump is compromised by Russia

      From several Senior administration officials:

      In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they (Senior administration officials) said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

      Why Russia would like the U.S. to leave NATO:

      Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said. With a weakened NATO, they said, Mr. Putin would have more freedom to behave as he wishes, setting up Russia as a counterweight to Europe and the United States.

      An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said — essentially, doing the Russian leader’s hardest and most critical work for him.

      Mr. Trump’s skepticism of NATO appears to be a core belief, administration officials said, akin to his desire to expropriate Iraq’s oil. While officials have explained multiple times why the United States cannot take Iraq’s oil, Mr. Trump returns to the issue every few months.

      Based on the comments above and others like it elsewhere, I can’t help feel that something is wrong with Trump–his mental capacity and ability to understand things seems really low, almost like having the mind (and emotional maturity) of a child. He seems to be able to only understand issues in very simplistic ways. For example, if we’re spending more of our defense budget than other NATO countries, the U.S. is losing and NATO isn’t worth it—as if this is the only issue. The idea of taking Iraqi oil similar. “Hey, since we spent a lot of money taking out their dictator and helping them rebuild, we have the right to take their oil.”

      So on some level, Trump wanting to do this without being compromised would be believable. Still, the fact that his actions align so well with Russia’s, that Trump chose many people with troubling Russia ties for his campaign; that he was trying to get a hotel deal in Russia, during the campaign, among other things–these are hard to ignore.

    2. Why NATO is Important

      This is a good thread by Dan Shapiro, who was in the Obama administration.

      1. We all know that withdrawing the US from NATO is the mother of all batshit crazy ideas. But we can’t ignore the fact that Trump might actually do it. Don’t kid yourself, he wants to. Maybe we will get lucky and he won’t pull the trigger. But if he did, what would it look like?

      2. It’s a hard question to answer, because literally NO ONE has ever taken such an idea seriously, or done any planning on it. You’d have been laughed out of any previous Administration for suggesting. Bolton, Pompeo, & nearly every member of Congress (save Rand Paul?) oppose it.

      3. It’s scary, but let’s understand it. Here’s just a few first order effects. For starters, it’d be open season for Russia in E & C Europe. Putin already feels free to menace non-NATO states (Ukraine &Georgia) & “reacquire” Belarus. First targets: Baltics & Montenegro. And then?

      4. Even with the US in NATO, Trump fudges about whether we’d meet our Article 5 commitments to defend other states. But how about when that commitment is literally canceled? Russian tanks may not roll in the next day, but Putin will know he has a free hand literally everywhere.

      5. Would European nations act on their own to defend threatened NATO members? Highly doubtful. But would the U.S. join them in an ad hoc coalition? Maybe. But we would have just dismantled the joint defense structures that allow us to operate in a coordinated way. Good luck.

      6. Without U.S. participation in NATO, the logic of U.S. troops remaining deployed in European bases in Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere quickly breaks down and will be dependent solely on bilateral agreements with host countries.

      7. One does not need to be an absolutist, unwilling to consider any adjustment in U.S. force structure, to understand that a precipitous withdrawal from Europe will result in poorer common European defense capabilities and weaker U.S. power projection when the need arises.

      8. One of the most underappreciated benefits of NATO is its suppression of intra-European conflicts. Remember that photo of Macron & Merkel embracing at a memorial on the 100th anniversary of World War I? Moving, right? And guess what: *not the norm* for most of European history.

      9. In historical terms, it is not that long ago that France, Germany, & other European powers engaged in centuries of warfare, culminating in 2 awful world wars. The peace that has reigned in W Europe for the last 70 years, & helped end the wars in the Balkans, is not automatic.

      10. There are many reasons for it. Yes, those societies & their relationships evolved. But NATO’s been a critical part: European countries *willingly* submitted to US strategic domination, which helped keep those states from turning to military means to settle their own disputes.

      11. Crucially, Germany embraced a restrained foreign & military policy, dampening one of the greatest internal threats that plagued Europe in the past. United &aligned with the US, Europe’s held its own against Russia. Divided & left on its own, Europe is easy pickings for Putin.

      12. Remove the United States from NATO, and the dominoes could start to tumble. A divided, internally conflicted Europe with the United States on the sidelines could lead to catastrophic humanitarian, security, and economic consequences. Just ask anyone over 85.

      13. The loss of US influence wouldn’t be confined to Europe. US allies in Asia & the Middle East would also understand that we were entering a period of severe isolationism by the US, whose most sacred commitments would be placed in doubt. They would have no choice but to adjust.

      14. Pompeo’s recent Middle East swing notwithstanding, countries throughout the region are already giving far greater attention to their relations w/Moscow than they have in years. A US withdrawal from NATO would turbocharge those trends. Even a NYT article on it advances them.

      15. Israel would have to endure major disruption to its military coordination with the US, which is conducted via US Euro Command. Those are the troops who drill with the IDF, surge missile defense assets to Israel when the need arises, & are close enough to respond in a crisis.

      16. Take away European Command, which is intimately woven into the NATO structure, and you have US military coordination with Israel conducted from CONUS or from bases in Arab Gulf states. Both create significant logistical and political complications.

      17. Everything above just scratches the surface. The bottom line of this long thread is that a US pullout of NATO is so disastrous, we can’t really even imagine it. But it means a darker world, with a diminished US, an empowered Russia, and dangerous fallout on every continent.

      18. Yes, NATO members must up their defense spending to 2 percent. And we all need to educate the US public, which worryingly sees NATO in increasingly partisan terms. But the real responsibility lies w/Congress, & especially Republicans, who Trump is turning to for his survival.

      19. Unlike their typically milquetoast reaction to Trump’s outrages that they know are awful, GOP congressional leaders need to make him understand that withdrawal from NATO is the brightest of red lines. Democrats too, but a partisan fight may just embolden him. It’s on the R’s.

      4/3/2019

  7. Based on reading the op-ed, my sense is that “influence” involves stealing information that would benefit China economically and militarily. The influence also seems to involve getting individuals (and institutions?) to help in this process.

    This is very different from a Russian influence operation, but it’s not less serious.

  8. Foreign Policy Con

    This seems true to me.

  9. I would say the chances that we’ve actually defeated ISIS is close to zero. But I wanted to make a more general observation–namely, Trump’s shady used car salesman, con man routine that he utilized most of his adult life. Exaggerate, lie, make things up to create the most favorable impression of himself, and then just find a way to run away, pay people off, threaten to sue when people catch on to you. To me, he’s applying the same routine as president. It’s crazy.

    By the way,

    Edit

    Graham has become a Trump supporter, too.

    Trump is really doubling, tripling down on “we won” bit. It doesn’t take clairvoyance to see that Trump has likely shot himself in the foot already.

    Edit

    edit

    I don’t know all the factors that would go into speaking out or not, but if they do not, and Americans die because of this, I would think those who were silent will be culpable.

    12/20/2018

    I saw headline from The Jerusalem Post that said Putin agrees with Trump that the Islamic State is largely defeated in Syria. I’ve also seen that Putin supports the U.S. pulling out. Both are bad signs. I found an article that supports these claims.

    This contradicts a tweet by Trump today.

    Also, if ISIS is already defeated, why would Russia, Iran, et al. be unhappy they have to fight ISIS? And bringing up the possibility that ISIS may attack us also contradicts the claim that ISIS is defeated and that “we won.”

    These decisions should also be seen in the context of Trump trying to get a hotel built in Russia during the election, as well as his campaigns interactions with Russia during the campaign, while lying about it. It certainly leaves the possibility of a quid pro quo.

    12/20/2018

    He seems to have abandoned the idea that ISIS is “defeated.”

    12/22/2018

    3/22/2019

    I’m not sure the tweet is 100% accurate, but it sounds right based on my recollection:

  10. The Problem with the Way Trump is Leaving Syria–and, Now, Afghanistan

    (Note: I don’t think we’re leaving Afghanistan completely, just drawing down troop levels.)

    The problem is the way Trump is doing this. No one in the military seemed to know this is what Trump wanted to do. This is crazy to me. Put aside whether we should be in Syria or Afghanistan, this is not the way to do things.

    12/23/2018

    From what I understand, McGurk was the point person for fighting ISIS. Is the “who I don’t know” line an insult? It’s childish, and one of my many indicators of a worrying degree of immaturity. When I worry about our national security, the immaturity is one of the reasons. If Trump really doesn’t know McGurk, it suggests negligence in doing his job. Either way, both point to the danger that Trump poses for the country.

    edit

    I haven’t read the article, but the excerpt gets to what I mean about the way we’re leaving:

    1/7/2019

    More examples of the lying and overall unreliability of what Trump says. He also claimed we defeated ISIS.

      1. I don’t know the person behind the account, but I am concerned if Russia does invade or escalate its aggression against Ukraine right now.

  11. Growing Tensions with Iran

    6/13/2019

    6/20/2019

    This is getting a little scary. There are reports that Iran shot down a U.S. drone.

    6/25/2019

    1. Trump tweets the following today:

      About this, someone tweeted: “Speak loudly, and carry no stick.” I think there’s enough evidence to is a fairly accurate description of Trump. Still, that doesn’t make this sort of rash tweet acceptable. It’s not unreasonable to think this could heighten tensions which leads to some miscalculation by either side, leading to a military incident or even war.

    2. Watch the clip–Rep. Schiff’s last question seems like a very good one.

      Could the process Trump describes in the video be normal or not unusual–compared to previous presidencies? It seems like gross incompetence to ask about casualties 30 minutes before a strike. Is it possible that these numbers are dynamic and could chance by the hour(s), or minutes? Not having any expertise, I have no idea, but as layperson that seems dubious. Also, this process in this White House has not looked good, and Trump seems ignorant on many issues. It should be noted that we only have an acting Defense Secretary now. (And it’s not the only position.)

      My understanding is that war with Iran would be really bad. I also don’t understand or see an imperative for it. My sense is that Trump backed out of the Iran nuclear deal, thinking it was bad for the country and that he could get a better one. The route he seems to be taking is to pressure Iran into getting a better deal, and that pressure could involve the threat of military action. It seems like a dangerous game. (My sense is that Iran was complying with the deal as well.)

      Edit

      A different take from a pundit (former general) on Fox News:

  12. Thread.

    “Leader” of the free world:

    Again, “leadership”

    It’s not going to be easy to form alliances with other nations after those comments. So clueless, callous, and insulting.

    1. I’m seeing a lot of people decry Trump’s decision–with a lot of complaining about how we’re abandoning our allies–allies crucial in helping us fight ISIS, who now face the possibility of being slaughtered. There’s no dispute that this is awful.

      However, in foreign policy, sometimes decisions are made with awful consequences. To me, one can’t evaluate a policy decision simply because the effects were awful. Instead, I would look to several things:

      1. What was the alternative? Specifically, was the alternative worse, or is there no feasible alternative? As an example of the latter, consider when genocide occurs in another country. The U.S. has the power to stop this, but often does not. Why? My sense is that political support doesn’t exist for something like this, especially if stopping the genocide would require blood and treasure over a long period of time. This doesn’t make the genocide and the decision not to stop it less horrific and tragic, but it’s a very unpleasant reality;

      2. Are U.S. interests better served by allowing something awful to occur?

      There are two big problems I have with Trump with regard to this recent decision:

      1. The process seemed awful. Key military personnel seemed shocked by the decision. I’m skeptical that there is a way to justify this, but if there is a justification, I haven’t heard it. This leads to the second criticism;

      2. As far as I know, the President Trump hasn’t explained his decision in relation to U.S. interests. He should explain to the American people how his decision best serves our interests, in spite of the awful consequences of it. I don’t think he’s done that.

      1. You might only be hearing the “abandoning” angle, but almost always the follow-up is that the Kurds were with us in our fight against ISIL, and ISIL hasn’t been defeated yet. With Kurd forces now fending off Turkey, the opportunity for what remains of ISIL to regroup and reform is right there.

        I’m not saying this to explain it to you, since I know you’re already aware, but that’s what I’ve been hearing.

        You might also think that on its own the abandoning isn’t a good enough reason, but considering the things you name and all the stuff that surrounds the Turkey situation, not to mention this presidency, I’d say it’s more than enough to get upset about.

        Besides, there’s a difference between not going into Rwanda to stop genocide and actively leaving the Kurds so Turkey could have its way, don’t you think?

      2. Besides, there’s a difference between not going into Rwanda to stop genocide and actively leaving the Kurds so Turkey could have its way, don’t you think?

        Absolutely–and I should have mentioned that Trump’s decision basically screws an ally who has been very valuable in fighting ISIS and that ISIS has the potential to regroup.

        One has every reason to get angry at these facts alone. However, before doing so, I’m open to the possibility that Trump’s decision is actually better for U.S. interests, either in the short or long term, in spite of these awful consequences. Of course, if the decision isn’t better for U.S. interests, then we’d have to conclude the decision is awful.

        (By the way, a similar situation existed when Obama didn’t enforce the red line Assad crossed–i.e., Assad used chemical weapons, and Obama didn’t really mete out consequences. Obama decision looked awful–and maybe it is awful. But I think you could make a case to justify his actions–in relation to U.S. interests. To be clear, though, these answers wouldn’t change the fact that drawing the red line was a mistake, if there was chance he wouldn’t enforce it.)

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