There’s a rumor going around that Donald Trump is a master diplomat, a whiz at foreign affairs whose America First policies have taken the world by storm and won widespread admiration for his leadership skills.
Check out the recent New York Post column by a Fox News analyst, Ralph Peters, claiming that the president’s foreign policy expertise, while lagging during his first year in the White House, has “started to sing.” While Trump may have made major blunders during his early months in Washington, the column goes, he is now making “impressive progress” in foreign policy after having “cleaned house of inept, destructive advisors.”
If only. (And no need to point out that the same company owns the Post and Fox News.) While those “inept, destructive advisors” were being marched out the front door of the White House, a troop of all new but similarly inept and destructive advisers was being marched in the back.
Which brings us to the trio of recent watershed moments in the Trump presidency: the publication of “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s new book; a New York Times column by an anonymous administration official describing a collective “resistance” inside the White House aimed at protecting the nation from Trump’s worst impulses; and a Washington Post column by Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, encouraging the anonymous official to resign rather than undermine our democracy through his or her secret activism.
“I don’t agree with the president on everything,” Haley writes. “When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person.”
The Woodward book is only the latest in a series of tell-alls with a fairly consistent view — albeit with many new anecdotes — about the dysfunctionality of the Trump White House.
The Anonymous column offers a similarly terrifying peek into the workings of the Trump inner sanctum but insists that top officials are honoring the presumed wishes of Trump voters by quietly pursuing a conservative agenda while working around the president’s destructive impulses. “It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t,” the official writes.
Then there’s Ambassador Haley, who argues that when people like Anonymous see something truly insane coming down, they should just pick up the phone and tell the president he’s making a big mistake. “If that doesn’t work, and you are truly bothered by the direction of the administration, then resign on principle. There is no shame in that. But do not stay in your position and secretly undermine the president and the rest of our team,” Haley says.
The main difference between the three storytellers appears to be the extent to which they believe Trump is a stable, intelligent and competent leader.
In Woodward’s view, Trump’s presidency tethered the country “to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader. . . . It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”
To the anonymous official, “[t]he root of the problem is the president’s amorality. [Any] successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”
“We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility,” Anonymous goes on.
But to Haley, Anonymous was leveling “sweeping, but mostly unspecific, anonymous claims” — a course that “unfairly casts doubt on the president in a way that cannot be directly refuted because the anonymous accuser’s credibility and knowledge cannot be judged.” This course, in turn, has encouraged America’s enemies “to promote their hostile claims about the stability of our government,” she added.
The ambassador, of course, works mostly in New York, while Anonymous and Woodward’s sources based their accounts on what has been going on in that large white building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since January 2017. Is it possible she has never witnessed an out-of-control presidential rant such as they describe? Does she really believe that world leaders needed to hear from Woodward and Anonymous before having second thoughts about US stability?
Indeed, under Trump, foreign opinion about American leadership has steadily declined in most parts of the world, undermining US ability to project soft power and thereby wield international influence, according to surveys conducted by the Gallup organization around the globe.
“Median approval of US leadership across the 134 countries surveyed in 2017 reached 30 percent, the lowest point since Gallup began tracking this measure annually in 2007,” the pollster reported earlier this year. Trump’s foreign policy and his own words “have sowed doubt about the U.S. commitment to its partners abroad and called its reliability into question,” Gallup said.
Haley makes it sound like it’s no big deal for her to call Trump and tell him to change course.
“Like my colleagues in the Cabinet and on the National Security Council, I have very open access to the president. He does not shut out his advisers, and he does not demand that everyone agree with him. I can talk to him most any time, and I frequently do,” she writes.
Is she closer to the truth about Trump than the chief of staff, John Kelly, who reportedly characterized the White House as Crazytown; or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who supposedly compared the president with a fifth- or sixth-grader?
Or is she just buttering up the boss?
So, Ambassador, did you call the president when you read that, behind the scenes, he sometimes fakes an Indian accent to mock Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Did you call him when he tweeted praise for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for leaving nuclear missiles out of a recent parade, even as US officials report that Pyongyang is still cranking out new nuclear weapons? “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump tweeted in June.
Have you asked him to stop picking on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of America’s closest and most reliable partners in NATO and at the UN, after he reportedly threw two Starburst candies on a table in front of her after a contentious meeting, saying, “Here Angela, Don’t say I never give you anything,” and after he falsely claimed that her pro-immigrant policies had driven up her country’s crime rate?
Have you gotten in touch with the president to discuss the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report certifying that Iran continues to comply with the restrictions imposed on it by the 2015 nuclear agreement with major powers, months after the US withdrawal from the deal in May?
Maybe his repeated characterization of the agreement as “the worst deal ever” was an exaggeration, and you are missing out on a big opportunity to shine a light on more serious world problems when Trump chairs his Security Council meeting in New York later this month.
Feel free to call me with any requests or updates.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.