Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump Should Abstain from Getting Involved in Diplomacy

Quite deplorably, it has turned out that President Donald Trump has not changed his America First campaign promise during the election, and more painfully, he ruined every effort to rebuild mutual trust with allies that his own cabinet staff had done before his trip to the Middle East and Europe. Shortly after Trump's inauguration, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Europe to reaffirm American commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance, which soothed anxieties among Europeans. They paved the way for Trump’s diplomatic début on the global stage as the president. However, his trip has just raised questions about American dedication to regional stability. Now, we need to think seriously of Trump as a security risk, due to his poor understanding of the American role in global security. This risk was expected since his election campaign.

Let me talk about his attendance to the NATO summit first. At the meeting, Trump did not mention Article 5 obligations of mutual defense, which raised critical concerns on both sides of the Atlantic, because American presidents have always referred to this. More startlingly, he admits that he didn’t know much about NATO during the election, when he said the alliance was obsolete (“Trump didn’t know ‘much’ about NATO when he called it ‘obsolete’: report”; Hill; April 24, 2017). There is no wonder why he did not understand the importance of Article 5. Trump’s dismissal of the core of collective defense has astonished European allies, and bewildered his foreign policy staff. In fact, along with Mattis and Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster recommended to include Article 5 in Trump’s speech draft. But the fact that Trump did not mention it implies he does not respect their expertise, and acts as he likes however dangerous it is (“The 27 Words Trump Wouldn’t Say”; Politico; June 9, 2017). Instead, Trump blamed low defense spending among European allies at the dinner. He even said he would pull the United States out of European defense. That has simply made America distrusted. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jim Townsend comments bitterly that Trump’s improper remarks indicate his lack of self-control to manage national security (“Trump Discovers Article 5 After Disastrous NATO Visit”; Foreign Policy; June 9, 2017).

Such ignorance and immaturity brought problems in the Middle East as well. While accepting Saudi Arabia’s bid for infrastructure investment in the United States, Trump permitted them to denounce and isolate Qatar in the region. Actually, Trump was primarily interested in business on his visit to the Middle East, and he did not listen to his advisors about the complicated nature of regional security (“Trump and the Damage Done”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; June 16, 2017). Qatar may be relatively conciliatory to Iran, but she hosts the largest US naval base in the Middle East. Actually, autocratic Saudi Arabia and her followers, including Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain worry press freedom in Qatar, which gave rise to the Arab Spring. See the video below.




Therefore, Saudi Arabia offered a generous investment deal to Trump, in order to make use of his character of craving for flattery and respect, so that she can win his recognition to impose diplomatic blockade and sanctions on Qatar (“Saudi Arabia stroked Trump's ego. Now he is doing their bidding with Qatar”; Guardian; 7 June, 2017).

But rather than strengthening the anti-Iranian alliance in the Gulf, his generosity to Saudi Arabia’s pressure on Qatar has complicated regional power rivalries. Turkey intervened to help Qatar, because the Erdoğan administration endorses the Muslim Brotherhood that took power in Egypt during the Arab Spring (“Saudi Arabia is playing a dangerous game with Qatar”; Financial Times; June 15, 2017). As a result, tensions among Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are intensified. Trump’s reckless approach confuses American Middle East policy as well. At the Congress, Republican Senator Bob Corker denounced Trump’s tweet that agitated feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as the Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee (“Foreign Relations chairman stunned by Trump's Qatar tweets”; Hill; June 6, 2017). More seriously, a chasm has arisen between the President and the Department of Defense. The Pentagon and the Department of State defends Qatar from Trump’s pro-Saudi verbal abuse (“Trump takes sides in Arab rift, suggests support for isolation of Qatar”; Reuters News; June 6, 2017). As in Europe, current cabinet members and government bureaucrats are compelled to make huge efforts to do damage control.

In view of his diplomatic fiascos, I hope that Trump will not repeat the same mistake in East Asia, where Pence and Mattis reassured continual American military presence. Particularly, Japan and South Korea deadly need such reassurance to manage the North Korean crisis. As in Europe, Trump’s cabinet members did good jobs. However, if Trump were to visit the Far East, we would have to worry about his reckless remarks that would jeopardize the trans-Pacific security partnership. Currently, East Asia is one of the deadliest front lines of a 19th century-styled great power rivalry. Trump’s imprudent gaffe could trigger unexpected tension. Particularly, an insensitive remark about history would complicate relations among China, Japan, and South Korea. Remember, when he accepted China’s historical view to please Xi Jinping at Mar a Lago, South Korea rebuked harshly. Also, Asia does not need an ostracized ally like Qatar.

Trump’s ignorant and insensitive gaffes annoy the Axis of Adults in his cabinet, including McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. But among them, only Mattis keeps independent position. Also, any policy made by the cabinet is carried out by career diplomats, in order to ensure American interests. They even make every effort to lessen imposed damages by Trump, and keep friendly relations with foreign partners. Typically, when the President called London Mayor Sadiq Khan a terrorist, American diplomatic corps worked very hard to mitigate antipathy among British political leaders, and keep the special relationship. Despite their dedicated service to the nation, Trump rewarded them with a huge budget cut of the Department of State, and Tillerson just followed this (“Trump Is Cutting Into the Bone of American Leadership”; News Week; June 18, 2017). Clearly, the incumbent president is a heavy burden for American senior foreign policy officials.

Though Trump himself is a critical national security risk, Visiting Professor Anne Applebaum at the London School of Economics argues that it is quite dangerous to take all the responsibilities of diplomacy away from Trump. Technically, she is completely right. Let me mention her case about the war in Afghanistan, in which Mattis assumes full responsibility to command US forces there. Policymakers, both inside the United States and abroad are skeptic to Trump’s understanding of global security so much that they welcome Mattis leads the war. However, Applebaum points out institutional problems with this. Foreign policy run by a military technocrat lacks political legitimacy, because democracy requires support from the Congress and other governmental agencies to carry out the strategy. Also, she argues that military strategy needs policy coordination with other agencies, and the Pentagon cannot lead everything (“Why ‘Mattis in charge’ is a formula for disaster”; Washington Post; June 23, 2017).

But Trump is too incompetent to oversee the problem beyond sectional interests and to make a right decision. This is typically seen in his ignorance about the value of foreign aid in American diplomacy. Actually, it is military professionals, including Secretary Mattis, Ex-Army General David Petraeus, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, who understand the value of non-military aspects like foreign aid far better than Trump, through their experience in the battlefield. Interdepartmental coordination would be a problem, if some cabinet member were to lead national security policy. In that case, Vice President Mike Pence can oversee foreign policy of the cabinet. His visits to Europe, Japan, and South Korea are helpful to wipe out their worries about the alliance with America. Foreign service officials are dismayed with Trump’s poor understanding of diplomatic jobs and awkward governing skills (“US diplomats are increasingly frustrated and confused by the Trump administration”; Business Insider; July 2, 2017). His recent attendance to G20 simply impressed American isolation from the world. Shortly after his meeting with Putin on this occasion, his remark to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation with Russia startled the national security community in Washington. As a Japanese citizen, I do not want Donald Trump to visit Japan, as global security risks with his whimsical utterance are expected, like the cases in Europe and the Middle East.