For all the maneuvering, scheming, pleading, and plotting to influence who president-elect Trump names as our next secretary of state, it’s probably not going to matter much. The simple reason for that is that Trump is his own messenger, and whoever he chooses to be our chief diplomat may not be much more than a harried note-carrier.
Trump has been contacting other nations’ leaders since before he was elected. He diplomatic style is reminiscent of what Winston Churchill said of John Foster Dulles: “He is the only bull who brings his own china shop with him.” That’s not necessarily bad, because American diplomacy has for eight long years been a disaster that shunned our allies, embraced our enemies, and reduced us from a superpower to a France-like also-ran.
Trump’s international relations are styled just as his campaign was. He seems to be breaking every taboo and, for the most part, getting it right. But what he’s getting wrong may come back to bite him.
In August, Mexican President Peña Nieto invited both Trump and Clinton to visit. Only Trump went. Both Trump and Peña Nieto had mild reactions to the meeting, which apparently was cordial. The border wall was mentioned, but apparently there was no agreement who’d pay for it.
Since the election, Trump has had about fifty conversations with other nations’ leaders, some of which are controversial. He called Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and told him he was a “terrific guy.” In that conversation Trump offered to help solve any problems the Pakistanis have.
That’s an awful idea. Pakistan, since its founding, has been at war with India over the disputed province of Kashmir. Its foreign policy consists of enmity with India over Kashmir and sponsorship of Sunni Islamic terrorism. Pakistan was the nation that gave Osama bin Laden sanctuary for about a decade, hiding him from American forces seeking to capture or kill him. India is the world’s most populous democracy and should be our natural ally, but we’ve been pushing it away since the Bill Clinton era.
We’ve been cozy with Pakistan over India since 9/11 because they enabled American forces to land and travel over their territory to reach landlocked Afghanistan. There’s no explanation from the Pakistanis for why bin Laden was given sanctuary. Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism. Terrorist networks based in Pakistan have conducted horrific attacks in India such as the 2008 Lakshar-e-Taiba attack in Mumbai that killed at least 164 people. Trying to solve Pakistan’s problems will almost certainly create more problems for us.
The most controversial of Trump’s diplomatic conversations wasn’t that one. Though he spoke earlier with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump accepted a call last week from the recently elected president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. The two reportedly exchanged congratulations, and little else was said.
The last time an American leader spoke to a Taiwanese leader was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter threw democratic Taiwan over the side in favor of declaring a “one China” policy that recognized Communist China as the only legitimate nation by that name. Predictably, not only are the Chicoms in a carefully-staged uproar that Trump would even speak with Ing-Wen, our media morons are as well. CNN has written reports on the call that don’t even mention Ing-Wen’s name for fear of angering the Chicoms.
Trump was right to take the call. No nation has any right to limit who an American president or president-elect speaks to. As one of my Navy evil-genius friends pointed out in an email, Trump may have blown up a Chinese plan to create a crisis over Taiwan in Trump’s first days in office. We’ll never know if that was true, but Trump should continue, whenever he feels the need, to speak to those national leaders regardless of what our enemies and adversaries (or State Department bureaucrats) think.
Trump is and will continue to be his own chief diplomat. He probably needs a score keeper more than a secretary of state.
Congress and the diplomatic community will want a secretary of state to keep Trump on a tight leash. Good luck with that. No one is even going to be able to control his Twitter feed. For better and for worse, our next president will be himself wherever he goes and the ambassadors he chooses will be expected to faithfully deliver his messages, no matter how undiplomatic or politically incorrect they may be.
Trump’s choice for SecState will probably surprise many and disappoint more (including the entire UN, NATO, and both the Republican and Democratic establishments).
If you’ve been paying attention (and it’s hard not to these days), you’ve heard several names bandied about for the secretary of state job .
There are at least six people vying for the job: Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor; Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor; David Petraeus, former commander in Iraq and Afghanistan; Tennessee Senator Bob Corker; John Bolton, former UN ambassador; and Dana Rohrabacher, California congressman.
From that gaggle, it’s not at all clear what Trump is looking for in a chief diplomat. It should be a search for the person who will work best with the other parts of his national security team — secretary of defense designee General Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor — to restore America to its superpower status and pursue our national interests relentlessly.
Of the six men under consideration, two are obviously unsuitable for the job.
First is Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. As I have written, Corker was the author of the legislation that enabled Obama to claim that his nuclear deal with Iran had been approved by the Senate when no such thing had happened. He literally turned the Constitution upside down so that instead of Obama having to get 66 senators to ratify the deal as a treaty, Senate Republicans had to get 66 votes against it, which they unsurprisingly failed to do.
Because Mr. Trump has consistently derided the Iran deal and said he’d renegotiate it (implying, of course, that if he couldn’t he’d tear it up), Corker is precisely the wrong guy for that mission. He shouldn’t be nominated to be secretary of state.
General David Petraeus is equally unsuitable but for different reasons. Most often cited as the reason for Petraeus’s unsuitability is his affair with Paula Broadwell during which he gave her classified information. That’s almost as bad as what Hillary Clinton and her staff did with her non-government email system that enabled our enemies and adversaries to know, in real time, our most closely held secrets.
But the Petraeus-Broadwell affair — a powerful man, far from home, brought in contact with an attractive woman — was not just a failure of character, it was a cliché. The most important reason that Petraeus can’t be secretary of state was his dedication to nation-building.
Petraeus was the author of the army manual for “counterinsurgency” operations, or “COIN.” COIN is nation-building, the biggest mistake we’ve made since 9/11. Trump has said repeatedly that he’d stop nation-building in its tracks. Choosing Petraeus for secretary of state would mean Trump had changed his mind and wants to continue the mistake that has kept America on the strategic defensive for fifteen years.
Of the remaining four, neither Romney nor Giuliani have any significant experience in foreign policy and diplomacy, though Giuliani made a superb stand against a Saudi prince right after 9/11. Prince bin Talal gave Giuliani a check for ten million dollars to aid in the city’s recovery. But at the same time, bin Talal issued a statement that implied America was partially at fault for the attacks and needed to change its policy toward the Palestinians. Giuliani sent the check back, saying bin Talal’s statement was part of the problem.
Many of us are rooting for Rudy on that basis alone, but both he and Romney seem out of the running.
John Bolton is well known to many of us. He’s a tough diplomat who could do an excellent job as secretary of state. Though Bolton is too much of a neocon interventionist, he would be a powerful and effective member on the Trump-Flynn-Mattis team.
The dark horse candidate, California Cong. Dana Rohrabacher, is the one to watch. Rohrabacher began his political career as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. He’s been a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for many years and is an expert in Middle Eastern affairs. He’s a free spirit, a surfer who sports an American flag surfboard pin on his lapel. According to the Almanac of American Politics, Rohrabacher’s motto is, “Fighting for Freedom and having fun.”
But — and this is a really big “but” — Rohrabacher has strangely been sympathetic to Putin’s Russia. For example, he has sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin on sanctions Congress imposed on those apparently responsible for the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
The so-called “Magnitsky Act” imposed sanctions in 2012 — including a ban on certain Russian officials visiting the U.S. or using our banking system — which ought to be expanded to include other Putin-related crimes against Russians (not to mention those in Crimea and Ukraine).
Rohrabacher visited Moscow recently and met with some of Putin’s cronies. He reportedly accepted their “evidence” that Magnitsky was a thief, rather than a whistleblower.
Even Romney has had the courage to proclaim Russia as a geopolitical foe. Rohrabacher’s attitude toward Putin is very strange for someone who is supposed to be a foreign policy expert.
Unfortunately, the odds are now in favor of Trump making the major mistake of choosing Rohrabacher to be secretary of state. Whatever relationship Trump has or will have with Putin must be one of wary opposition, not the sort of quasi-friendship Rohrabacher evidently advocates.
There may be someone not among the six that Trump chooses as secretary of state. For that and so many other reasons it’s a great pity that former UN ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick isn’t among the living.
Whoever Trump chooses, they’ll have to be prepared for a wild ride.
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