July 24, 2017

THANKS, DONALD:

Trump's First 6 Months Were Terrible, But He Got 3 Things Right (DEREK CHOLLET, JULY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Three areas stand out. Let's start with the easy one: the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the performance of the U.S. military. Mattis has become the go-to talking point for Republicans trying to defend Trump, and is the life-preserver for observers and allies worried about the direction of the United States. Heaping praise on him has become a cliché. Is he the second coming of General George Marshall? No. But we're lucky he's there.

Mattis gets credit mainly because his first six months at the Pentagon have been the most "normal" part of the Trump national security effort. [...]

In his revealing recent interview with the Islander, a high school newspaper in Washington state, Mattis was asked about the differences between the Obama and Trump approaches to the Middle East. "I think the two administrations are more variations on a theme than they are dramatically different approaches," he said. In the same interview, Mattis expressed admiration for Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as Secretary of State, such as her diplomacy that led to crippling sanctions against Iran, which brought it to the negotiating table. It is worth asking what would be different in defense policy today if Clinton were sitting in the Oval Office. I think that so far, the answer is not a lot.

The most notable shift in military policy under Trump has been the ceding of virtually all decision-making authorities to the Pentagon. This inclination to delegate doesn't stem from an informed consideration of the proper civilian-military balance on decisions about the use of force. It is simpler. Congenitally uninterested in details and allergic to accountability, Trump is ceding authority on military decisions not necessarily to help things go right, but to give himself an out if things go wrong. Military leaders understand this risk -- and cringe watching the president go after his own law enforcement leaders (many of whom were and are their close colleagues around the Situation Room table), knowing they could be next. If he'll throw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus, then no one is safe.

A second policy area that's still good is counterterrorism cooperation with key partners. It is easy to lose sight of this amid the pileup of talk about how bad things are going with allies, especially in Europe. But counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic say that relationships remain unchanged, and that they are still sharing information, coordinating activities, and disrupting plots. [...]

A third part of Trump's foreign policy that at least one can say the Trump administration is giving it a try, although it is too soon to conclude that it's going well, is diplomacy. This may seem preposterous. As I have argued before, despite high hopes for success, Rex Tillerson is off to the worst start of any modern secretary of state, suffering from a self-generated quintuple whammy of problems with a gutted budget, lack of personnel, no apparent influence over big White House decisions (despite a lot of time invested in building a relationship with Trump), little juice with allies or Capitol Hill, and anemic leadership. For the most part, Tillerson treats career diplomats like they are Siri -- there to provide information when asked. Despite all this, there are signs that on certain issues, the Trump team is ready to give diplomacy a chance.

Posted by at July 24, 2017 7:44 AM

  

« ...AND CHEAPER...: | Main | HILLARY HAD THE ONLY SECURE SERVER IN DC: »