The White House Enigma


October 10, 2017

The White House Enigma

https://www.washingtonpost.com

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The White House Enigma

After nearly nine months of the Trump administration, many of America’s closest allies have concluded that a hoped-for “learning curve” they thought would make President Trump a reliable partner is not going to happen.<

“The idea that he would inform himself, and things would change, that is no longer operative,” said a top diplomat here.

Instead, they see an administration in which lines of authority and decision-making are unclear, where tweets become policy and hard-won international accords on trade and climate are discarded. The result has been a special kind of challenge for those whose jobs are to advocate for their countries and explain the president and his unconventional ways at home.

Senior diplomats and officials from nearly a dozen countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia expressed a remarkable coincidence of views in interviews over the past several weeks. Asked to describe their thoughts about and relations with the President and his team as the end of Trump’s first year approaches, many described a whirlwind journey beginning with tentative optimism, followed by alarm and finally reaching acceptance that the situation is unlikely to improve.

“We have to adjust to this,” said a second diplomat from a different continent.

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Senator Bob Corker (R.Tennessee)  with Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) weighed in on the tumult within President Trump’s administration on Oct. 4, and said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “ends up not being supported in a way that I would hope a Secretary of State would be supported.”

 

Their concerns echo those expressed increasingly in public by Republican lawmakers such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker ­(R-Tenn.), who has spoken of administration “chaos” and on Sunday described the White House under Trump as an “adult day care center” where the president’s behavior must be managed.

Frustrations and fears, building for months, have grown especially intense in the past few weeks following Trump’s bellicose taunting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his apparent decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the international nuclear deal.

Although foreign diplomats are restrained by the nature of their jobs from speaking out about the policies and politics of their host governments, it is not unusual for them to trade tips and gossip in the early days of a new administration when information is in short supply and it is unclear which top officials have the most sway with the leader of the free world. But their perplexing dealings with the Trump administration have become an obsession of late for ambassadors.

“It’s always an undercurrent when we get together,” a third senior diplomat said. “We’re always asking each other, ‘Who do you deal with inside the administration?’ ‘How do you handle difficult situations?’

“When somebody actually sees Trump, people immediately flock around: ‘What did you see?’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘Was Ivanka there?’ . . . ‘What kind of look was on Kelly’s face?’ ” he said, referring to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. It is, he said, a kind of Kremlinology.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Some diplomats choose to focus on the positive. Estonian Ambassador Lauri Lepik, whose country’s fears of a resurgent Russia on its eastern border are practically existential, praised Vice President Pence’s summer stop in his country. It helped reassure NATO allies after Trump, on an earlier trip to Brussels, failed to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to alliance mutual defense.

“That was a highly appreciated visit,” Lepik said. “The administration was engaged, and we were in constant contact.”

Others, some of whom had difficulty with the Obama administration, have found a new closeness with the United States. Saudi Arabia, after enduring President Barack Obama’s human rights criticism and policy objections, is now a favored Trump nation.

Newly arrived Hungarian Ambassador Laszlo Szabo, whose government hews to the nationalistic right, said bilateral trade “is improving nicely and constantly.” His prime minister, Viktor Orban, was the first European leader during last year’s U.S. campaign to say a Trump presidency would be better for Europe — a view widely derided by his European partners.

Afghanistan’s Ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, whose government was alarmed by the Obama administration’s unfulfilled plans to withdraw the vast majority of U.S. troops from the country, said he and his government had regular high-level access to senior Trump administration officials this summer as the debate over the war heated up. “I was at the White House on a daily basis,” he said.

The access did not always bring clarity, especially when it came to figuring out how competing fiefdoms operated inside the West Wing. In August, Afghanistan paid $120,000 for a three-month contract with the Sonoran Policy Group, a lobbying firm with close ties to the White House, to gain “a better understanding of how the inside of the Trump administration works,” Mohib said.

The majority of those interviewed were far more critical and said they would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity.

Several spoke of the difficulty of determining where power lies within the administration and how decisions are made. “We are still not sure how the equilibrium in this administration is playing out in terms of who is responsible for what,” a senior European said. “Is it the White House? The State Department? Is Defense calling the shots? . . . I’m being clinically analytical, not chiding. This is the situation. We are guessing, sometimes.”

Things have gotten “a bit better” since Kelly’s arrival over the summer, a Latin American said. “At least with process, if not policy. It’s clear [Kelly] has influence. But Jared? McMaster? We don’t know if they’re in or out,” he said, referring to Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser.

Some try to posture in a way they think will appeal to Trump and those around him. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a progressive pragmatist who visited Trump in the White House in June, “tried to sync with him, but it didn’t work,” said Joon Hyung Kim, a professor of international studies at Handong University.

“Moon is really a detail person, and he tried to explain things in detail” regarding defense and economic issues,” Kim said. “I don’t think Trump really liked that.”

“We want to trust Mattis and others,” he said, referring to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, generally considered a moderate buffer for Trump, “but we’re not really sure if they’re 100 percent bulletproof.”

Many of those interviewed said they are often told by administration officials to ignore Trump’s tweets or undiplomatic remarks. They recognize it is a risky game.

“In the business sector, you can be very forceful in negotiations,” said a diplomat whose government has been on the receiving end of Trump’s tweets. “You call each other names all day, then you sit down and have a martini. In foreign policy, there are consequences to the name-calling. Damage is done.”

Some foreign diplomats have tried to work around the White House by forging closer relationships with the battered and shrinking Democratic and Republican foreign policy establishment in Congress. Another strategy, particularly on issues related to climate change and trade, has been to work directly with governors, avoiding Washington entirely, several foreign diplomats said.

Others said their leaders, in meetings with Trump, have had to decide whether to take on what one called the president’s “one-sentence, very blunt affirmations.” Asked to give an example, this official recalled a discussion of the Iran nuclear deal in which Trump asserted, as he has before, “Iran is allowed to build a bomb” as soon as the agreement expires.

European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal have given up on trying to change his mind, or to argue that the accord’s sunset provision does not give Tehran a pass to restart its nuclear program. Instead, they have directed their attention to persuading Congress not to legislate new sanctions on Iran.

A diplomat whose country has close and cordial relations and no obvious problems with the administration said his government is nonetheless exploring more extensive trade and diplomatic ties with Asia.

“At the beginning,” he said, Trump was “a fascination.” As the months have passed, he said, “all this perplexing noise from Washington, it becomes background noise. And the United States is a bit less important than before.”

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.

Follow @karendeyoung1

Greg Jaffe is a reporter on the national staff of The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009. Previously, he covered the White House and the military for The Post.

11 thoughts on “The White House Enigma

  1. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said it out loud and clear.Plain and simple.

    There is an 71 years old man in a seven year old’s body wearing adult diapers residing in the White House aka “The Adult Day Care Center”.

  2. Politico reported that Trump is so impulsive and destructive that White House staff use a combination of delays and distractions to keep him from going off. Trump is certainly not well mentally, and completely out of control. He’s so unable to focus on anything that his own staff has to try to control his impulses by distracting him with something else and delaying him. A president should never need the people around him to calm him down. The President should lead, not be managed by handlers.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/09/trump-aides-guard-rails-243608?lo=ap_a1

    A senior Republican told Gabriel Sherman that James Mattis and John Kelly might have to physically restrain Donald Trump from launching a nuclear strike and starting World War III.

    It’s easy for most Americans to tune out from politics, or just look at Trump as the clown in the White House who doesn’t know anything, or the crazy guy who rants on Twitter in the morning. Trump may be some or all of those things, but he’s also the POTUS, and he’s at his fingertips the ability to start World War III at any time.

    The country is in the midst of a serious crisis, and it’s sickening to think that Congress Republicans are putting their country and the world in danger because they want to get tax cuts for rich people and corporations. Congress Republicans need to get some courage and speak about the threat that Trump poses publicly, anything less is an act of cowardice that jeopardizes the lives of every American.

    Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) was correct. There’re just a few people who are keeping the country from total Trump chaos. The 25th Amendment is not a realistic option, so the only out of this disaster before the 2020 election is impeachment.

  3. The alarm bells are sounding. Trump is a danger to our fundamental rights as American citizens. The man-child emperor demigod of right-wing extremist Shiou threatened to cancel NBC’s broadcasting license because he’s still fuming over the network’s reports about chaos in his White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a moron.

    http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-president-trump-goes-after-nbc-s-1507732128-htmlstory.html

    The National Association of Broadcasters (NBA) didn’t take kindly to Trump threatening to take NBC’s broadcasting license away. They responded by blasting the President with the First Amendment. NBA CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement: “The founders of our nation set as a cornerstone of our democracy the First Amendment, forever enshrining and protecting freedom of the press. It is contrary to this fundamental right for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC license simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist.”

    https://www.nab.org/documents/newsroom/pressRelease.asp?id=4253

    The government has no right to threaten a news organization because they don’t like a story. It’s a violation of the First Amendment for Temper Tantrum Trump to threaten NBC broadcast networks. Every president since the dawn of the mass media age has hated their press coverage, but none of them until Trump threatened to use the power of the federal government to shut the free press down. Trump was trying to chill free speech. He wants journalists and broadcasters to think twice before they publish a story that might be negative about Trump and his White House. He wants the entire press to behave like sycophantic propagandist Sean Hannity. Trump doesn’t want any checks on his power, and he definitely has no use for a free press that reports on everything from the Russia scandal to his conflicts of interest, and the corruption that appears to be running wild through his administration.

    Trump’s threat is absurd. He can’t unilaterally yank the broadcasting licenses of networks who provide coverage that he doesn’t like, but this is another attempt to bully and threaten the free press into not reporting the truth. Trump wants to control the news, and he wants all of the news that the American people see to be good news about Donald Trump. What Trump is pondering is un-American, and if he tries to take action against any network, it would be grounds for impeachment.

    Shiou, the floor is now passed to you to parrot the talking points of your right-wing extremists and terrorist militia groups.

    • Holman Jenkin has more accurately dissect Trump’s treatment of media including the NBC’s license:

      “Hysteria notwithstanding, Mr. Trump is no threat to this functioning [press freedom]. His occasional tweets against Jeff Bezos or NBC’s “licenses” are better understood as examples of his penchant for gadflyism rather than presidential speech.”

      If you want to see the opposite view of what Mr. LaMoy studiously elaborated, then here is the full article from Wall Street Journal:

      https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-media-and-the-president-it-deserves-1507931378?shareToken=st3782d21b9ea840579bfc420731546f4c&reflink=article_email_share

    • Hey, dodo right-wing extremist and domestic terrorist Shiou, instead of defending your demigod man-child emperor and Triad Dragon Head, you’ve chosen a WSJ column which advised the GOP convention to deny Donald Trump the nomination. Holman W. Jenkins Jr. stated, “I advised the GOP not to nominate Donald Trump,” as justification for his excusing his behavior by stating, “Standards of honesty, reason, and self-discipline do not come naturally to humans…”

      If those qualities aren’t exhibited by others, including Trump, I question Jenkins’ standards of honesty, reason, and self-discipline by dismissing them with a cold wink. They certainly do exist naturally to most of the people I know. They do if you’ve a moral baseline grounded in knowing right from wrong, and the ethics to follow it as closely as humanly possible. Obviously, both Trump and you don’t.

      Jenkins was incredibly prescient and spot on when he said: “Our forecast from five months before Election Day of how a Trump administration might unfold looks pretty good today: “He could spend four years dragging the White House press corps to photo ops at various Trump golf courses and hotels. He could embroil the entire government apparatus in ‘walking back’ his unbon mots. He could sit for endless depositions spawned by his illegal attempts to impose the Trump agenda by decree. He could rail against a Congress that … is likely to be uncooperative regardless of party.”

      For a right-wing extremist and domestic terrorist, like you, who doesn’t have a moral baseline grounded in knowing right from wrong and the ethics to follow as closely as humanly possible to the standards of honesty, reason, and self-discipline, I’m totally not surprised that you would agree Trump “could sit for endless depositions spawned by his illegal attempts to impose the Trump agenda by decree.” Whatever Trump says or does, you’ll agree and do the blow job for him.

      One thing I don’t quite understand is how Jenkins defines the positive, “mixed blessings” of Breitbart. You are of the same kind with Breitbart, maybe you can explain to us in this blog.

  4. Donald Trump is going totally insane before our eyes. Responding to the backlash that came from his idea that NBC broadcast license be revoked, he has just tweeted this evening for the broadcast licenses of all new networks to be challenged and revoked unless they are fairer to him. This is not a president blowing off steam or venting. Trump is floating ideas that are violations of our nation’s constitutional principles. Essentially what Trump is saying is that he wants to have the power to decide whether a network is fair to him or not, and if he thinks they are unfair, they will be taken off of the air. Trump is trying to shut down the free press.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/11/politics/donald-trump-media-tweet/index.html

    Evidence of Trump’s mental illness is getting more and more obvious and serious. While speaking about tax cuts for the wealthy, Trump claimed that he revived the economy before he took office as president. Trump said: “We are here today to discuss our vision for America’s economic revival, which has already started. It started on November 8.” Trump’s claims are so detached from reality and he’s so far gone that one has to question if Trump is suffering from some sort of brain damage or mental deterioration.

    As Trump loses his mind, the White House worries that 25th Amendment Removal is coming. Gabriel Sherman of Vanity Fair reported that White House officials are admitting that Trump has mentally lost it, and they’re worried that the cabinet may invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. The situation at the White House has only gotten worse and Trump’s moods have grown darker and darker, as there’s verification that Trump wanted to up the US nuclear arsenal tenfold, and it was after this suggestion that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the President a moron.

    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/donald-trump-is-unraveling-white-house-advisers

    One only has to look at Trump’s Twitter account to see evidence of a man who is sliding further into decline. Trump spends his days bashing the NFL and threatening to trample on the First Amendment while screaming fake news at everything that he disagrees with. His speeches and public appearances are now full-blown unhinged events that are certain to go off the rails unless he’s chained to his teleprompter or only allowed to read from a prepared text. Donald Trump is not well, and the fact that the White House is worried about the 25th Amendment is an admission that the mental instability that we’re all seeing is a real and present danger.

  5. This Drumb is such a publicity whore and claim credit for everything. Now, he says the rise in stock market has wiped out the national debt. And he’s proud of it. Duh.

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