Timor Leste as 11th ASEAN Member any time soon?


June 20, 2017

Timor Leste as 11th ASEAN Member any time soon?

by Kavi Chongkittavorn

http://www.aseannews.net/will-timor-leste-finally-join-asean-2017a/

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Cristo Rei–Dili, Timor Leste

BANGKOK, June 15 (Reporting ASEAN) – By the time ASEAN turns 50 years old next year, Timor Leste could already be its eleventh member state. After filing its application six years ago, Timor Leste is poised to join ASEAN under the chairmanship of the Philippines, which is very keen to bring the region’s young democracy into its embrace.

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Indonesia’s President Widodo Jokowi with Timor Leste’s President  Taur Matan Ruak 

What made headlines regarding the admission of Timor Leste, or East Timor, was the comment by Rahmat Pramono, Indonesia’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN, that ASEAN was closer to welcoming Dili. This was, after all, the first time a senior ASEAN official revealed the status of ongoing discussions on ASEAN’s fourth enlargement.

“In 2011, when Indonesia was the head of ASEAN, Timor Leste submitted an application to join ASEAN. The ASEAN member countries agreed to conduct a feasibility study of the new country,” Pramono said. Earlier, Timor Leste’s prospects for gaining membership had been blocked by Jakarta, which said that the country was not ready due to political instability, weak economic infrastructure and insufficient human resources to engage ASEAN. These assessments were shared by other member states at the time.

But a change of heart came about as the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Timor Leste improved under the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Today, Jakarta is actively pushing for Dili’s inclusion in ASEAN. New ASEAN members such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar are likewise inclined to accept Timor Leste.

Looking back, Timor Leste had expressed its intention to join ASEAN as early as a year after its independence in 2002. At the time, Thailand and Cambodia were the only two countries backing the young nation’s bid to join ASEAN right away. They thought that the best way to help was to include it in the ASEAN family as soon as possible. As a young democracy, Thailand at the time also viewed ASEAN’s expansion as a way to strengthen openness and democratization in its member states.

But other ASEAN countries were reluctant about Timor Leste’s entry. Among the old ASEAN members, Singapore was very succinct in its position that Timor Leste needed some time to prepare for membership in ASEAN because it lacked the capacity to join the economic community. The island republic feared that Timor Leste’s entry would slow down the grouping’s community-building progress.

The feasibility studies done as part as of processing Timor Leste’s membership application looked at three aspects by which to evaluate the country’s overall qualifications as ASEAN’s 11th member. These three are the pillars of politics and security, economy and socio-cultural issues. The political and security as well as economic aspects have been assessed, while the socio-cultural assessment is expected to be completed soon by Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and Security Studies.

The two completed studies on the politics and security pillar and the economic pillar concluded that Timor Leste must improve human resource development and undertake capacity-building in order to boost its economic growth and skills. When the ASEAN Community was launched at the end of last year, all members pledged to implement new action plans in the three pillars under the new framework from 2015-2025.

In July this year, the ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in Vientiane to discuss whether Timor Leste can join the regional organization by next year.

Earlier this year, in a surprise move, Dili agreed to host a meeting among the ASEAN-based civil society organizations because Laos, ASEAN chair in 2016, was reluctant to do so. Since 2005, as part of the effort to transform ASEAN into a people-centred community, ASEAN leaders have been having an interface with representatives of civil society organizations. But so far, these dialogues have been held irregularly, and often depend on the ASEAN chair’s decision.

When ASEAN admitted new members in 1995, 1997 and 1999, these new members – Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia – were admitted without any pre-conditions or preparations. They learned from daily engagements with their ASEAN colleagues, gradually absorbing the ASEAN way. In meeting after meeting, they worked together with officials from other member countries, at all levels. Within a short period, they mastered the ways and means to interact with the rest of ASEAN family.

To prepare for its membership in ASEAN, Timor Leste has opened foreign missions in all 10 ASEAN member countries and dispatched officials to be attached to the Jakarta-based ASEAN Secretariat. Since there remain few Timor Leste officials who speak or write in English – Tetum and Portuguese are the country’s official languages – quite a few other ASEAN countries have been diligently helping them out in English-language communication.

Currently, ASEAN has 10 members comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. (END/Reporting ASEAN – Edited by Johanna Son)

*Kavi Chongkittavorn is a columnist with ‘The Nation’ newspaper, and senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand.

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Muddy Boots & Smart Suits –Researching Asia-Pacific Affairs


June 18, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: Muddy Boots & Smart Suits —Researching Asia-Pacific Affairs

Nicholas Farrelly, Amy King, Michael Wesley, and Hugh White (eds) (ISEAS Publishing)

reviewed by Tom Pepinsky

http://www.newmandala.org

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Muddy Boots & Smart Suits is a sprawling volume, containing everything from a plea for the practice turn in international relations theory to an explanation of cross-validation in predictive quantitative modeling to reflections on internet access in rural Myanmar. It is also, paraphrasing the introductory chapter by Michael Wesley, an attempt at reflection on Asia-Pacific studies by researchers with current or past links to the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University. Reading this volume as a big fan of (and occasional visitor to) the ANU, I had the sense that this volume reflects not just a larger conversation that has been happening for decades now between ‘area studies’ and ‘the disciplines’, but also something more special to the ANU.

The book succeeds in showcasing the breadth and diversity of scholarship on Asia and the Pacific within that community. Looking across the volume as a whole, some of the more useful contributions (to the mind of this reader) are those that touch on the policy process, and the ANU’s position as a national university serving Australia itself. There are also some interesting discussions of Australia’s position in the Asia-Pacific region, viewing the country as not just an outside observer but as itself a case.

Readers curious about particular topics or questions will also find much to learn in the individual chapters, which showcase scholars’ areas of expertise in an engaging and sometimes speculative manner. I suspect that this volume’s best use will be as a series of chapters, read individually by students and specialists who find the chapter topics engaging and wish to know more.

This leads me to my main criticism. Taken as a whole, the volume’s weakness is how disjointed the individual contributions are. This may have been inevitable given the volume’s charge, but there are missed opportunities for interesting and productive engagement across chapters that may have led to some more substantial conclusions. Here is one example: the chapter on strategic cultures by Peter J. Dean and Greg Raymond summarises various disagreements between first and third generation schools of strategic culture. Simplifying mightily, one axis in this debate is between whether behavior is just a dependent variable or is both a dependent and an independent variable.  It would have been revealing to put this into conversation with Paul Kenny’s chapter on design-based inference. If the first generation strategic culture theorists are right, what does this mean for a research strategy that requires a strict conceptual separation between causal variables and their effects? Is this tension irresolvable? If so, what’s next?

Another tension is between chapters that express a preference for microlevel details versus those interested in broad national trajectories. Evi Fitriani studies regional alignments in Asia with a conceptual focus on state-level processes. Nick Bisley’s chapter on power also operates at the state level. Contrast this with Cecelia Jacob’s preference for local-level studies of conflict and local-level understandings of international norms, each of which requires a focus on the individual or subnational community level. Should scholars following in Jacob’s tradition find Fitriani and Bisley’s analyses compelling, and vice versa? One argument—which I find overly simplistic—is that this is just a depth/breadth tradeoff. I suspect that the issues are more substantial, and would have enjoyed reading the authors grapple explicitly with them, in direct conversation with one another.

More narrowly, but importantly for the volume’s broader reach, I disagree with two characterisations of Asia Pacific studies in Wesley’s introductory chapter, which for better or for worse frames the entire volume. First, I take issue with the claim that Asia Pacific studies has been ‘remarkably non self-reflective’. It is impossible to list all of the volumes, workshops, seminars, and conference panels devoted to ‘rethinking’ or ‘reimagining’ or ‘refocusing’ the unwieldy body of intellectual inquiry captured under the term ‘Asian and Pacific Studies’, not just in Australia but in North America, Europe, and in Asia itself. There are at least four common themes that can be found throughout the subgenre of self-reflection: (1) the constructedness and artificiality of ‘Asia and the Pacific’; (2) discipline versus area studies; (3) positionality, hegemony, and Orientalism; (4) local versus global and sub-, cross-, trans-, and international studies.

The other disagreement I have is that ‘few methodological or conceptual debates have originated from within the study of Asian and Pacific societies’. The exceptions are just subaltern studies and the rise of great powers. How narrow a view of the contributions of Asianists this is! Just a glance at my bookshelf reveals so many additions. Margaret Mead on Samoa. Benedict Anderson on nationalism. Clifford Geertz on the Balinese cockfight. James Scott on the resistance and the state. Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz on gender and identity. Chalmers Johnson on the developmental state in Japan. I could certainly go on—that list just reflects my idiosyncratic tastes and interests. These are major contributions by regional experts working on regional issues that have shaped entire disciplinary conversations, each with methodological implications that has occupied a generation of graduate seminars around the world.

The more general observation that emerges from this discussion has implications beyond Muddy Boots & Smart Suits as a volume. Research on Asia is important: the study of Asia and the Pacific has proven to be remarkably generative, providing major concepts and debates in the social sciences and humanities. Muddy Boots & Smart Suits reminds us of the value of self-reflection, and especially of the individual researchers, political incentives, and institutional support required to make these contributions.

Thomas Pepinsky is Associate Professor in Cornell University’s Department of Government, and a faculty member of its Southeast Asia Program.

Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence


June 17, 2017

Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence

by Jorge G. Castañeda

https://www.project-syndicate.org/columnist/jorge-g–casta-eda

Professor Jorge G. Castaneda was Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2003, after joining with his ideological opponent, President Vicente Fox, to create the country’s first democratic government. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, and is the author of The Latin American Left After the Cold War and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara.

Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.–Jorge G. Castaneda

The world’s view of US President Donald Trump’s administration is changing for the worse. In fact, the chaos and controversy that have marked Trump’s short time in office have deepened doubts, both inside and outside the United States, about whether his presidency will even survive its entire four-year term.

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Europe’s perspective was articulated most clearly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After a contentious NATO summit and a discordant G7 meeting, she concluded that the US, under Trump, can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner. “The times in which we could rely fully on others,” she stated pointedly, “are somewhat over.”

Merkel’s statements were driven partly by disagreement between Trump and Europe on climate change, trade, NATO (particularly Article 5, its collective defense clause, which Trump refused to endorse), and relations with Russia. But disagreement on such issues reflects divisions within Trump’s own administration, raising questions about who, if anybody, is actually in charge.

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White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and policy adviser Stephen Miller | Getty

Consider Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. The move was advocated by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his speechwriter, Stephen Miller. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – both of whom are official White House advisers – also may not have supported withdrawal from the accord, despite Tillerson’s public defense of his boss’s decision.

Trade is another internally disputed issue. Bannon opposes the existing order of global openness, as does Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross supports open trade, but not without reservation. Similarly, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would prefer bare-knuckle negotiations to disruption, though he is already in a spat with Ross.

On NATO and Russia, Tillerson has echoed Trump in pressuring the Alliance’s European members to increase their defense spending. But he has also taken a harder line on Russia than Trump, calling for a strong and united approach by the US and Europe. While National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees with Tillerson in theory, turf battles between the two posts’ occupants – a time-honored tradition – have already begun.

Such infighting has raised concerns far beyond Europe. As one Latin American foreign minister told me recently, “Apparently everybody is fighting with everybody over everything.” Add to that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, as well as the administration’s plummeting approval ratings, and it is easy to understand why some are doubting whether they should bother to engage with Trump at all. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has postponed meeting with Trump indefinitely, and other countries, too, are placing ties with the US on hold.

With a premature end to Trump’s presidency becoming less farfetched by the day, it is worth asking how it could come about. There are three possibilities.

The first and best-known route is impeachment: a majority in the House of Representatives would indict Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and a two-thirds majority in the Senate would convict him, removing him from power. Such an outcome – which would require the support of 20 Republican representatives and 18 Republican senators, plus all Democrats in both houses – remains highly unlikely. But everything could change if the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with Trump’s campaign reveals a smoking gun.

The second option, per Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, would require the vice president and the cabinet or Congress to declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This seems even more unlikely than impeachment, unless some of Trump’s behavior – like his middle-of-the-night tweets or private rants against his aides (most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) – clearly indicates neurological dysfunction or psychopathology.

The third option, which some have called the “Nixonian solution,” is the most intriguing. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote to impeach him. Weeks later, Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford granted him a full and unconditional pardon for all possible crimes.

In Trump’s case, such a resignation could be spurred by the desire for a similar pardon. While Trump cannot be indicted on criminal charges while president, he can be prosecuted for illegal behavior after he leaves office.

Moreover, both Kushner, who has been accused of attempting to set up a back channel for secure communication between the White House and the Kremlin, and Ivanka would be subject to prosecution if they were found to have engaged in illegal communications or activities with Russian agents or officials. Trump’s two eldest sons, who run his business empire, may also be liable for misdeeds. If this threat becomes salient, Trump may prefer to resign and secure a pardon for all involved, rather than endure an impeachment process that may well end with him losing the presidency anyway.

But while Trump’s opponents might like to remove him from power, any of these scenarios could be highly damaging to the US and the rest of the world. American participation, if not leadership, is indispensable to international cooperation in areas like global trade, climate action, and responses to all manner of crises, whether natural, humanitarian, or nuclear. Moreover, Trump’s isolationism doesn’t imply US irrelevance or passivity; a distracted or disrupted America could be much worse.

Given this, Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.

Mutual Respect– The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations


June 15, 2017

Mutual Respect–The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations

by Kimkong Heng

http://ippreview.com/index.php/Blog/single/id/467.html

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The relations between Cambodia and Thailand can be appropriately labelled as a love-hate relationship, given the long history of bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries. However, racial hatred, arguably, seems to have prevailed among many, if not most, of the people of both countries, at least during the three-year Cambodian-Thai border dispute that started in July 2008 over the territory surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple (known as Phra Viharn in Thailand). The deep hatred and open hostility should come as no surprise if one examines the ancient and modern history of the relations between the two countries.

However, given their current political, economic and diplomatic relations, both countries can enhance their generally troubled relationship through a reciprocal exchange of mutual respect. There are many possibilities ranging from government-to-government initiatives to people-to-people connectivity programs to cultivate and nurture mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance between the people of both nations. Only when a sense of mutual respect is prevalent among Cambodian and Thai people, can harmonious bilateral relations between the two neighbors be maintained and strengthened.

From the Cambodian historical perspective, Thailand was a major threat to Cambodia’s land, although it is less of a threat compared to its Vietnamese counterpart to the present-day Cambodia. Every Cambodian, young and old, knows that Thailand was Cambodia’s traditional enemy and that Cambodia was the victim of devastating Thai (called Siam by most Cambodians) attacks on numerous occasions. There were two infamous invasions of Cambodia by the Siamese. One was the Siamese invasion of Angkor in 1431 and another was the invasion of Longvek, an ancient Cambodian capital (now located in Kampong Chhnang province), in 1593. The collapse of both ancient Khmer cities marked the downward trajectory of the Khmer Empire which was already in decline from the 13th to the 19th centuries, a historical period which saw Cambodia’s vast territory lost to Thailand and Vietnam until Cambodia became a French colony in 1863 under King Norodom’s reign.

Under the French, Cambodia-Thailand relations seemed to have been restored and improved, with a number of treaties signed between Siam and France, on Cambodia’s behalf. Following Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953, however, Cambodia-Thailand relations deteriorated when Thailand in 1954 occupied Preah Vihear by force. Cambodia then responded to the Thai invasion by bringing a legal case against Thailand before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1959. The ICJ in 1962 ruled that Cambodia was the rightful owner of Preah Vihear Temple. Relations between both countries could not be worse at that time.

Three decades later, after Cambodia’s UN-sponsored national election in 1993, the two neighbors began to establish good relations with each other. However, their seemingly good relationship was brief and fragile. In 2003, a violent riot broke out after a Thai actress was reported to have awkwardly claimed that Angkor Wat should be returned to Thailand. The incident saw the bilateral relations between the two neighbors descend to the worst possible level, once again. When their bilateral ties later seemed to normalize and improve, both governments again broke off their diplomatic relations. This was a result of Thai troops being stationed in a disputed area of land adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple after the temple was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008. Thailand’s troop deployment invited Cambodia to do the same, which led to a series of fierce border clashes and skirmishes between 2008 and 2011, despite several talks and meetings between the two governments.

As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange.

With ASEAN mediation (although no effective action was taken), domestic political developments in both countries, and the ICJ Judgment on Cambodia’s request for a reinterpretation of the 1962 judgment in November 2013, the Cambodian-Thai border conflict was resolved, and bilateral relations improved. Two years later Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-ocha, signed a series of agreements aimed at cementing bilateral ties between both countries. They agreed to develop border facilities, manage migrant labor, and triple their current trade volume to USD 15 billion by 2020.

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Thailand must respect Cambodia’s Sovereignty over Preah Vihear Temple

Nevertheless, a resurgence of nationalism in both countries, often manipulated by politicians, is likely to impact their bilateral relations. As Kimly Ngoun has noted, many issues such as the historical legacy of hostility and mistrust, different constructions of history by Cambodian and Thai elites, and political propaganda about national territory and sovereignty, remain to be addressed, otherwise future conflict between Cambodia and Thailand is inevitable.

All things considered, genuine and mutual respect between the people of both nations should be cultivated and nurtured. In addition to efforts at the institutional and governmental levels to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, individuals have crucial roles to play. As argued in another article, Cambodian youth have played a pivotal role in shaping Cambodia’s relations with Vietnam. And Thailand should not be an exception. Cambodian people, particularly the younger generation, therefore, should not dwell on their dark history; instead, they should use lessons from history to help them make informed and impartial judgments when dealing with issues concerning Thailand and its people. They should, moreover, focus on developing themselves by engaging in different forms of personal and professional development. Only when each and every Cambodian is more educated, pragmatic, open-minded, and culturally competent, will Cambodia be more competitive and well-received in its neighboring countries’ eyes and on the international stage.

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Thus, everyone, both Cambodians and Thais, have a vital role to play in improving and fostering good relations between the two old rivals. In this regard, Cambodian people must learn to embrace the culture, values, and aspirations of their Thai counterparts, although those Thai cultural aspects, as claimed by Cambodians, originally derived from Khmer culture. This cultural acceptance must be a collective effort requiring mutual respect. The Thai side must also pursue the same initiative — respecting Cambodian culture, values, and aspirations despite having very similar cultural identity and practices.

There are a myriad of options and actions which can be taken to promote this free and frank exchange of mutual respect. One option both governments have pursued but will still requires their serious attention is to improve border facilities and security to enhance trade, tourism, and mobility. This of course implies the demarcation of both land and maritime borders. With more development projects geared towards areas along the Cambodian-Thai border, chances are high for citizens of both countries to interact economically, culturally, and socially, leading to better mutual understanding and trust.

New initiatives for cultural and educational exchanges or projects involving youth engagement and interactions, such as study exchange programs and youth group camping, should be further encouraged and implemented. Moreover, initiatives to enhance business and investment and to improve deep institutional ties and physical infrastructure links between Cambodia and Thailand are essential because, in their absence, people-to-people links would be difficult, if not impossible. The mutual exchange of respect and understanding must therefore be fostered at all levels, although the emphasis should be targeted at the grassroots level by fully engaging individuals and the youth of both countries.

The cultivation of mutual respect among the people of Cambodia and Thailand is clearly a prerequisite for the long-term healthy relationship between the two former enemies. As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange. To instill respect for one another, people of both nationalities must learn to be more outward-looking yet less self-important in their perceptions of their neighboring counterparts. It is probably wise for them to remember an old Khmer saying which goes, “In times of trouble, a good neighbor is better than a faraway relative.” Good neighbors must show one another mutual respect.

*Kimkong Heng is Assistant Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and a researcher with Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations in the University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 

On foreign policy, Trump isn’t a complete disaster


June 14, 2017

On foreign policy, Trump isn’t a complete disaster

By David  Gordon and Michael E. O’ Hanlon 

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/06/12/on-foreign-policy-trump-isnt-a-complete-disaster/?utm_med

Editor’s Note:

Although there is certainly a lot to worry about in Trump’s approach to foreign policy, write David Gordon and Michael O’Hanlon, there are several hopeful signs. They argue that Trump’s critics need to remember these facts, and support his good decisions, even as they voice strong critiques when he goes astray. This piece originally appeared in the Washington Post.

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President Trump’s foreign policy has been taking a shellacking lately. With his insensitive tweets after the terrible June 3 attacks in London, ongoing allegations of improper ties between his presidential campaign and the Russians, and ill-advised intelligence disclosures, the new president’s second 100 days in office are not going any easier than the first 100. Of course, much of the brouhaha is Trump-induced. And there is perhaps an element of poetic justice in seeing a man who insulted his way to the presidency paid back in kind. But the nation’s politics will be further dragged down—and Trump’s critics will be less likely to influence his future policies—if things become so poisoned that every debate ends up in a zero-sum shouting match between the White House and its critics.

Although there is certainly a lot to worry about in Trump’s approach to the world (leaving aside his domestic policies, a separate and equally serious subject), there are several hopeful signs. His critics (including us) need to remember these facts, and support his good decisions, even as we continue our strong critiques when he goes astray.

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First is the quality of his national security team—which Trump handpicked, to his credit. The top advisers appear collectively as good as any in modern U.S. history. But the widespread sighs of relief that were almost audible when Jim Mattis, Nikki Haley, H.R. McMaster, John F. Kelly, and Rex Tillerson joined the administration have stopped. Indeed, some critics have even called for their resignations (which would be deeply counterproductive). An inner circle of White House advisers with extreme views complicates things, of course. But national security adviser McMaster has successfully persuaded the president not to include the firebrand Stephen K. Bannon on the National Security Council, among other encouraging steps.

 

Trump’s national security team has already walked back many of candidate Trump’s controversial, even dangerous, ideas. In his first week in office, Defense Secretary Mattis reassured the Asian region about the United States’ continued commitment to its allies and interests there—a message that he and Secretary of State Tillerson reiterated this week and that Vice President Pence has conveyed as well.

The cruise missile strike in Syria in April was a proportionate response to an abominable action by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, Trump has built on President Barack Obama’s policies, gradually and modestly escalating U.S. involvement in most of those places.

Trump has wisely chosen not to use military force in response to North Korean provocations, attempting instead to work with China to apply economic pressure. And he dropped his campaign promise to designate China a currency manipulator and has not pushed his proposed 45 percent tariffs on all trade with China—actions that would have risked a trade war and recession.

Yet Trump has not turned a blind eye to China’s behavior when it has been troublesome. Notably, the U.S. Navy recently conducted freedom-of-navigation exercises in the South China Sea, designed to push back against China’s assertive claims there. These were done in matter-of-fact style, without tweets or other histrionics.

Then there is the NATO Article 5 question. To be sure, Trump insults allies in ways we find off-putting at best, and often disturbing. But the recent outcry over his supposed abandonment of NATO has been badly overdone. In his speech in Brussels in May, Trump explicitly said that the United States would not leave allies in the lurch, even if he failed to voice commitment to the alliance’s formal mutual-defense pledge as codified in Article 5 of the 1949 treaty

Paying lip service to that article would not have settled any issue over European security. Its language is intentionally ambiguous: The way NATO should respond to one scenario is necessarily different from how it should respond to another.

Also, in this business, actions speak at least as loudly as words—and we still have thousands of U.S. troops undergirding our commitment to Poland and the Baltic States. Trump hasn’t suggested pulling these forces back. Nor has he unconditionally lifted sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, as some feared he might.

This president is not exactly our cup of tea when it comes to foreign policy. But he has shown some openness to advice, rationality and dialogue—and his critics should be careful about closing off all avenues of communication with an administration that is still feeling its way.