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Archive for January, 2018

Originally published in RURAL RUMINATIONS

President Trump says constantly that he is an extraordinary negotiator (The Art of the Deal).  That may be true, but in considering the relevance of his self-centered praise, one has to understand that his experience as a negotiator was established in the dangerous canyons of New York City,  and the way he discusses his negotiating style makes it clear that he does not feel he has to abide by many rules. That may work in New York and the USA and maybe even in the international commercial world.  The real question is whether it is likely to work in the far more complicated world of foreign policy.

 

The world is a frightfully complex place.  It is beset by regional, political, tribal, economic, military, and confessional issues.

 

Take the issue of Syria.  Mr. Trump would like to depose the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.  In pursuit of that goal, he has enlisted the military assistance of the Kurds.  The Turks despise the Kurds, constantly referring to them as “terrorists”.  In fact, the Kurds, who live in a number of countries in the Middle East as well as Turkey, are the largest ethnic population in the world that does not have a country of its own.  All told, they total 35-45 million souls.  The Turks are members of NATO and at least until we brought the Kurds on board on the volatile Syrian issue, were among our best friends in the Middle East.  The Turks are infuriated with this new Trump policy and are rapidly turning against us on many other issues that are important to us.

 

Or look at Palestine/Israel.  In recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mr. Trump has created a firestorm of anger, not only in the Islamic world which favors a mutually negotiated solution to that issue, but also in thoughtful countries, most prominently in Europe and in many other countries around the rest of the world. This Trump position on Palestine/Israel, a radical American departure from the past seventy years, is clearly a move to court ideological Americans who strongly support Israel.  It is certainly not the first time US foreign policy has been designed purely to woo American voters, but it has been focused on a region that does not need further foreign meddling causing further tensions.  And that is precisely what it has done.  It may please some of Mr. Trump’s political base, but it has further destabilized an area that desperately needs stability.

 

Despite the fact that Mr. Trump calls himself a “stable genius” on many issues, most emphatically including foreign policy, he presents as the exact opposite.  He doesn’t like to read and says that for him it is not necessary. So, he insists that all policy papers submitted to him be limited to one page in length. Issues like Israel/Palestine and Syria simply cannot be appropriately covered on one page.  Policy decisions based on insufficient information are always dangerous.

 

Mr. Trump acknowledges that, rather than reading, he gets his critical information from watching a lot of TV. Apparently his choice of stations is highly focused on the most politically partisan.  In this case, only the word “partisan” is important.  It makes absolutely no difference if it is far right or far left.  Either way, he is not getting the impartial information that is critical to, first, understanding this complicated word and, second, formulating foreign policy.  And this is true both for a “stable genius” and for a blithering idiot!

 

Assuming that he really is an extraordinary negotiator, he got his expertise in the commercial world.   Clearly that world thrives on uncertainty and instability, the kinds of things that make  businessmen and commercial companies say yes to avoid financial chaos.  That is the exact opposite of what is needed in the world of international relations.   What is needed there is stability and predictability.  Those were the elements that got the world through the Cold War.  Both sides understood that and followed policies that were predictable and stable.  We survived.

 

So far, Mr. Trump has followed policies that have been unstable and unpredictable.  That’s OK if you are buying a new hotel, or talking about an irrelevant country like Monaco, but it is not the case for places like North Korea, China, Russia and now, additions like Pakistan, which he has recently offended – all of which have atomic weapons.

 

It would be nice and almost certainly potentially productive to see and hear some more dignified and less inflammatory verbiage both within and emanating from the White House.  It might even make us some international friends, the exact opposite of what our current modus operandi is bringing us.

 

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served during the Cold War in East and West Europe, and the Middle East, focused on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  He also served as Executive Assistant in the Director’s office and as the first Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff.

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