America and especially a virile left media are having trouble understanding the last few weeks of President Trump and U.S. foreign relations. Earlier in May, the President answered a reporter’s question who asked if he would meet the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The President’s comment went viral after he replied, in part, “I would be honored to meet with him.” His poor choice of words quickly bubbled to the top of media headlines as they condemned the president for his apparent praise of the barbaric despot and an enemy of the U.S.
And adding more fuel to the foreign relations fire, the President met last week with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador where they exchanged supposed sensitive security information. The Russian meeting harkened quick criticism, but this time from both the left and right. Many were outraged that the president would release such information to a declared adversary?
However, what was missed was the significance of each exchange.
President Trump could be the first U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader, unprecedented. And at a time when North Korean hostilities and nuclear provocation are at its height. Additionally, Trump’s desire for a relationship with Russia is on the heels of its Crimean annexation, involvement with another despot Bashar Assad of Syria and the fact that Russian foreign relations are degenerating back to Cold War behavior.
Each situation does beg the question of why. Why would President Trump meet a declared or better put, labeled enemy and adversary. And as every media pundit has pontificated, how can this be good for America?
It appears that the president is dangerously mishandling our foreign relations? Or is he?
Let’ be clear right up front. This blog is not about any investigations or speculation of the Trump administration’s possible collusion with the Russians. What we will discuss are U.S. diplomatic foreign policy, history, and standard practice. And really to the main point of this blog, the problem with putting labels on our international relations and its detrimental promotion of “diplomatic ideological exclusion.”
In diplomatic terms, it means a country whose belief system, values, culture or way they govern (i.e. communism, totalitarianism, autocratic or theocratic) is contrary to the U.S., resulting in excluding them from recognition, negotiations, or any dialogue. Instead, the practice is to label them as enemies or adversaries; to throw sanctions at them; to seek UN Security resolutions against them, and to delegitimize them. It is also a practice to force or penalize them to achieve change; not to negotiate, shape or influence.
In other words, if they are not like us then they must be against us.
The last few weeks was a flurry of discontent and outright criminal accusations against the President and his foreign policy. On his desire to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, CNN states, “the latest in a series of odd moves that suggest Trump may still not grasp the power and signal-sending of such a gathering.” Or as Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) stated after hearing about President Trump allegedly revealing classified information to Russia, “This sharing of extremely sensitive, classified intelligence information with Russia undermines our national security, breaks the trust of our allies, and puts lives at risk.”
According to the media and some congressional members, it all sounds very dangerous and if CNN reporter Chris Cillizza (history major in college) says Trump does “not grasp signal-sending” and even a high-powered Senator like Cory Booker (Lawyer) says sharing information with Russia “undermines our national security,” then it must be bad. They are the experts, aren’t they? They must have extensive diplomatic backgrounds to make such comments; to understand the larger picture of diplomacy? They talk as if they have a direct line to the National Security Advisor, State Department or were sitting in the room during these discussions?
You gotta be kidding me!
The CNN report is the author’s opinion and Senator Booker, even though a member of the foreign relations committee which means nothing, trust me, uses a report that cites their sources as “current and former U.S. official,” no names or organizations. And by the way, if Booker has concerns it should be for the sources of this information. “Current U.S. officials” imply that someone inside the Trump administration illegally leaked this information, but he doesn’t seem concerned about this security breach?
Each of these diplomatic dabblers is quick to put labels on foreign relations. It is these types of amateurish viewpoints and misunderstandings of diplomacy and the larger foreign relations picture that create the very hostile environment President Trump is trying to remedy. Working with other nations, negotiating agreements and most of all protecting U.S. interests requires insight, expertise, and an ability to see a big picture.
One where our enemies must be our friends and adversaries must be an ally.
You will not get this needed perspective out of any journalist or congressional member. And more importantly, for us not to repeat the diplomatic failures of our past we need to step back and provide some room for President Trump to be a diplomat, not to criticize with exclusionary and novice comments.
Some Important History
Throughout the last half of the 20th century and up to today the U.S. practiced a policy of “diplomatic ideological exclusion.” Has it benefited the U.S.? Or if we had eased our obsessive compulsive exclusionary disorder (i.e. labeling and paranoia) and developed a dialogue, could history have changed; for the better? Remember, the basis of foreign relations is to further our interests. But short term gains can blind us to the longer more enduring benefits.
Some Historical Examples
Using examples, such the Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions of the 50s, the U.S. entered into these new relations with some legitimate hesitation. In the backdrop for each, was a distracting communist paranoia. And the sad truth was that there were points in each of these relations where the U.S. could have assisted or influenced each leader toward the U.S. and away from communism. Or at a minimum, have the U.S. be the most substantial foreign relation in helping slowly shape the way they govern.
Castro’s Cuban government was initially recognized by President Eisenhower. As a matter of fact, Castro’s first public foreign visit was to the U.S. soliciting support for his country and social reforms. At that time, the U.S. was recovering from McCarthyism and communist blacklisting, the Soviet Union had beat us to space, and communism was spreading like wildfire around the Globe.
Even though Castro had a history of communist influence and animosity toward the U.S., he appeared willing to promote American relations. However, the U.S wanted no relationship with any left-wing revolutionary or communist, a label he vehemently denied. So began Castro’s annexation of U.S. property and isolation as well as his alignment to the Soviet Union. The result of our exclusion was a near nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union, decades of cold war antics, unnecessary refugees, and adversarial relations, not to mention no Cuban cigars.
The Vietnam War is a horrible memory for all Americans. It was a failed war that cost 55,000 American lives. And why? A label and communism. Before U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Ho Chi Min (Vietnam’s iconic leader against the Japanese during WWII) sought U.S. assistance in independence from the French. Ho Chi Min’s ties to U.S. ideology was deep. In fact, Vietnam’s declaration of independence has the same words as the U.S. declaration of independence, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; among these are Liberty, Life and the pursuit of Happiness.” Ho Chi Min’s greatest hero was George Washington.
During and after his struggle for independence from the French, Ho Chi Min sent letters to President Truman and Eisenhower pleading for assistance. He was extremely popular with the people and independence from the French was inevitable. However, the U.S. was blinded by his alignment with communism even though he admired U.S. values and beliefs in freedom. We could not get past his communist ties.
The result, much like Cuba, was to go where he could get support, the Soviet Union. Ten years later the U.S. was in the middle of an unnecessary war which cost more than just blood and treasure but a permanent scar in American history.
The art of diplomacy
Not all poor relations, adversaries or enemies stay that way. A change in government, beliefs, or values can occur or they just all want to get along. The art of diplomacy is to reactivate dormant relationships or to get our adversaries and enemies to change their ways or at least “get along.” It is about an ability to influence. And to influence you need trust. And to trust, you need to talk. The absence of dialogue or open communications results in rumors, misinformation, misunderstandings, resentment, labeling, and fear.
And would argue that fear creates the most suspicion and erratic behavior, on either side.
It is this fear that we must contain and ease. And a healthy dialogue is essential. Otherwise, the strife that it produces creates insecurities that are unfortunately relieved by violence or provocation.
Let’s look at today
Last Tuesday, the National Security Advisor LTG H.R. Mc Master’s stood in front of the podium defending recent U.S. government discussions with Russia. The story of the day promulgated by a persistent media was about the Trump administration allegedly exchanging classified information with Russia about ISIS and aviation.
The media, politicians and security pundits went into a frenzy quickly condemning the sharing as a security breach complicit with a labeled “adversary.” The supposed security breach is bolstering a larger story of collusion with Russia and feeding into a questionable media narrative dating back to Trump’s campaign.
The word “collusion,” which is in every press report, is defined as “to appear as adversaries though in agreement.” The word “adversary” means, “a force that opposites or attacks.” Furthermore, the word “enemy” means, “a hostile nation or state.” If we are to take these definitions literally then Russia is violent or belligerent to the U.S.
Last time I checked, these “acts of war” have not happened.
Russia is certainly not an ally but without a doubt, not an “enemy.” And would argue, neither an adversary. The more concerning issue here is the indiscriminate labels and innuendoes placed on our foreign relations that do more to strain the relationship than further it. We may not always agree but we are not in a state of armed conflict.
In foreign relations, words mean things and poorly applied can have regretful consequences.
It is irresponsible diplomatically if we mislabel our foreign relations. It negatively affects long-term goals and limits our ability to shape and influence. Not to mention how it shapes our security requirements. However, between a politically charged media and ignorant congressional members, if you say it [labels] enough times it becomes truth, even if it is dangerously unproductive.
Once again with the help of oblivious pundits, we are negatively labeling a critical foreign relation.
The result is paranoia, erratic behavior and a wall erected between governments. Russia is not an “adversary” and we need their assistance with combatting terrorism. We need their help with working issues in the Middle East and we need to be able to influence them in Eastern Europe. They are a critical partner in many areas. Let’s not let history repeat itself.
President Trump is taking a page out of President Obama’s book on developing relations with rogue nations. During his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to speak to rogue states like Iran and Cuba without imposing preconditions as the Bush administration did on any contacts. He believed in a dialogue that would open the door to negotiations and influence. Now, President Trump who also sees the value in this is condemned. It is ironic to see a media that once gave room to President Obama gives none to President Trump. As a matter of fact accuses Trump of being irresponsible and whose actions are impeachable.
How could we possibly meet with Kim Jong Un? He is a brutal dictator, starves his people, murders opponents and above all is a commie.
Kim Jong Un has directly threatened the U.S. and is legitimately labeled an enemy of the U.S., by any definition.But I would argue that it is this type of enemy that require the strongest dialogue. The most robust of relationships. Something to keep the diplomatic door open, not closed. The North Korean leader is unstable, and his closed society limits his awareness to a global perspective of his irresponsible ambitions and actions.
In other words, Kim Jong Un doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. And it is up to us to make sure he does.
The U.S. (and China) can help fill this void through a relationship and dialogue. You never know, if we start to talk he might just stop threatening us and establish a more peaceful Korean peninsula.
The dangers of pre-conceived assumptions and labeling…a personal note
I was attending a Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) preparatory meeting where 3-star operators prepare briefing and decisions for the JCS. The topic for the day was China. The military’s Asian geographic Command, Pacific Command (PACOM), was the lead briefer describing current Chinese military capabilities and their aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
Right up front, the briefer labeled China an “adversary” and a “threat.” There was no reasoning or rationale as to why China was an adversary or threat, it was merely an assumption; and to me, a dangerous one. After the briefing ended and questions ensued, I asked the briefer why he referred to China that way. What actions did China do against the U.S that warranted such a label? And further, what hazardous directions and complications did this present to U.S. diplomatic relations, not to mention trade and information sharing.
The briefer was speechless, and so was the rest of the room. Apparently, there was little thought of anything different than China is a threat, an adversary. What else could they be to a U.S. military mind — every commie is an enemy of the U.S.
I further asked if other U.S. governmental departments looked at China the same way, such as the Department of Treasury or State Department? Someone in the room stepped in and mentioned that U.S. Treasury Department refers to China as a partner, not an adversary or threat. And to make it even more confusing, the Department of Defense reported that China’s U.S. debt holding (U.S Treasury issue) was not a security risk (China only holds 7% of U.S. debt) and that it is in China’s best interest to partner with the U.S., their economy depended on it.
DoD’s label was not even on the same sheet of music as other governmental departments nor had they synched their assessments within DoD. What message did this [mislabeling] send China, and the world? A confusing and concerning one.
How does President Trump see it?
Trump does not view our relationships as adversaries or enemies. He sees this as damaging and unproductive. His business savvy tells him something different. You work with those who want to block your success. You have a relationship with them and talk often. It keeps both parties aware of opposing intentions and limits discord and future conflict. Best described from the movie Godfather Part II, “…keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
It does not mean that adversaries become total forgiving partners as we still do not see eye to eye on certain actions or behavior but a proper dialogue allows for conditional partnering on joint interests, best exemplified in the recent exchange between Trump and the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. Our two countries may not agree on much and leery of each other but do possess a shared goal of eliminating terrorism, as an example. Exchanging this type of “conditional” or “limited” information is nothing but good. And as best stated by H.R. McMaster’s, “wholly appropriate.”
Labels hurt relationships. No relations hurt even worse. Words mean things and our foreign policy is based on how we interact with foreign nations. The key here being interaction. Not every nation is our friend nor an ally. And some are truly an enemy. But in the diplomatic world, it is about getting along and furthering U.S. interests, with everyone. The labels we attach to nations build only animosity, exclusion, poor communication and a lack of trust. And a lack of trust drives fear. And fear drives conflict.
As much as the media pundits and Democrats would love to see this President fail, they need to give him some room to work his foreign policy, not theirs. Diplomacy is about getting others to get along and further U.S. interests. If it is in the best interest of the U.S. that Russia protects rather than attacks sovereign borders and that Iran and North Korea stop their Nuclear weapons ambitions, then we need to be able to discuss it with them. We need a relationship or least a dialogue. Labels do little to help and should be avoided.