Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Trump’s boring re-run

President Trump cabinet meeting/Reality Presidency Show season premiere today garnered huge media coverage.   Numerous comments the president made raised eyebrows and evoked critical media commentary, but the thing that struck me about this Trump show is it was a boring rerun of every other Trump show, when he’s trying to talk his way past some deepening controversy.

Trump really is a one-trick pony repeating the same media gimmicks over and over.

Today was a boring rerun of Trump’s staged attacks against his enemies.  It’s just like his May 31, 2016 press conference he staged to silence the controversy over the funds from his January 2016 debate temper tantrum, where he staged a vet fundraiser rally.  By the Spring of 2016, media questions started swirling about which veterans groups received funds from that January fundraiser and exactly how much money was raised:

Today, Trump repeated this same press conference, except he used his cabinet as stage props instead of some veterans, who support him.

Incoming Senator Mitt Romney penned a scathing op-ed about President Trump leadership and character for the Washington Post last night.  Romney stated:

“The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December. The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down.

It is well known that Donald Trump was not my choice for the Republican presidential nomination. After he became the nominee, I hoped his campaign would refrain from resentment and name-calling. It did not. When he won the election, I hoped he would rise to the occasion. His early appointments of Rex Tillerson, Jeff Sessions, Nikki Haley, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster, Kelly and Mattis were encouraging. But, on balance, his conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

This op-ed added to the growing criticisms of Trump’s handling of announcing a Syria pull-out via a tweet, without even informing our allies or his own national security team about the decision first.  The bad press escalated with General Mattis’ resignation as Secretary of Defense, followed by Trump’s spiteful announcement he was moving up Mattis’ departure.

As criticism over both Trump’s Syria decision and how he went about it escalated, the president began ramping up his mean tweeting in recent days.  He retaliated over the weekend when General McChrystal answered a reporter’s question about whether he would ever serve in the Trump presidency and whether he believes the president is immoral.  McChrystal, I believe, answered the questions honestly.  In typical Trump fashion, Trump decided to wage the only strategy he knows – a vicious divide and conquer attack.

We now have a POTUS committed to playing American generals against each other and even more disturbing, publicly undercutting top retired generals to curry favor with the troops.  He is undercutting confidence in the US military and its top leaders, all to win spin cycles…

The truth is these retired generals should tread very cautiously criticizing the President and avoid it.  Engaging in public spin attacks back and forth with Trump will only damage military morale and could easily begin to damage confidence in America’s top military leadership. If these retired generals or former Trump administration officials feel strongly about Trump’s competency, conduct in office and handling of  national security matters, the proper way to air that would be to testify to Congress, under oath.

The real big picture threat is America’s adversaries are watching the Trump Reality Presidency Show and they understand that Trump’s shallow narcissism makes him so easy to manipulate.  Since Erdogan talked Trump into pulling out of Syria, both Kim Jong Un and Putin made public overtures to Trump about more meetings.  They obviously feel confident they can easily play Trump again.   All it takes is stroking Trump’s ego, by praising him as a strong leader.  How much Trump will sell America down the river remains to be seen, but for a reality check, Trump doesn’t bother with facts or details.

The media latched onto a Trump comment in his presser that speaks to Trump’s colossal ignorance about American foreign policy and history.  Trump touted the Soviet view on their invasion of Afghanistan, not the Reagan foreign policy view.  It was a surreal comment coming from a sitting American president:

Trump: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.” This is simply not true. The Soviet Union ventured into Afghanistan as part of its effort to prop up communism abroad, not because terrorists were striking the Soviet homeland.

I also commented on a tweet by a top Trump Spin Commando this afternoon and added a few comments beyond that:

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Trump the Builder & our Syria Policy

The truth matters.

Thinking about America’s “big picture” strategy, first I’m going to meander on about America’s War on Terror a bit and then pivot to the “little picture” homegrown “Trump problems”, which in the end are probably way more important to America than our regional strategy in the Mid-East.

President Trump did not cause America’s failures in the War on Terror.  America’s foreign policy experts, on both sides of the aisle, have made plenty of disastrous strategic mistakes in America’s endless War on Terror, since 2001.   Our extreme partisan Trump Hysterics United echo chamber in the media makes it difficult, for these foreign policy experts to concede this fact, but it’s the truth.

The people who did formulate and carry-out these policies that failed, came from both sides of the political aisle, in previous administrations.   Some of them now are the loudest Trump critics, while at the same time refusing to admit their own policies failed.  In the spirit of the season, it’s also only right to concede that they acted with good intentions to do what they believed was best for America.

Thinking back over my many angry and scathing blog posts about Obama administration decisions, made in the heady, High-On-Arab-Spring delusions days, that’s quite a big concession, considering how disgusted I was by their massive media “narrative-writing” efforts to sugarcoat American strategic blunders and their refusal to admit mistakes and failures.  To this day, many of the loudest Trump critics, who underwrote failed Bush and Obama era foreign policy, still determinedly spin their failures as successes.

For many years, I’ve believed we should completely rethink our War on Terror, expand our focus to be more about regional stability and less about a myopic fixation on killing Islamic radical terrorists.  By turning American interests into strictly destroying Al Qaeda, Inc. we’ve overlooked many other key American interests in the region and we’ve allowed ourselves to get stuck on repeating failed approaches, over and over and over.

Even more alarming, in our zeal to invest more in military options rather than other tools of American power, we’ve failed to weigh the real damage grinding down our military, decades of endless war has wrought on our military readiness.  We’ve been so used to believing our military is invincible, that American policymakers too often grab for a military option, without even considering how that option might impact bigger picture American strategic issues.

It’s easy to get lost in Trump outrage spin cycles, just like many conservatives (myself included), often got lost in the Obama outrage spin cycles, but the real strategic issue America needs to deal with is we need a larger regional strategy that bolsters American national interests.  That’s how I began thinking about the late General William Odom last night, even as my ire simmered at how President Trump went about handling his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.   The above video of General Odom is worth watching and thinking about.

America needs a new regional strategy to deal with the Mid-East and the umbrella of Sharia-inspired terrorists, like Al Qaeda and ISIS, regardless who is in the Oval Office.

There are many larger foreign policy strategic problems that might be fall-out from the “how” Trump operates, but in my view, the greatest problem remains, not just Trump, but our, by any means necessary,  2016 scorched earth SPIN information war, that has destabilized and corrupted both political parties and most especially the media, both FOX News and the mainstream media.

Trump might be an indiscriminate flamethrower, but he isn’t the only one intent on using SPIN info war guerrilla warfare.   The constant no holds barred smear campaigns, character assassination attacks and orchestrated disinformation attacks on the American people provide an open information warfare battlefield for America’s adversaries to easily operate at fueling American divides, without ever having to deploy a single military unit to American soil.

The entire Syria mess has been so mired in spin lies, that it’s hard to figure out what is going on in Syria and what our mission even is in Syria.

I didn’t believe we should get involved in the Syrian hot mess, despite the ISIS threat, the larger humanitarian refugee crisis, or the “Assad the Butcher” arguments ( all of which had some validity).  The “how” U.S. involvement would help advance U.S. national interests and how the lessons learned about problems from our previous regime change efforts would be avoided in a Syria intervention never made any sense to me.

After Russia took action in Syria to prop up Assad, the U.S. involvement chorus morphed into competing discordant parts.  The arming “Syrian Moderates Rebels” delusions set the stage for more delusions about how removing ISIS from Raqqa was the key to destroying ISIS and somehow that would lead to stability in Syria, that removing ISIS was the key to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and then for good measure there was the larger strategic argument about how getting involved in Syria would help deter Russian and Iranian regional dominance.

None of the arguments ever made much sense to me, as part of a larger regional stability strategy… probably because I don’t think we ever had a big picture strategy.  We have a bullet point presentation of talking points strategy.  Islamist terrorist groups quickly relocate, regroup, rearm, and rebrand.  Assad and the Russians had effectively broken the Syrian rebels.  I wondered how we would deter Iranians in Syria when we hadn’t figured out how to deter the Iranian-backed militias in Baghdad from increasing their influence in the Baghdad government, which vast amounts of American money and thousands of precious American lives went into nursing into existence and bolstering.

How Trump went about this decision will likely lead to damage to America’s relationship with our allies and he does operate like a one-man wrecking ball to our international system, which many of his supporters will cheer on, just like they cheered on his “GOP Insurgency”, asserting the GOP deserved to be burned to the ground.

The problem with Trump, the touted “Builder” is he seems particularly uninterested in the most important part of any building, whether a Trump Tower or a new political movement.  He prefers to stay ensconced in his ivory tower mean tweeting his “enemies, than he does in building a solid foundation for his new GOP or his MAGA effort.

I remember the conservative fainting couch reactions to President Obama’s clashes with the generals, because I spent a good deal of time blogging while prostrate on my own fainting couch.   I’m trying not to get too worked up about Trump’s impulsive Syria decision, although the difference seems, to me at least, that  Obama was prone to foot-dragging and kicking the can down the road, rather than making tough decisions.  Trump, on the other hand, makes impulsive decisions based on “his gut”…

In my view, President Trump prefers being the one-man show in his MAGA circular firing squad.  He takes aim at people in his own administration,  America’s intelligence agencies, the FBI, Congressional Republicans, the media and now – General Mattis.  His ammo is low-grade, scattershot mean tweets and petty name-calling.  His attacks on General Mattis will likely lead to dissension within the top levels of the Pentagon and his “playing his own team against each other antics ” could create some dangerous confusion and distrust at the highest levels of the American chain of command.

That’s way more worrying to me than whether we pull out of Syria.  He was tweeting late last night:

President of Turkey has very strongly informed me that he will eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria….and he is a man who can do it plus, Turkey is right “next door.” Our troops are coming home!

He’s trusting his good friend, Erdogan, and today he’s on a twitter rant, taking wild pot shots at his assorted “enemies” (Americans whom he thinks have personally wronged him).  What he isn’t doing is studying policy or strategy  or working on a better big picture strategy for America in the ME, after we pull out of Syria and he isn’t working to build any sort of foundation of support for his domestic agenda.

It’s hard to envision any sort of regional ME strategy developing in an administration where the POTUS gets more energized waging war against his own cabinet than he does reading anything about foreign policy.   His strategic depth really is his simplistic “killing ISIS family members to scare ISIS fighters into submission plan”, which he doubled-down on during the 2016 primary.  He believes that was a brilliant strategy, so expecting him to grasp a larger regional strategy is hopeless…  Trump also isn’t going to hire the best people and seems to struggle keeping any competent people.  He isn’t going to do anything other than foment more chaos and be an endless, one-man show circular firing squad.

You can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but often some unexpected things grow from manure piles.  When I was a kid, in the summer time we used to sit on the flat roof of our rabbit coop, which was 3 or so feet high.  Often we’d eat watermelon slices perched there and spit the seeds toward the nearby pile of rabbit manure.  Many summers, that manure pile was covered with robust watermelon plants that sent out long runners, which produced lots of watermelons.

Perhaps, we should all be trying to spit out as many good policy seeds toward the Trump manure pile and hope some sprout and grow…

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Another Twitter tantrum…

I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!

The above tweet followed by this tweet:

I just had a long and productive call with President of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.

One can only wonder if this amazing call with Erdogan came before BOTH tweets, which should be causing alarm bells inside the highest levels of America’s national security.  Trump stated the Erdogan call was “long and productive”.

Our adversaries, especially Putin, know how to manipulate Trump.  All it takes is stroke his ego and praise him as “strong” and “great”.  The really serious national security problem with Trump though, is if you dare criticize him, YOU become “the enemy”.  He has no ability to look at any issue beyond his own fragile ego.

I expect Trump will use every vestige of presidential power to wage personal attacks and find ways to spite “his enemies” (any American leader who challenges him), while at the same time sucking up to America’s adversaries, craving their praise.  Fun times…

Added thought: Timelines matter. There are reports now that Pompeo was the one to call Mattis and inform Mattis that he was ousted ASAP. One wonders if Pompeo was informed before or after the Erdogan call? Trump’s first step in orchestrating “the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area” was to create more chaos in the Pentagon and to leave top US military commanders in the dark about this amazing plan…

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It’s about the “how”

“There is nothing for America in Syria. We haven’t defeated ISIS by taking its territory, and it wouldn’t matter if we did because sharia-supremacist culture guarantees that a new ISIS will replace the current one. The names change, but the enemy remains the same. And if you want to fight that enemy in an elective war, the Constitution demands that the people give their consent through their representatives in Congress.”

https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/12/syria-troop-withdrawal-middle-east-policy/

Spoiler alert here, the above is the last paragraph in a must-read Andrew C. McCarthy piece, The Syria Fairy Tale Lives!.

Like McCarthy, I was against going into Syria for the very reasons he lays out about the nature of the Syrian opposition.  The “Syrian Moderate” myth still persists among way too many inside the Beltway and punditry smart set.  The only area McCarthy didn’t dig into in this piece is our Iraq mess serves as a prequel to this Syrian mess.  We were propping up the Iraqi government in Baghdad, since its inception, after the demise of Saddam Hussein.  Over the years the Baghdad government fell increasingly under the influence of Iranian-backed militias.  In our zeal to defeat ISIS, our mission became hopelessly ensnared in being on the side of bolstering Iranian-backed militias, in our fight against ISIS in Iraq.

The enemy of my enemy was assuredly not our friend, in this Iranian-backed militias situation.  No one hardly mentions Iraq among the polite American foreign policy set in Washington these days.  And assuredly, it’s rare to hear mention of our unintended alliance fighting on the same side as Iranian-backed militias against ISIS in Iraq.  The American people seem to prefer to stick to sound bites and catchphrase strategy, so it’s a sure bet most Americans didn’t pay any attention to the details.

There’s an American cultural preference to invest their trust in celebrities and “big name experts”, rather than facts or studying issues.  This behavior led to the Steele dossier being embraced by the media and top Obama officials, based solely on Steele’s reputation.  The same behavior led to hordes of FOX News viewers and Republicans buying the  “Syrian moderate” snake oil, based solely on people, like a popular retired general turned FOX pundit, selling it.

McCarthy covers all the bases in this defense of Trump pulling US troops out of Syria and I do agree with him on the facts, the history of the region and most especially with his analysis of Sharia supremacism.  Where I disagree is not about pulling out of Syria and lightening our footprint in Afghanistan, it’s about how we go about this process, how we manage our competing alliances and agreements and how we navigate the process with our allies, who have fought and bled with us on the ground in the ME for 17 years.  We owe them more than them finding out about the decision to pull-out in a tweet.

Figuring out a way out of Syria, that included informing our allies of the decision privately and ironing out some timelines, framework and coordination, rather than blindsiding them, by announcing the decision in a tweet to the world, should not have been too much to expect.  He didn’t give his own top commanders a heads up before tweeting his decision and that speaks to a totally unfit commander-in-chief.  He left his own military commanders out in the cold, creating unnecessary chaos and confusion about the mission.  The ramifications from how Trump went about handling his  Syria decision will reverberate way beyond Syria.  Just as with most of Trump’s actions that cause massive blowback, it’s the “how” Trump went about this that will burn more bridges than the actual decision itself.

Decided to add this thought, which I mentioned in a comment on my previous blog post about the Trump decision-making process.  Those cheering Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria should be aware that in the blink of an eye, Trump could as easily choose the above mentioned “Syrian moderate” cheerleader retired general as his next Secretary of Defense, as he could choose someone who aligns with the Rand Paul foreign policy school of thought.   The retired general is a popular FOX news pundit, afterall.  With Trump, there’s no telling.

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Stolen valor

When it comes to American national security strategy, it’s important to weigh strategic decisions through a “big picture/little picture” lens.   Even if pulling out of these long, seemingly unwinnable conflicts in the Muslim world makes sense, how we pull out matters even more to America’s larger strategic interests in the rest of the world.

Part of being a leader of large alliances, that America spent a century of blood and treasure building, entails bolstering the TRUST needed to sustain these alliances that have helped keep America and much of the world safe, free and prosperous.  President Trump not only made the decision to pull-out of Syria, he pulled the rug out from under America’s leadership role in the free world.

He did not consult America’s top military leaders before announcing the decision.

He did not bother to consult or inform America’s closest allies, who have committed troops to our effort in the Middle East too.

The larger damage to America is not only about the crippling of American efforts in that region, it’s the bulldozer effect damage his one-man show decisions inflict on America’s alliances around the world.  He is a one-man wrecking ball to the Western world order.

President Trump’s precipitous withdrawal from Syria won’t improve America’s national security, won’t bolster American leadership cred and it won’t put an end to America’s problem of Islamic terrorists attacking America and American interests.

America’s “War On Terror” has been failing for many years.  The linchpin mission end of defeating Al Qaeda has not been achieved.  The sub-strategic ends, like denying safe havens to terrorists or the massive investment in regime change, have proved to be failures in some cases and extremely costly in terms of, not only money, but in American lives and erosion of our own military might, due to endless military deployments to sustain these missions.  Despite our best efforts, jihadist terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, still remain defiant, functional, and determined to fight on.

Good intentions motivated the dedicated people who formed these strategies, and many of the military leaders have spent years deployed, acquiring first-hand knowledge of this war.  Good intentions have not produced a sustainable victory for America.

Without wading into Islamic extremism debates on whether jihadist terrorist represent true Islam or not, here’s another approach to viewing  this.   Islamic terrorists always had enough home-grown support to sustain their groups, to regenerate after devastating losses, and even more ominous to our goal to defeat them, they have a remarkable ability to network across continents and pop up under newly minted names, with new leaders, fresh fighters, money and arms.  They’re fighting with their minds committed to impose an ancient religious theology on the world, while at the same time mastering flexible, mobile, and very lethal military operations using modern information/communication technology, international money operations, and often creative improvised weaponry.

Overlaying the Islamic terrorism challenge, America faced a complex strategic challenge trying to figure out how to find our own long-term strategic ends in the region, pulled between the centuries old power struggle between Shia and Sunni powers, dealing with NATO ally, Turkey’s lurch toward fundamentalism, and finding ways to work with assorted corrupt and/or autocratic regimes, whose human rights abuses run counter to our values, but whose strategic importance was vital to our mission.

Our own partisan spin war often undercut and trivialized the complex strategic challenges to defeating Al  Qaeda and threat from Islamic terrorists.  Accompanying our military efforts in the “War On Terror” (heck, even the names makes this point), our endless domestic word battles in America about whether calling them “Islamic” terrorists would be the magic bullet to fell them and the endless encapsulating our war efforts into catchphrases masquerading as strategy often did more to defeat a unified commitment to our military effort and impeded our military efforts.

The selling of catchphrases as strategy has no greater supporter than President Donald J. Trump, whose understanding of American foreign policy and U.S military policy comes from TV punditry SPIN.  He doesn’t study anything, except TV, Twitter and news articles his minions try to get him to read.  He does not read his policy briefs and he does not believe his intelligence briefs.  Instead, he does listen to various friends and his pet pundits, whom he calls for advice, but in the end he is someone, who in his own words, “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me”.  

President Trump said ISIS is defeated in Syria – a lie.  He said General Mattis is retiring – a masking of General Mattis’ resignation.  He reached a new low in using American soldiers as stage props,  – he stole the valor of dead soldiers trying to manipulate the American people and American soldiers into supporting his decision, claiming soldiers who died would support his decision.  And he lied when he said that his decision has widespread support among the U.S. military.

I could go on and on about what a disastrous leader of American foreign policy or pathetic excuse of a Commander-In-Chief President Trump is, but suffice it to say this man who trusts his gut, continually displays through his shameless, lying words and actions, that he is not only an emperor without clothes… he’s a gutless wonder, who tries to shield himself from media criticism using the valor of dead American soldiers.

That’s his crystalline defining comment about exactly who he is.  He stole the valor of dead soldiers to sell his crappy spin.

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A few foreign policy links

It’s back to reading more novels and crafting for me today, so here are a few links worth reading (and links I wish President Trump would read):

CHAOS THEORY: CONFUSING DIPLOMATIC MEANS AND ENDS IN HELSINKI, by Matthew Blood at the Small Wars Journal. A clearly written foreign policy piece that should be put on the President’s desk as a foreign policy 101 primer.

Agents of the Russian World: Proxy Groups in the Contested Neighbourhood by Orysia Lutsevych from Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. A PDF report on how the Russians meddle in other countries internal affairs.

HOW THE BIG LEBOWSKI EXPLAINS THE HELSINKI SUMMIT AND THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER by Kori Schake and Jeremy Shapiro at War On The Rocks.  An entertaining read and interesting analysis of the Helsinki summit.



Update:  Here’s another fascinating link by Steven L. Hall, retired CIA chief of Russian Operations, tweeted:

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America by Paul Ratner at the Big Think.

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Putin might end up asking for his ball back…

“No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.”

– Viscount John Morley

It’s very tiresome writing about President Trump, the spin information war tearing America apart, “Russian collusion” and the constant chaos ensuing from our 2016 election, but these topics remain in the news, making it impossible to escape them if you’re following American politics.

Way back in 2015, when Donald J.Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower and began his new political reality TV show, our American political system and American news media dramatically changed into a perpetual circus sideshow act. 

America, by its very independent nature, breeds plenty of eccentrics and people who break the mold, often the type of people I admire for daring to be different, daring to defy the status quo, and daring to strike a new path.

There’s something quintessentially American about loving an underdog, who beats all the odds, so it’s understandable that millions of Americans quickly flocked to join the Trump fan club. He developed a loyal following, who believe in Trump and Trump knows this. He knew it back during the campaign when he made that comment that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and they’d remain loyal.

Why Trump’s followers remain loyal to him, no matter what he says or does, will keep political thinkers and historians busy for decades. The answer(s) might be complex and way deeper than my limited understanding, but one of the basic cons Trump uses is playing a ruthless and cynical game of deflection and using the old James Carville trick of throwing as much crap at his enemies as possible and hoping some of it sticks. Some of Trump’s favorite go-to crap is his shtick about Hillary’s crimes, his shtick about respecting the American flag, his shtick about making America great again, but his numero uno shtick is always about Trump the Victim.

Trump’s spin troopers, people who should know better and many, people who spent their professional lives preaching about character and principles, well, they’ve proven themselves to be the vilest sort of hypocrites, willing to say or do anything to prop up Trump’s inexcusable behavior and bold-faced lies. Their efforts are directed to continually manipulate Trump’s followers and keep them in line. They don’t want his followers to defect, so they engage in a 24/7 massive spin effort of throwing up strawman issues and “enemies of Trump”, that is as low as the Left’s perpetual spin machine.

At this point, the Trump outrage spin cycles on the Left, followed by the Trump sideshow shticks repeat so often that there’s really no surprises in the next episode of Trump’s reality TV presidency. He spends more time watching TV and trying to keep up with the spin than he will ever spend paying attention to the details of his presidential policies and duties.

His followers don’t even waver at this point.  His cadre of spin troopers react predictably too, so in the aftermath of Trump’s deplorable submissiveness and willingness to blame America first, standing next to Vladimir Putin, the same spin messaging cycles repeated.   

The mainstream media, Left, a few remnants of the Never Trump and non-Trump supporting right flew into their predictable outrage mode. 

Hannity and Tucker Carlson gave Trump a platform, post-summit, to do victory laps. 

As night follows day,  the questions about the summit and outrage escalated. 

By yesterday the top FOX Trump spin troopers were back to ranting about Hillary’s emails and Obama scandals, the mainstream media was on fire about a Michael Cohen tape of Trump discussing paying off a woman he had an affair with and by evening Trump was back to trying to wrap himself in the American flag:

The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!

Trump lied about what he said in his news conference with Putin, but naturally he proclaimed the summit a great success.  He also hasn’t provided his staff or the American people with any clear details about the agreements the Russians say he made.  I doubt he ever will be able to provide details, simply because Trump does not pay attention to details, especially governmental policies, which he has no interest in, beyond their being fodder for his reality presidency show. 

Yesterday, there was a poll indicating that most Americans did not approve of how Trump handled the summit with Putin (his performance), but within that poll, the vast majority of Republicans did support him… even though he has yet to provide any details.

The entrenched partisan spin battle rages in the same boring cycles, but this summit opens a new, dangerous front in our endless, partisan  2016 scorched earth information war.  The Russians now have a new front to exploit – what Trump agreed to.

The word games started immediately, with Trump lying about what he said:

“President Donald Trump attempted on Tuesday to clarify his widely criticized comments in Helsinki, saying that he had misspoken when he said a day earlier that he did not see why Russia would have meddled in the election. Trump said Tuesday he meant to say he did not see any reason why it wouldn’t have been Russia that interfered.”
That word game flap was followed by the news that Trump had discussed and was open to considering turning over a former US ambassador to Russia, to the Russians for questioning.  The WH press secretary, Sarah Sanders, acknowledged that the president had discussed this with Putin, but she had no details on the president’s decision.  This summit fall-out led to the US Senate voicing a protest:

“The Republican-led Senate effectively rebuked President Donald Trump for considering Russia’s request to question U.S. officials, giving voice to growing unease over the president’s shifting policies toward his country’s biggest adversary after his summit with Vladimir Putin.

In a resolution adopted 98-0 on Thursday, senators called on the U.S. to refuse to make any officials available for interrogation by Putin’s government. Minutes before the vote was scheduled to begin, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement rejecting the Russian proposal.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-19/senate-readies-vote-against-trump-letting-russia-grill-americans

By last night, someone in the WH was concerned about facesaving and a CYA action. The Hill reported:

“In a report the Wall Street Journal published on Friday, a White House official said Trump was advised to take the Justice Department’s recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers over election interference and “shove it in Putin’s face and look strong doing it.””

Just a few minutes ago, I caught a bit of Cavuto with two guests, when I walked into the sunroom where my husband watches FOX news all day long.  These two guests were spinning that there’s no need for details of Trump’s meeting with Putin and the lady guest, a true idiot, made some inane comment about this being Trump’s style, as if that absolved him of informing the American people of what he agreed to on our behalf.  It’s an obvious spin effort to downplay the demands for details and the alarming likelihood that no one in the Trump White House knows exactly what Trump agreed to (probably not even Trump).

Unlike this unwinnable, endless, domestic partisan scorched earth spin info war, tearing away at the fiber of our American political system, Putin and the Russians now have a means to ruthlessly and openly play the American president against his own cabinet, against Congress, against top US military officials, against America’s intelligence agencies and against America’s closest allies.  Putin will engulf Trump in a new front in this spin info war, which will throw him into constant collision with his own cabinet, by slowly rolling out all the things they manipulated Trump into agreeing to in that private meeting with Putin.  Each time Trump is forced into backtracking, another hysterical spin cycle will erode the credibility of, not only Trump, but of America.  The American president represents all of us.

The Russians play all sides when trying to destabilize other countries. Trump will be played by Russian information operatives, who will feed Russian talking points messaging to Trump, via advisers among Trump’s top spin troopers and on FOX news.   The Left will be played with Russian influence messaging too, to foment constant Trump hysteria.  The Russians, being the Russians, will also probably look for ways to use Trump as the lightning rod to ignite more Charlottesville type racial clashes.  They’ll leap at ways they can work to turn American against American, using the American president as their stooge.

Putin has a winning hand to launch a classic Russian covert influence operation model in America (ala the Willi Münzenberg model) with this endless, partisan 2016 scorched earth info war still raging in America. The Trump-Putin summit offers the Russians a brand new front, where they will slowly be rolling out what agreements Trump made. 

There’s no way to shut down all the ways messaging can take hold in a free society and while we have premiere intelligence operators, it’s a long, grueling process to catch spies and even in the internet age, tracking the origins of  messaging often remains heaped in a dark web of mystery.

Identifying and countering the Russian messaging  quickly with calm, positive, unequivocal American messaging  remains more imperative than getting caught up in fueling a Red Scare in America or trying to silence people.   This really will boil down to who wins the hearts and minds of the American people.

How long Trump and his cabinet can play this dangerous, destructive game to prop up a president, who speaks out both sides of his mouth and refuses to offer any clarity of where he stands, remains to be seen.  How far Trump will go to save face, lie, try to find footing between what he agreed to, while being led around by Putin, and his own cabinet’s tough line with Russia remains to be seen too.  That the Russians really do have some other dirt on Trump seems very possible, but what is abundantly clear is that Putin masterfully stroked Trump’s ego and grievances to play Trump against previous US presidents and America’s closest allies.

As Trump is  prodded and manipulated by the Russians to stick to his agreements, he will simultaneously be prodded to take a hardline on Russia by his cabinet & US government officials, so we will quickly see if and what hold the Russians have over Trump, because they will begin to start exposing that, to put more pressure on Trump to cave.  Even worse is there will be many more of these demeaning Trump being “trapped by what he said” scenarios.  This will also create enormous pressure on his cabinet to resign or be continuously compromised by the embarrassing details of Trump’s “agreements” with Putin. 

Putin might end up asking for his ball back…after scoring as many points as he can kicking around “what Trump agreed to” for months to come.

The Russians are out to destroy the credibility of the American political system… as they have been since 1919.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, General Interest, Information War, Politics