During a tour of Latin America last summer, Vice President Mike Pence boasted that the world recognizes Donald Trump as “a leader who says what he means and means what he says.” It’s a nice sentiment, which was wholly at odds with reality.
I’m not just referring to the Republican president’s penchant for breathtaking dishonesty; I’m also referring to the fact that the world has learned no such thing. In fact, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that U.S. policymakers continue to travel abroad and assure allies that Trump’s bizarre messages are better left ignored.
Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.
U.S. lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: The United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.
Or put another way, the position of the United States on key international issues is not what the president of the United States says it is.
The result, predictably, is widespread confusion. Even our European allies aren’t sure whether to believe the words that come directly from Trump or the reassurances from U.S. officials who insist Trump’s rhetoric is better left ignored.
The article quoted one diplomat who wondered aloud whether policymakers like White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and others like him who adhere largely to traditional U.S. foreign policy positions “were falling into the same trap as Germany’s elite during Hitler’s rise, when they continued to serve in government in the name of protecting their nation.”
Alas, these concerns are not altogether new – and neither is the official pushback from within the United States. Last spring, after Trump took a belligerent posture toward our allies in South Korea, it fell to McMaster to reach out to officials in Seoul, urging them not to pay too much attention to what the president says.
Administration officials have felt compelled to send similar signals to North Korea.
New York’s Jon Chait added in August, “It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence.”
And yet, those appear to be the circumstances we find ourselves in.