No one should bet on the normal laws of political gravity applying in Washingtonby Steve Andreasen / April 13, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Uncertain” is perhaps the best single word summary of the Trump presidency so far. It applies to issues of both personnel and policy, and has continued for months beyond what is to be expected for any new administration finding its sea legs.
With respect to personnel, particularly troubling is the continuing absence of expertise in certain US departments and agencies for the new president to draw upon. The White House National Security Council (NSC) staff has already seen its first leader, Michael Flynn, fired for misrepresenting his contacts with Russian officials. He has been replaced by HR McMaster, who has begun a staff shakeup, removing controversial Trump strategist Stephen Bannon from his NSC perch. The White House Press Office, led by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is a gaffe factory—the latest incident being Spicer’s remarks that were viewed as downplaying the Holocaust. And Trump is yet to appoint staff to key roles in the State Department and the Pentagon.
With respect to policy, despite efforts on the part of Secretary of Defence James Mattis and Vice-president Mike Pence to reassure NATO regarding the US commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance, the feeling running through the Munich Security Conference in February was one of uncertainty. The broadcast of President Trump’s 16th February press conference on the eve of Munich—where he asserted despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that: “This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine”—only exacerbated Europe’s nerves.
President Trump’s professed willingness to improve US-Russia relations (albeit without specifying to what end and at what cost), along with his insistence that European allies contribute more to NATO’s defence capabilities, are among the few constants that ran through his campaign, transition and the early weeks of his presidency.
Yet in early March, reports began circulating that Trump might shelve his plan to pursue better relations, at least temporarily, between Washington and Moscow, due to Russian “provocations.” These included Russia’s reported violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in deploying a new cruise missile. Now, America’s cruise missile strike on Syria in retaliation for Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons has provoked an angry Russian response. Today, both Washington and Moscow appear uncertain with respect to the direction of their bilateral relations.
A close second to uncertain, when looking for words to describe Trump’s presidency, is “undisciplined.”