Giving Trumpism a Name

We know he’s not a neoconservative. Definitely not a feminist. And nothing like a liberal internationalist. Could Trump be a realist?  Harvard scholar Stephen Walt saw signs last April, but now we have more to go go on.

The faculty director of the “Program for the Study of Realist Foreign Policy” says this:

[But] what Trump recognizes is that the liberal international order is sick. This illness, as the columnist Martin Wolf has argued, is a function of, at the global level, “the declining relevance of the west as a security community after the end of the cold war, together with its diminishing economic weight, especially in relation to China.”

via Randall Schweller, “Three Cheers for Trump’s Foreign Policy“, Foreign Affairs

Reading the headlines, trying to make sense of the tweets, and feeling our way through the fog–we might be forgiven for beign confused. Enter Shadi Hamid, a smart foreign pol analyst–who helpfully breaks down the implications of Trump’s ideas:

As with most doctrines, the policy doesn’t quite match the rhetoric. But Trump’s stamp on American foreign policy will continue to matter in its clear and ambitious attempt to put forward a set of guidelines for those who wish to carry the “America First” mantle into the future. In other words, Trump has managed to introduce a set of ideas that have their own inherent power, even if his administration does not always reflect these ideas in day-to-day foreign policy. This, along with profound shifts in domestic politics, could ensure that Trump is remembered as one of the more consequential presidents of the modern era.

Deconstructing Trump’s foreign policy”, Brookings

So what else could we call this new strategic paradigm?

Round 2, here we go: Trump’s foreign policy may fit the defition of being a “belligerent isolationist” according to storied Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross. Citing the diplomatic historian Manfred Jonas and using Sen. William Borah (R–Idaho) as the poster child, our era has a name. Will it stick?

Mr. Trump is a 21st-century belligerent isolationist. He believes multinational institutions and agreements do nothing for America. Alliances are encumbrances: Either the allies don’t pay their fair share, or if they do, like the Baltic states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, they might drag the U.S. into a war if Russia attacks them. For Mr. Trump, international commitments tie America down and are expensive to fulfill.

via WSJ | “What Trump Means by ‘Ameirca First'”, Opinion 8 January 2019

Choosing Civility

The late Johns Hopkins Italian literature professor, P.M. Forni, made a unique career pivot from teaching Dante and 16th century manners–to the practial application of improving civil discourse. And while his rules can be seen as a useful set of principles for diplomacy, they are essential componenents of public life.

Civility, to Dr. Forni, was not just a matter of learning and observing rules of good manners. It was something with very real consequences. Civility means less stress, which has advantages like improved health, safer driving and more productivity at work.

Lack of civility, he argued, is also more than a matter of semantics.

“Acts of violence are often the result of an exchange of acts of rudeness that spiral out of control,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 2007. “Disrespect can lead to bloodshed. By keeping the levels of incivility down we keep the levels of violence down.”

Via P.M. Forni, Who Argued for ‘Chosing Civlity,’ Dies at 67 NYT

His book, Choosing Ciivility, could be used as a guidebook for civics education, diplomacy training, as well as academic and career advisement. In fact, writing in NACADA’s journal, Kim Wrigt offered this review:

Each of Forni’s twenty-five rules is a guide to behaving civilly in our personal and professional dealings with others. While all of the chapters are a good reminder of how we should behave towards others, there are a few rules that I have found to be especially relevant in helping students make the most of their experiences on our college campuses.

The first rule is to pay attention. While this seems to be simple and obvious Forni points out that by paying attention to others we are “…acknowledging and honoring…” their worth (p. 38). This applies to both advisors and students – we should be fully present in our conversations with each other in order to make the most of the time we have with each other….

Forni’s closing thoughts are that there is nothing as important as having quality interactions with others. Better interactions equal a better life; behaving civilly is as simple as taking time to stop and think before we act.

Via NACADA Journal, Book Review, Issue 34(1)



The Diplomacy of George H.W. Bush



Many of the titles that the 41st U.S. President held prior to serving in that office were notable in the way they prepared him to be nation’s top diplomat and leader: member of Congress, CIA director, envoy to China and UN ambassador. What can we take away from President Geroge Herbert Walker Bush’s diplomatic legacy beyond the titles? He should be remembered in the same way we think about other notable president diplomats such as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams–and among important statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, as “a very different kind of Republican” in “a very different poltical moment” as Jacob Weisberg says in a the CFR Lessons from History Series.

  1. Fixing Foreign Policy In-House

The Clinton/Gore team ran on “reinventing government” but Ivo Daalder and I.M. Destler assert that it really was George H. W. Bush’s reinvention of the foreign policy process resulted in a new way to create and implement U.S. foreign policy. They call it nothing short of “genius”– an innovation that “has stood the test of time.” Consequently, Bush was called by Michael Cohen one of the five “Best Foreign Policy Presidents of the Past Century.”

He assembled a true body of wise men–whose influence in power and afterword continue to offer foreign policy direction–even if largely unheeded by Republicans today: Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Colin Powell, and others such as Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Richard Haas, Robert Gates, and even Dick Cheney–mastered the processes needed to make foreign policy work and offered a steady hand when in office. They all demosntrated the impact (and importance) of effective governance.

2. Exemplifying Diplomacy as a Dealmaker

Bush was the example of what a truly tough negoiator looked like facing down China at the UN. Even so, he was tested in ways that make his one term the stuff of modern legends–confronting more crises and major global issues that most Presidents face in two.

In the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Bush dispatched his top diplomat to build a coaltion that would be the 20th century gold standard for collective security, in line with the United Nations Charter:

The U.S. effort to put together an international coalition against Iraq in 1990 was stunning. Secretary of State James Baker met with every head of state or foreign minister whose country held a seat on the U.N. Security Council. That meant not just meeting with those countries that had permanent seats like the Soviet Union and China, but also those holding rotating seats such as Ivory Coast, Romania and even Cuba.

via PBS, James Goldgeiger, The Conversation

He also recognized the truth that realists should be expressing more loudly: “limited objectives in the Middle East” are essential to the maintance of U.S. power and national interests. (This reality is driven by the nature of colaitions, as well.) The U.S. may see itself as “indespensable” but it cannot manage a world in chaos without recognizing the strategic necessity to temper its foreign policy goals and contstrain any possible expansive tendencies.

3. Demonstrating How Tone Matters

His tone as a leader, deeply influeced by diplomatic norms and his personal life experiece, contrasts in a major way with the current Pennsylvania Avenue resident: measured, steady, and prudent. Not exciting terms or ones that would marshall voters in a primary–but essential ones for an effective statecraft in the time when the U.S. was seen as the unequivocal winner of the Cold War and the last superpower standing.

As Philip Seib of USC writes, Bush’s legacy

is not that he failed to win reelection, but that he succeeded in making the world safer and in reinforcing American world leadership. He acknowledged the responsibilities that accompanied this role: “We cannot retreat into isolation. We will only succeed in this interconnected world by continuing to lead.”

Oddly enough, part of President Bush’s diplomatic legacy may have morphed directy into the Democrats as embodied in Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as other luminaries such as HIllary Clinton, as Derek Chollet notes in FP.



A Farewell to Ambassador Nikki Haley


Will Ambassador Haley be missed? Writing in The Intercept, Mehdi Hasan says she was no moderate. Zak Cheney-Rice calls her the “GOP’s Doomed Flirtation with Racial Inclusiveness” and an olive branch to build support among non-white groups. And former UN ambassador  Bill Richardson believes Haley’s statement that she needed a break to be with family–but added “its probably the best job in the administration.”

At the same time, the NYT Editorial Board lays out a balanced case but overall says yes, she managed to hold her own with Rex Tillerson as well as Larry Kudlow, who apologized for his mistake.

While Mr. Trump’s America First policy is a harsh rejection of multilateralism, many United Nations diplomats valued Ms. Haley as a pragmatic envoy who could explain the president to a world confused by the chaos in Washington. She also developed a good relationship with António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, and helped avoid what could have been a breakdown between the United States and the United Nations.

She protected some of the American investment in the United Nations against the most drastic budget cuts sought by the White House, while also working to reform the United Nations bureaucracy, a longtime American bipartisan goal and also a priority for Mr. Guterres. She also managed the effort to pass tough new sanctions on North Korea.

via Opinion | Nikki Haley Will Be Missed – The New York Times

Called “one of the most visible fades of the Trump administration’s foreign policy” Haley lobbied, advocated, communicated, and raised her profile, without a doubt. Now she has resigned.

The French Ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre was quoted in the WSJ as noting her “exceptional political instincts and skills” in bureaucracy-busting moves where she “put the finger right away on the two key questions that nobody wanted to address.”

One part of her legacy may be her “authoritarian approach” playing hardball in working to reform the Human Rights Council. Colum Lynch explains how the US failed to make any progress in Geneva and alienated major NGO groups in an effort to block what many consider to be the groups major weakness in electing countries with poor track records.

Meanwhile, names are being floated as successors: Dina Powell, Richard Grenell, Jon Huntsman, Heather Nauert, Sen. Joe Lieberman but Robbie Gramer reports that her successor will have a hard time measuring up to her impact due to the power vacuum that has been filled by Sec State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Trumpian Diplomacy in the Middle East

Is the way forward one of truly preserving options? Not according to Dana Allin and Steven Simon, whose analysis of the punitive approach taken by the Trump Administration explains its errors.

In this way, Mr. Trump’s advisers are not checking but clarifying and amplifying the president’s radically misguided approach to diplomacy: that it is about sticks and rarely carrots, that every negotiation is zero sum and that trust is dangerously naïve. (Of course, the administration is not applying sticks to everyone — by stacking the deck in Israel’s favor, it is making sure that the Palestinians have no choice but to accept an outcome determined by Jerusalem.)

This theory of diplomacy-as-coercion is clear enough and probably has its appeal for people unversed in the intricacies of international peace negotiations. But problems will arise when the Palestinians do not react in the docile manner that administration officials somehow expect

Via “Coercion is not Diplomacy

Behavioral Economics Research Insights that Can Make Diplomacy Better

As Jason Zweig writes, self-deception is a barrier to good investing. We can learn a few things from his summary of 20 years of reading the research, including the following:

  • How conformation bias leads us to find supporting evidence, not contrary views
  • The tendency to not look historically or long-term
  • On hidden biases we all possess, as well as “status quo,” “blind spot,” and “anchoring”
  • Overconfidence in rating our own abilities and judgements.

One takeaway? We aren’t as rational as we think–and need to do more hard thinking to understand ourselves and those with whom we negotiate.

Via “That Cocky Voice in Your Head Is Wrong – WSJ