Posted tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

Trump Has a Foreign Policy Strategy

April 21, 2017

Trump Has a Foreign Policy Strategy, National InterestJames Jay Carafano, April 20, 2017

Trump is an arch nationalist in the positive sense of the term. America will never be safe in the world if the world doesn’t have an America that is free, safe and prosperous.

That belief is at the heart of Trump’s policies designed to spark an economic revival, rollback the administrative state and rebuild the military. It lies at the core of his mantra: make America great again.

Even the strongest America, however, can’t be a global power without the willingness to act globally. And that’s where Trump’s declaration of “America First” comes in.

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For two weeks, the White House has unleashed a foreign-policy blitzkrieg, and Washington’s chattering classes are shocked and, if not awed, at least perplexed.

CNN calls Trump’s actions a “u-turn.” Bloomberg opts for the more mathematical “180 degree turn,” while the Washington Post goes with “flipflop.” Meanwhile, pundits switched from decrying the president as an isolationist to lambasting him as a tool of the neocons. Amid all the relabeling, explanations of an “emerging Trump Doctrine” have proliferated faster than North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Here’s my take on what’s going on:

• Yes, there is a method to Trump’s “madness.”

• No, there has been no big change in Trump’s strategy.

The actions that flustered those who thought they had pigeon-holed Donald Trump simply reflect the impulses that have driven the direction of this presidency since before the convention in Cleveland.

At the Center of the Storm

Where is the head and heart of the president’s national-security team? Ask that question a year ago, and the answer would have been simple: General Mike Flynn, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Senator Jeff Sessions.

Today, Flynn is gone. Giuliani never went in. Sessions is still a crucial voice in the administration, but his duties as Attorney General deal only partially with foreign policy and national-security matters.

The new team centers round Jim Mattis at the Defense Department, Rex Tillerson at the State Department, John Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security and H. R. McMaster in the West Wing—ably assisted by Nikki Haley at the United Nations. Trump barely knew these people before the election.

There is little question that the new team’s character and competence affected the White House response to the recent string of high profile events and activities—from presidential meetings with Egypt and China and Tillerson’s tête-à-tête with Putin, to the ominous developments in Syria and North Korea. Though on the job for only about dozen weeks, the new administration handled a lot of action on multiple fronts quite deftly. Much of that can be credited to the maturity and experience of Trump’s senior national-security team.

But how the administration responded was purely Trumpian—reflecting an impulse that transcends the makeup of his foreign team or other White House advisors.

Decoding Trumpian Strategy

Since the early days of the campaign, one thing has been clear: trying stitch together an understanding of Trump’s foreign and defense policy based on Trump’s tweets and other off-hand comments is a fool’s errand. That has not changed since the Donald took over the Oval Office.

That is not to say that none of Trump’s rhetoric matters. He has given some serious speeches and commentary. But pundits err when they give every presidential utterance equal merit. A joint address to Congress ought to carry a lot more weight than a 3 a.m. tweet about the Terminator.

But especially with this presidency, one needs to focus on White House actions rather than words to gain a clearer understanding of where security and foreign policy is headed. Do that, and one sees emerging a foreign and defense policy more conventional and more consistent than what we got from Bush or Obama. Still, a deeper dive is necessary to get at the root of Trump’s take on the world and how it fits with recent actions like the tomahawk strikes in Syria and the armada steaming toward North Korea.

I briefed Candidate Trump and his policy advisors during the campaign. I organized workshops for the ambassadorial corps during the Cleveland Convention and worked with the presidential team through the inauguration. Those experiences let me observe how the policies from the future fledgling administration were unfolding. Here are some observations that might be helpful in understanding the Trumpian way.

At the core of Trump’s view of the world are his views on the global liberal order. Trump is no isolationist. He recognizes that America is a global power with global interests and that it can’t promote and protect those interests by sitting at home on its hands. Freedom of the commons, engaging and cooperating with like-minded nations, working to blunt problems “over there” before they get over here—these are things every modern president has pursued. Trump is no different.

What distinguishes Trump—and what marks a particularly sharp departure from Obama—is his perception of what enabled post–World War America and the rest of the free world to rise above the chaos of a half century of global depression and open war.

Obama and his ilk chalked it all up to international infrastructure—the UN, IMF, World Bank, EU, et al. For Trump, it was the sovereign states rather than the global bureaucracies that made things better. The international superstructure has to stand on a firm foundation—and the foundation is the sovereign state. Without strong, vibrant, free and wealthy states, the whole thing collapses like a Ponzi scheme.

Trump is an arch nationalist in the positive sense of the term. America will never be safe in the world if the world doesn’t have an America that is free, safe and prosperous.

That belief is at the heart of Trump’s policies designed to spark an economic revival, rollback the administrative state and rebuild the military. It lies at the core of his mantra: make America great again.

Even the strongest America, however, can’t be a global power without the willingness to act globally. And that’s where Trump’s declaration of “America First” comes in.

What it means for foreign policy is that the president will put the vital interests of the United States above the maintenance of global institutions. That is not an abandonment of universal values. Every American president deals with the challenge of protecting interests and promoting values. Trump will focus on American interests and American values, and that poses no threat to friends and allies. In many cases, we share the same values. In many cases, what’s in America’s vital interest is also in their interest—and best achieved through joint partnership.

Here is how those animating ideas are currently manifesting themselves in Trump’s strategy:

A strategy includes ends (what you are trying to accomplish), means (the capabilities you will use to do that) and ways (how you are going to do it). The ends of Trump’s strategy are pretty clear. In both talk and action in the Trump world, it boils down to three parts of the world: Europe, Asia and the Middle East. That makes sense. Peace and stability in these regions are vital to U.S. interests and are under assault. The United States wants all three parts of the world to settle. It is unrealistic to think all the problems can be made to disappear, but it is not unrealistic to significantly reduce the potential for region-wide conflict.

The means are more than just a strong military. Trump believes in using all the instruments of power, hard and soft. He has unleashed Nikki Haley on the United Nations. He has ordered Rex Tillerson to revamp the State Department so that it is focused on the core tasks of statecraft and the effective and appropriate use of foreign assistance. He wants an intelligence community that delivers intelligence and doesn’t just cater to what the White House wants to hear. And he has ordered Homeland Security to shift from being politically correct to operationally effective. Further, it’s clear that Tillerson, Kelly, Mattis and Sessions are all trying to pull in the same direction.

The ways of the Trump strategy are not the engagement and enlargement of Clinton, the rearranging of the world by Bush, or the disengagement of Obama. The world is filled with intractable problems. Trump is less interested in trying to solve all of them in a New-York minute and more concerned about reducing those problems so that they give the United States and its friends and allies less and less trouble.

Trump is traveling a path between running away and invading. It might be called persistent presence. The United States plans to engage and use its influence in key parts of the world consistently over time to protect our interests. Done consistently, it will not only protect our interests; it will also expand the global safe space by causing bad influences to fade.

Recent activities in the Middle East are a good example. The bomb strike on Syria was not a prelude to regime change or nation-building in Syria. It was a warning shot to Assad to cut it out and stop interfering in U.S. efforts to finish off ISIS, stabilize refugee populations and keep Iraq from falling apart. Engagement with Egypt was to signal America is back working with partners to stabilize the region and counter the twin threats of Islamist extremism and Iran. Neither is a kick-ass-and-withdraw operation. These are signs of long, serious engagement, shrinking the space in which bad actors can operate.

The U.S. regional strategies for Europe and Asia are the same, and it seems clear that Chinese and Russian leaders have gotten the message. In the wake of recent meetings, both countries have reacted by treating Trump with the seriousness he has demanded. Others get it too. I’ve talked to many foreign officials who have come through Washington, DC this year and they have all told me that they got the same impression: this administration is about resolve and persistence. Still, no strategy is without risks and pitfalls. This one is no different. Here is how Trump might screw up or be upended by a smarter or luckier enemy:

Pop goes political will. A strategy of persistent presence can work only if the United States persists. It took past presidents over a decade to screw things up. It is going to take at least eight years of reassuring friends and wearing down adversaries to fix it. Trump will have to get reelected.

Strength for the fight. Trump has to deliver guns and butter: a rebounding economy at home and a strong face abroad. That means a combination of growth and fiscally responsible federal spending—a challenge that eluded the last two presidents.

Mission creep. Presence can lapse into ambition, which can become overreach, or certainly taking on more than make sense to handle. There might always be temptation to deal with a North Korea, Syria or Iran once for all.

Blindsided. There are other parts of the world. An administration can’t be indifferent to effective engagement in Latin America and Africa.

Distractions. Persistence is boring. There is always the temptation to follow the bright foreign-policy object.

Enemy gets a vote. The United States has to be strong in three theaters at the same time, so there will always be a temptation for its competitors to coordinate efforts or seize opportunities to give the United States multiple problems to solve, straining its capability to persist in each theater.

Black Swans. Competitors might get tired of the long war and risk throwing in a game changer. For example, rolling the dice on an Electromagnetic Pulse attack. Effective persistence requires a measure of paranoia. Competitors are never inanimate entities to be pushed around. They have agency, and they are always looking for a way to make a bad day for the other guy.

It remains to be seen if Trump can become a strategic leader capable of steering America past all these obstacles, but certainly he sees the path forward much more clearly than his domestic opponents are willing to recognize or acknowledge.

Dr. Sebastian Gorka: Trump Is Not An Interventionist Commander In Chief

April 16, 2017

Dr. Sebastian Gorka: Trump Is Not An Interventionist Commander In Chief, Fox News via YouTube, April 16, 2017

 

FULL MEASURE: March 19, 2017 – No Return

March 20, 2017

FULL MEASURE: March 19, 2017 – No Return via YouTube, March 20, 2017

(Thirty countries, to the citizens of which America issues visas, refuse to accept the repatriation of their citizens guilty of substantial criminal activity in America. The video suggests solutions. — DM)

 

Leon Panetta enters the ‘No Spin Zone’

March 17, 2017

Leon Panetta enters the ‘No Spin Zone’, Fox News via YouTube, March 16, 2017

As the blurb beneath the video states,

Former CIA Director discusses U.S. troops in combat and American surveillance controversies on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’

Congress Demands Investigation Into Obama Admin Meddling in Foreign Elections

March 14, 2017

Congress Demands Investigation Into Obama Admin Meddling in Foreign Elections, Washington Free Beacon, March 14, 2017

Former President Barack Obama / Getty Images

The latest disclosures of this activity mirror efforts by the Obama administration to send taxpayer funds to Israeli organizations that opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s last election.

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A group of leading senators is calling on newly installed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to immediately launch an investigation into efforts by the Obama administration to sway foreign elections by sending taxpayer funds to “extreme and sometimes violent political activists” that promote leftist causes, according to a copy of the letter.

The lawmakers disclosed multiple conversations with foreign diplomats who outlined active political meddling by the Obama administration’s State Department, including the use of taxpayer funds to support leftist causes in Macedonia, Albania, Latin America, and Africa.

A portion of this State Department funding appears to have gone to organizations supported by the controversial liberal billionaire George Soros, according to the letter, which was authored by Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Ted Cruz (Texas), David Perdue (Ga.), and Bill Cassidy (La.).

The senators are asking Tillerson to launch a full-scale investigation into these funding efforts in order to determine how exactly the Obama administration sought to promote left-leaning causes and political parties across the globe.

The latest disclosures of this activity mirror efforts by the Obama administration to send taxpayer funds to Israeli organizations that opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s last election.

Political leaders from a range of nations spent months informing the lawmakers about these activities.

“Over the past few months, elected officials and political leaders of foreign nations have been coming to me with disappointing news and reports of U.S. activity in their respective countries,” Lee said in a statement. “This includes reports of diplomats playing political favorites, USAID funds supporting extreme and sometimes violent political activists, and the U.S. government working to marginalize the moderates and conservatives in leadership roles.”

“This sort of political favoritism from our missions around the world is unacceptable and endangers our bilateral relationships,” he said.

The senators are seeking an investigation that would review “all funds associated with promoting democracy and governance and review the programs, accounts, and multiplicity of U.S. entities involved in such activities.”

Such an investigation could shed light on the distribution of taxpayer funds to organizations and causes meant to instigate left-leaning political change abroad.

The letter insists that Tillerson should “review how all our tax dollars are being utilized in order to halt activities that are fomenting political unrest, disrespecting national sovereignty and civil society, and ultimately undermine our attempts to build beneficial international relationships.”

The lawmakers outline specific evidence of political meddling.

“We have received credible reports that, over the past few years, the U.S. Mission there has actively intervened in the party politics of Macedonia, as well as in the shaping of its media environment and civil society, often favoring left-leaning political groups over others,” they wrote.

This activity was pushed by USAID and groups associated with Soros’ Open Society Foundations, according to the lawmakers.

The organizations are said to have pushed a “progressive agenda” meant to “invigorate the political left” using taxpayer funds, according the letter.

“Respected leaders from Albania have made similar claims of U.S. diplomats and Soros-backed organizations pushing for certain political outcomes in their country,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Time and again, foreign leaders visiting Washington have expressed concerns to us about how American taxpayer funds are being used counterproductively in their respective countries,” the lawmakers disclosed, referring to efforts undertaken in Latin America and Africa.

This type of interference in foreign countries must stop immediately, the lawmakers said.

The Hysteria Over Russia Is Causing Serious Foreign Policy Problems

March 8, 2017

The Hysteria Over Russia Is Causing Serious Foreign Policy Problems, The Federalist, March 8, 2017

The fifth season of “The Americans,” the FX series about two Soviet spies posing as an American couple living near Washington DC in the 1980s, began airing this week. The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus tweeted:

So excited to be watching The Americans, throwback to a simpler time when everyone considered Russia the enemy. Even the president.

It’s a funny line, but when it comes to U.S.-Russia relations, the 1980s weren’t really a simpler time, and returning to the costly threats and risks of the height of the Cold War are almost certainly not in the interests of the United States.

Yet that’s precisely what the current conspiracy theories swirling around the media-political complex could lead to. At the Center for National Interest on Tuesday, a panel of national security and Russia analysts sounded the alarm about the domestic political situation in the United States leading to a rapid deterioration of the already fragile relationship with Russia. They said the damage caused by hysteria surrounding Russia could harm potential U.S. interests in Syria, Ukraine, arms agreements, and the economy.

“There are consequences if we don’t get the relationship right,” said Paul Saunders, the executive director of CTNI. “Anyone who thinks we’re in a hostile relationship now, I would suggest there are a number of things that could be worse than they are now.”

Russian Hacking Leads to Russia Hysteria

The latest problems with Russia stem from U.S. intelligence agencies’ report, widely accepted by those who have seen the classified intelligence undergirding it, that state-involved hackers successfully spearfished John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, and obtained documents from the Democratic National Committee. The information they gleaned was released publicly via WikiLeaks. The information was deemed “boring,” “honest and boring,” and “a damp squib” by many in the media before the election. After the surprise victory of Trump, the release of information was deemed a national security threat of the highest order.

Various media and political interests (on both sides of the aisle) are pushing for more than the current investigations against Russia. Further, despite no evidence or allegations from named sources to substantiate claims of wrongdoing, various media outlets have been suggesting illegal ties of President Trump’s foreign policy with Russia. This after months of asserting that Russia “hacked” not just Democratic political operatives but the very election itself.

A general air of hysteria has enveloped Washington’s political and media class. CNN.com’s front page on Sunday and Monday featured a large red-washed image of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. In front of St. Basil’s were a photoshopped Mike Flynn, Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Vladimir Putin, and Ambassador Kislyak. Subtle!

The large type at the top of the page read “Russia mystery threatens to consume DC.” Other top headlines included:

  • White House can’t seem to shake off the Russian drama
  • Trump and Russia: What fallout could be
  • Trump’s hidden taxes fuel Russia rumors
  • President’s own actions reignite a Russian obsession
  • What the massive fallout could be politically and legally
  • CNN/ORC poll: Most back special prosecutor to investigate Russia
  • Russian glee over Trump’s election gives way to frustration
  • Is Trump’s new conspiracy theory a tactic to divert attention from Russia?

Media outlets are now writing up stories about Americans having ever met with Russians. One media outlet reported that while one Russian businessman and Donald Trump didn’t meet in October, their planes did. Yes, their planes did.

When then-Sen. Jeff Sessions was asked, in his confirmation hearing to be attorney general, about investigating claims of Russian attempts to compromise the Trump campaign, he noted that he was considered a Trump surrogate and he hadn’t had such meetings. When it turned out that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in his capacity as a U.S. senator on the Armed Forces Committee, media outlets and Democratic politicians pounced, calling Kislyak a spy and demanding Sessions resign. Really.

We are in the midst of a full-blown Red Scare conspiracy theory. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the real problems caused by Russian hacking and releasing of real emails — sent by Democrats and media figures to each other — are being exacerbated for political reasons. But the consequences are not minor.

The Kislyak Slur

At the Center for the National Interest event, analysts and experts who worked for both Democrats and Republicans, and at think tanks and strategic analysis firms across the spectrum, were upset at the treatment Kislyak has been subjected to.

In a front-page story at CNN.com last week, reporters Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Eli Watkins alleged that Kislyak, who has been the ambassador to the United States since 2008, is “one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington.” The reporters sourced the claim to anonymous “current and former senior US government officials.”

The claim and presentation of Kislyak was at odds with the view of those who knew him and worked with him. CTNI’s president Dimitri Simes discussed the need for a full investigation of Russian meddling as well as the problems with a leak campaign that is undermining diplomacy itself. But he strongly objected to the smears of any and all diplomatic engagement with the Russian ambassador.

“Is this an indication that the U.S. will not be capable of conducting any meaningful diplomacy?” he asked regarding the attacks on Kislyak. “Any attempt to have a meaningful conversation with nuances, if leaked to the press next morning and leaked in a very selective way, it’s very difficult to conduct meaningful diplomacy.” He warned that further demonization of Kislyak could have significant fallout for U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft. Russia could decide to shut down the access Tefft has if the media and political opponents of Trump succeed in making diplomacy with the Russian ambassador impossible.

“The job of diplomats is to facilitate as many meetings as possible with a wide spectrum of the host country’s domestic political establishment on a wide range of issues,” wrote Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, in his essay “Damage Done: How Russia Hysteria Has Hurt U.S.-Russia Relations.” In fact, while the media frets about Trump officials talking to foreign officials, the bigger problem is not enough such meetings during the transition from the Obama presidency to the early days of the Trump presidency. Foreign ministers and bureaucrats in other countries have been complaining about not knowing who their new contacts are or will be, leading to confusion and delays in productive discussions.”

Michael Haltzel, a senior fellow at at the Center for Transatlantic Relations of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies and a former aide to Sen. Joe Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, harshly criticized Sessions for his handling of the question about contacts with Russia, but he agreed that attacks on Kislyak were unfortunate.

Wayne Merry, a veteran of the Foreign Service who was stationed in Moscow in 1993, said “
I have known Sergei Kislyak, I totally agree that what he has been exposed to is demonization. It’s total garbage. He’s a first-class professional. He’s being treated very shabbily.”

Even John Beyrle and the excitable Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassadors to Russia during Obama’s time in office, have warned that “America’s long-term interests are not served by attempting to suggest that contacts between American officials and Russian diplomats constitutes a treasonous or criminal act.”

I should mention that I also pushed back on the claim in a CNN appearance here. In any case, far from what the anonymous sources allegedly told CNN, Kislyak is widely regarded by those who have dealt with him as a top-notch diplomat who serves his country’s interests well. His post in Washington is expected to be his last, and his treatment in his remaining time here is considered an insult by both Americans and Russians. His rumored successor Anatoly Antonov will be “a force to be reckoned with,” as Matthew Rojansky, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, has put it. Rojansky has also defended Kislyak in the media, and says he has “no indication” that Kislyak is a spy.

To What Effect?

Just as the treatment of Kislyak could result in the U.S. ambassador to Russia’s diminished standing and ability to accomplish his goals in Moscow, the general hysteria surrounding Russia might harm the United State’s serious foreign policy goals.

Syria/ISIS

While part of problem with the U.S.’ Syria policy during the previous administration was an inability to articulate U.S. interest in the region, there is some consensus about destroying ISIS and enabling refugees from the Syrian conflict to return home. Both the United States and Europe have an interest in the successful return of refugees. If the United States therefore wants a say in Syria, it will have to work with Russians to facilitate those objectives. Russia has a strong military presence, has brokered some management in the region, and has a willingness to work with partners. That means the country has to keep lines of communication and room for negotiation open. It also needs to clarify its position on Iran, since Russia views Iran as a key partner.

“If Russia and the U.S. can habituate themselves to cooperation in Syria, that can rebuild habits of cooperation that can spill over into other areas where you could see beneficial results occur,” said Gvosdev. But, he added, “that window is not going to stay open on this forever.” If the United States doesn’t make meaningful moves soon, there may not be many more opportunities before Russia, Turkey, and Iran move forward without the United States.

Ukraine

Russian aggression in Ukraine has unsettled the region for several years, both in the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbass region. The United States and Europe imposed sanctions on Russia and Russians, but there is no resolution in sight. Russia is willing to keep fighting and has not buckled under the sanctions. Ukraine’s economy is suffering from lack of access to Russian markets. If the United States isn’t interested in brokering a peace, is it willing to arm Ukrainian forces and subsidize the country’s faltering economy? Is there an appetite on either the Left or Right for such intervention?

Not Going To War

The 1980s were fun, as Ruth Marcus noted above, but threat of nuclear annihilation was not so fun. Russia is not a superpower on par with the United States, but it is the only country that can take out the United States in short order. The United States needs to broker arms deals as well as encourage Russia not to get too cozy with China, forming alliances that could put U.S. interests at risk.

Economic Growth

Trade is one of the best ways to improve political relationships bilaterally. But not only is trade becoming quite difficult between Russia and the United States, on account of the sanctions, it was never a particularly deep relationship. Now there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding sanctions and how they will or won’t be enforced, a climate not conducive to business investment. Many people have argued that the “U.S. and Russia need to work on that to provide ballast and strengthen links in that relationship, creating incentives for a relationship that’s more of a practical relationship and less of a highly variable political relationship,” said Saunders, adding that the political climate is not very good for movement in that direction.

The bottom line is that the United States is embroiled in a hysterical reaction to Russian meddling in the Democratic Party that could spill over into far more serious consequences for the United States. Unless politicians and the media want the United States to have little to no leverage against ISIS or on behalf of Syrian refugees, want the United States to provide significant military and economic subsidies for Ukraine to fight Russia, are willing to risk war or proxy war with a nuclear power, and want to avoid peaceful means of improved relationships, they should think about whether pushing conspiracy theories for short-term domestic political gain is such a great idea.

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner

March 7, 2017

Report: Trump putting potential diplomatic deal with Russia on the back burner, Hot Air, Allahpundit, March 7, 2017

Needless to say, here’s another motive for why anti-Trumpers inside the federal bureaucracy may be leaking at politically inconvenient times for Trump. Reminding the public that some of his aides are under suspicion because of their contacts with Russia is a clever way to force Trump to postpone any planned diplomatic outreach to Russia at moments when he feels his political capital cresting. Trump might eventually be in a position to swing a deal with Moscow, but so long as Russia hawks within the administration are dribbling out material from the investigation that puts a cloud over the White House, it’ll look suspicious for him to make nice with Putin.

And so, inevitably, Trump is reportedly backing away from any “grand bargain” for now.

President Donald Trump is telling advisers and allies that he may shelve, at least temporarily, his plan to pursue a deal with Moscow on the Islamic State group and other national security matters, according to administration officials and Western diplomats…

Trump’s new skepticism about brokering a deal with Moscow also suggests the rising influence of a new set of advisers who have taken a tougher stance on Russia, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. During his first meeting with National Security Council staff, McMaster described Russia — as well as China — as a country that wants to upend the current world order, according to an administration official who attended the meeting…

European allies also have been pushing the Trump administration not to make any early concessions to Russia. To bolster their case, European officials have tailored their rhetoric to appeal to Trump’s business background, including emphasizing the risks of negotiating a bad deal, rather than more nuanced arguments, according to one Western diplomat. Given Trump’s “America First” mantra, foreign officials emphasize how U.S. standing in the world could be diminished by making concessions to Russia instead of focusing on the importance of the U.S. and Europe sticking together to counter Moscow.

The most interesting detail in the AP story: In talks with his staff, Trump supposedly singled out Russia’s violation of the 1987 INF Treaty as making a deal “tougher and tougher to achieve,” a message that’s been relayed to U.S. allies in Europe too. I wrote about that here. It’s genuinely confounding. If Russia wants a compliant Washington, why would it choose to violate the treaty by deploying intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe when it surely knows that Trump hates being seen as “weak” and won’t look the other way? Putin seemed to understand how to deal with him late last year when he refused to retaliate against the sanctions imposed on Russia by Obama for trying to interfere in the presidential campaign. That was Moscow signaling to the world that it expected those sanctions to be lifted by the new administration unilaterally. (Which was a damning sign of how conciliatory they expected Trump to be, but whatever.) Putin could have responded in kind but instead chose to preserve the status quo on its end as a goodwill gesture to Trump. And Trump appreciated it.

They didn’t preserve the status quo in deploying their missiles, though, a much more provocative way of challenging Trump than reciprocal sanctions would have been. You can cook up a scenario in which Putin violated the treaty in the expectation that he’d use the missiles as a bargaining chip during negotiations to come with the White House. E.g., maybe he thought Trump might bite on a deal that would trade decommissioning the missiles for the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia, including the 2014 measures imposed to punish them over Ukraine. The problem with that theory, though, is that once the missiles are in the field, as they are now, then Trump has already lost face, and regaining it requires a show of strength. The White House may well end up demanding that the missiles be withdrawn as a precondition of negotiations rather than as something to be haggled over during the process. The smart play, it seems, would have been for Putin to roll out the missiles last fall, to defy Obama, and then withdraw them voluntarily after Trump took office as a goodwill gesture, to invite further negotiations. The better behaved Putin seems during Trump’s early presidency, the more Americans might be willing to let Trump negotiate with him to see what else he can get from Russia. Instead, Russia has engaged in various petty provocations, culminating in the more serious escalation of violating the INF Treaty. Why? If it’s true that they were hoping Trump would win the election, how does it make sense to box him in politically so that he can’t make concessions to Moscow without looking horribly weak and corrupt even if he wanted to?

If you want to go full cloak-and-dagger, you could theorize that the missiles were deployed because Russia wants to give Trump a chance to stand up to them. Putin may have concluded that the Kremlin’s interference in the election worked too well insofar as many Americans now suspect that Russia has influence over the president. That makes negotiations hard, even if preceded by unilateral concessions by Moscow. The only way to really create political space for diplomacy under this theory is to manufacture a minor diplomatic confrontation like the INF violation, have Trump demand that the missiles be withdrawn, and then comply in the hope that it’ll convince Americans Trump is being “tough” on Moscow and driving a hard bargain. Once Trump has earned the trust of his own doubters here at home, he’ll be free to make a sweetheart deal with Putin. That theory’s hard to buy, though: Putin needs to look tough to Russians even more so than Trump needs to look tough to Americans, and toughness typically doesn’t involve backing down in a (manufactured) confrontation. Plus, given the shift in Russian media lately, it seems as though the Kremlin is sincerely warier of Trump lately than it used to be. If they’ve already decided that Trump will be more of an enemy than a friend, it’ll be the quickest reassessment by a foreign power in modern history.

If you want a glimpse of what Europe’s future might look like if Trump doesn’t get Putin to withdraw those missiles, go read this. Exit question: If you subscribe to the theory that Russia was/is all-in for Trump as president, how do you explain the fact that Trump now feels unable, however temporarily, to approach Moscow for a deal? Did the Russian interference succeed so well that it’s made cooperation impossible? On what planet does that constitute “success”?