Politics

Who’s In Charge of U.S. Foreign Policy?

One of the biggest stories this summer was the way Trump belittled and attacked our allies at both the G7 and NATO meetings, while he was nothing but deferential during unilateral meetings with North Korean and Russian leaders. But we’re now learning that, behind the scenes, his national security staff was ignoring the president and attempting to mitigate the problems he was creating.

If you remember, as the president left the G7 meeting, he tweeted this from aboard Air Force One:

He was instructing his staff not to sign the communique that the G7 leaders had agreed to at the gathering. But Alberto Nardelli recently reported this:

Shortly after leaving the G7 Summit in Canada in June, President Donald Trump tweeted to say he had instructed U.S. officials not to endorse a statement he had agreed to just hours earlier with other world leaders. Trump was displeased with something Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during the summit’s closing press conference, which the president was following on TV from Air Force One …

Since Trump’s tweet, however, there has been no formal or official follow-up by the U.S. on the president’s demand, the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

“The White House and State Dept. are actively ignoring the tweets of the president,” one of the sources said. “It’s like there’s a reality TV president, in his own bubble, thinking he controls stuff. It’s like The Truman Show.”

Following that debacle, it seems that the president’s national security staff attempted to prevent a repeat performance at the NATO meeting.

Senior American national security officials, seeking to prevent President Trump from upending a formal policy agreement at last month’s NATO meeting, pushed the military alliance’s ambassadors to complete it before the forum even began…

Jamie Shea, a NATO deputy assistant secretary general, called the declaration “the most substantive” agreement that the alliance had put out in years. But its success, according to the American and European officials, lies in the feverish work before the summit meeting to keep it away from Mr. Trump.

While it’s true these kinds of machinations provide us with some small measure of comfort—at least National Security Advisor John Bolton, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recognize that it’s important to not completely blow up this country’s relationships with our allies—it sets a disturbing precedent for national security staff to ignore or maneuver around the commander-in-chief. Steve Benen reminds us that this is actually a pattern in this White House.

In April, for example, the president announced via Twitter that Russia should “get ready” because he was poised to launch a military offensive in Syria. White House officials found Trump’s declaration “distracting,” and proceeded “as if nothing had happened.”

A couple of months earlier, Trump asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to provide him with military options for Iran. The Pentagon chief reportedly “refused.”

Making matters slightly worse, last summer, the president published missives barring transgender Americans from military service. Soon after, the Joint Chiefs effectively ignored it, leaving the status quo in place.

This dilemma is often characterized as a lose/lose proposition: Either the president’s staff follow his directives and risk national security, or they ignore him and break the chain of command. But our Constitution actually outlines the remedies that are available. Cabinet members and/or Congress are empowered to take up the issue of a president that is unfit for office and poses a threat to national security. That is to be resolved either through impeachment or invocation of the 25th Amendment.

When national security staff like Bolton, Mattis, and Pompeo break the chain of command rather than seek to rectify the current situation, they are acknowledging that the president is unfit to lead and are acting unconstitutionally.




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