President Ronald Reagan once gave us a very appropriate maxim: “trust but verify.” These three simple words encompass the basic premise of foreign policy.
However, the ol’ folks down South had a saying that is also relevant and helpful: “never let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cover.” This saying somewhat parallels President Teddy Roosevelt’s: “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
And furthermore, you should never play out your cards before foreign leaders, kinda like questioning the “one China policy” then speaking to China’s President Xi Jinping telling him you are supportive of the “one China policy” — as President Trump just did.
In general, it’s best to not speak, just listen, and never commit…kinda like when the Germans asked the 101st Airborne to surrender at Bastogne, BG Anthony McAuliffe replied “Nuts” — a very perplexing response, but the subsequent actions by the emboldened “Screaming Eagles” of the 101st Airborne Division clarified the message.
And so it must be in the arena of foreign policy and relations, it’s best to play chess, not checkers. If there’s one thing I would counsel President Trump about, it’s to judge foreign leaders not by their words, but their actions.
As reported by the Washington Free Beacon, “President Donald Trump pledged to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call late Thursday that the U.S. would honor its “One China” policy that denies Taiwan sovereignty from Beijing.
The call reversed Trump’s earlier suggestion that his administration would upend four decades of U.S. diplomatic custom to recognize Taiwan independently from China. The White House released a statement Thursday evening describing the “lengthy” call between Trump and Xi as “extremely cordial.” “
The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our ‘one China’ policy,” the White House said, adding that Trump and Xi had invited each other to visit.
I would never have said anything to Xi about a “one China policy” as long as he has manmade military fortified islands in the South China Sea, in violation of international law.
If he and I had been on the phone and he inquired such of me, there would have been complete silence. The issue is, now Xi will never take anything from the mouth of President Trump as being serious — just empty rhetoric. President Trump can ill afford to repeat the mistakes of Barack Obama — remember the infamous “red line” in Syria and how he “strongly” told Vladimir Putin to “cut it out?”
In one phone call, Xi accomplished his goal, to delegitimize President Trump and make him appear unwilling to stand up to him…and sadly, in the Asian world, dishonorable. This reminds me of the saying from the ol’ folks down South.
Another concern is President Trump speaking of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We shared with you the rantings of Fatah and their threats to that proposition. If President Trump doesn’t follow through, Israel will feel undermined and the slick, suit-wearing Islamists along with their jihadist friends will be emboldened.
Foreign policy is about being savvy enough to not speak of things you won’t be able to back. It’s best to remain silent and not force yourself into a corner where inaction and lack of follow through undermines your credibility. Often it’s better to speak softly, but carry that big stick — the big stick of deterrence and willingness to take action.
Standby and see where this goes…you ask what I would have done? I would’ve said nothing about the embassy moving. However, if one day the sun rose in Jerusalem and the American flag was waving over the new embassy, oh well. Think of it this way…what if the Israeli embassy in the U.S. was located in, hmm, Baltimore, what would we think?
And when it comes to Vladimir Putin and his intentions, just remember, this guy was a KGB colonel. Putin stated that his greatest disappointment of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Putin it’s all about his actions, like the shipment of brand new missiles to Syria via the Russian port of Tartus. As well, per the Free Beacon, “The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Thursday that Russia and Iran are supporting the Taliban in part to undermine the U.S. and NATO mission to attain peace and stability in the nation.
Army Gen. John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iran is providing the Taliban in western Afghanistan with military and logistical support. Tehran also is recruiting Shiite fighters in Afghanistan to fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, raising concerns that these militants will return and destabilize the nation, Nicholson testified.
Nicholson said Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan has become “more difficult” over the past year, as Moscow has worked to “publicly legitimize” the Taliban. Russian officials argue the Taliban is fighting the Islamic State while the Afghan government has done nothing, inaction they say threatens greater turmoil in the country.
Nicholson said this is a “false narrative” intended to give the group credibility. A report published last month by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction noted the Afghan government lost control or influence of 15 percent of its territory from Nov. 2015 to Nov. 2016.
“Russia, Iran, and al Qaeda are playing significant roles in Afghanistan—this wasn’t the case a few years ago,” Nicholson testified. “I believe [these actions] are in part to undermine the United States and NATO, and prevent this strong partnership that we have with the Afghans in the region.” In December, Russia hosted a trilateral meeting in Moscow with the top foreign ministry officials from Pakistan and China to review the growing threat of ISIS in Afghanistan. The discussions drew ire from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who questioned Russia’s motives because it did not invite his government.”
First of all, let’s hope these Iranian-trained Shiite fighters don’t somehow plan on taking a vacation to the United States…thanks to the Ninth Circuit Court.
Foreign policy is about leverage, and we can ill afford to lose leverage with these dictators, despots, and autocrats who are pursuing their interests — to the demise of the United States, or our allies. This isn’t about tough talk, but rather it is about recognizing your adversary for who they are, not who they say they are.
It’s about seeing their moves before they make them and thwarting their advance, frustrating them, all the while keeping your silence. I love the motto of Marine Force Recon — “Swift, Silent, Deadly” — and that can be a guiding philosophy as we endeavor in the dangerous grounds of foreign policy.
The adversaries of the United States will not respect or regard us because of what we say…but rather what we are committed to doing, and subsequently do. We need not engage in a battle of words or rhetoric, nor do we need to broadcast our intentions and goals to a media unwilling to be supportive, unless yours is a progressive socialist policy of making America weaker. This is about the prescient vision to see the global stage, such as Ronald Reagan did, and convey, as he did, at the Brandenburg Gates in Berlin, what he intended to do.
When words are simple and few, such as BG McAuliffe’s, they carry a great weight, and power. When Reagan was asked how he defined victory in the Cold War, he simply said, “we win, they lose.” We now face a major global conflagration with multiple state and non-state adversaries: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamic jihadism. The successful commander is the one who speaks not just softly, but less, and rebuilds the capable stick, the big stick of deterrence, our U.S. military which is necessary to lend credibility to any diplomatic and foreign policy stance.