America is in retreat while the Trump band plays
As President Trump ends his Asia trip, he might sum up the 12day journey with a revision of the remark attributed to Julius Caesar: Veni, vidi, blandivi. I came, I saw, I flattered.
Trump’s trip was closer to a pilgrimage than a projection of power. The president rarely explained details of U.S. policy. Instead, he mostly asked other leaders for help, lauded their virtues, and embraced their worldviews.
Along the adulation tour, Trump spoke of his “really extraordinary” relationship with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; his “incredibly warm” feeling for Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he called “a very special man”; his “great relationship” with the “very successful” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte; and his empathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose nation is “an asset to our country, not a liability.”
And the president praised himself at nearly every stop, telling reporters on the way home that the trip had been “tremendously successful” with “incredible” achievements.
Trump’s trip may indeed prove to be historic, but probably not in the way he intends. It may signal a U.S. accommodation to rising Chinese power, plus a desire to mend fences with a belligerent Russia — with few evident security gains for America.
Trump voiced a clear desire for accommodation with an aggressive Russia, too. Much was made of his regurgitation of Putin’s denial that he had conducted a covert action against America during last year’s presidential campaign. “President Putin really feels — and he feels strongly — that he did not meddle in our election.”
But far more important than Trump’s credulous response to Putin was his eagerness for Moscow’s help in bolstering America’s global position. Trump has noisily drawn a red line on North Korea, for example, but he evidently needs Russia’s help, in addition to China’s, to deliver without going to war. To get Moscow’s help on North Korea, and Syria, too, Trump seems willing to give Putin a pass.
Here’s how Trump put it during a press conference in Hanoi, which may have been the most important statement of the trip: “People don’t realize Russia has been very, very heavily sanctioned,” Trump said. “It’s now time to get back to healing a world that is shattered and broken . ... And I feel that having Russia in a friendly posture, as opposed to always fighting with them, is an asset to the world.”
A blistering summary of the administration’s overdue obligation to make strategic decisions to deter Russia and China, as opposed to glad-handing them, came in a little-noted Oct. 27 letter from Sen. John McCain, RAriz., to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Stricken with cancer, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee holds nothing back these days.
“We now confront the most complex security environment in 70 years,” McCain wrote. “Misplaced priorities and acquisition failures have left us without critical defense capabilities to counter increasingly advanced near-peer competitors . ... We no longer enjoy the wide margins of power we