The Pentagon announced Friday that it will provide an additional $200 million in security cooperation aid to Ukraine. The funds will be used “for additional training, equipment and advisory efforts to build the defensive capacity of Ukraine’s forces.” This move comes as Ukraine continues to face a Russian-backed insurgency in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine and is waging a diplomatic fight to convince the world to convince Russia to withdraw from Crimea, which it annexed after a 2014 invasion.
The U.S. only began providing lethal military aid to Ukraine this year, despite the fact that Congress first authorized it in November, 2015 when it passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. But the president’s words too often overshadow very real actions like this.
The salesman who isn’t selling his policies
Elmer Wheeler was called “America’s Greatest Salesman.” The Depression’s Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar, Wheeler coined the well-known phrase “Don’t sell the steak—sell the sizzle.” (the first of his five “Wheelerpoints” for increasing sales). President Donald Trump is clearly a Wheeler disciple, and it’s working, but not the way he would hope.
Trump is a master showman, and as such has mastered the art of gaining and holding someone’s attention. In the case of his presidency, as I’ve argued before, that attention is giving the wrong impression. Trump’s ability to focus the spotlight on himself rather than his policies is leading many otherwise educated, intelligent observers to reach the wrong policy conclusions.
After last week’s disaster of a press conference in Helsinki, Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus wrote that any patriotic national security experts working for the Trump administration should quit. “Of course,” she wrote, “as a general matter, it is better to have more grown-ups around Trump, mitigating his worst impulses, providing wisdom born of experience to counter his ignorance and petulance.” So far so good. But then she took a stroll into an alternate reality.
“But that assessment assumes facts not in evidence: that Trump is educable or containable. Actually, it contravenes the available evidence. There is none that Trump has done anything but what Trump wants to do,” she concluded. She wasn’t alone. House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who is retiring from Congress at the end of this term, said the same thing on “Fox News Sunday.”
Regular readers of Daily Intel, however, will realize that those facts are indeed in evidence. From the National Security and National Defense Strategies to U.S.policy towards lethal military aid to Ukraine, the history of the first talk of the Trump administration has been one of the president saying one thing, while his appointees do another.
“No” to referendum
The announcement of additional aid to Ukraine was not the only example of the staff seeming to contradict the president’s public remarks this week.
Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Ambassador in Washington, suggested that one of the things Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to in their private session was to hold a referendum in Eastern Ukraine, similar to the widely dismissed one held in Crimea, on the political fate of the region. Such a referendum would be an abandonment of nearly every security assurance the U.S. has given to Ukraine since its independence in 1991.
But given Trump’s unpredictability, and his businessman’s instinct not to dismiss any proposal out-of-hand, the idea that he might have agreed to something like this seemed as likely as did the notion that the Russians were simply making it up, since it’s Trump’s word against Putin.
But even had the president agreed to the Russian proposal, or even simply not rejected it outright, the idea didn’t last long. By Friday afternoon, the idea was officially dead, when the Associated Press reported that National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said that not only did the Ukraine-Russian agreements on resolving the issue not include any mention of a referendum, but any such vote would have “no legitimacy.”
So both Marcus and Gowdy should take a deep breath and realize that there are indeed cooler heads in power. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser John Bolton (and their hand-picked inner circle of staffers), for all their faults, are a bulwark against Trump’s impulses. It’s worked so far, and it will continue to work. I for one feel better with them on the inside.