“This administration … is not understanding that diplomacy is national security.”
“Folks who come in with strong ideologies often run into the brick wall of reality.”
“This administration has turned our traditional openness into weakness.”
Those are just three of the observations of President Trump’s foreign policy made by Antony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, in the latest episode of “Cape Up.”
Blinken talked about the relative invisibility of Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and the reasons for the seeming chaos swirling around him at Foggy Bottom. “In fairness to Secretary Tillerson, I think one of the problems up till now has been that it’s not been clear what the policy is on any given issue,” Blinken told me. “Initially, I think that’s because the National Security Council was dysfunctional under General Flynn.”
Speaking of Michael Flynn, we talk all about the curious confluence of events surrounding Flynn, the former national security adviser. The late revelation of his work as a foreign agent for Turkey casts a whole new light on his rejection of the Obama plan for the liberation of Raqqa in the early days of the Trump administration.
Blinken expressed optimism about the NSC under the leadership of Flynn’s successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. “My hope now,” he said, “is that with General McMaster, the new national security adviser, that regular order starts to become the norm.” What’s emerged in the absence of that stabilizing norm are competing (and problematic) spheres of influence.
Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, has something called the Strategic Initiatives Group that is trying to develop foreign policy around the National Security Council. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has been taking all of these meetings, almost acting as a de facto secretary of state. That’s not regular order. That’s not how you should be doing business. If it gets back to regular order, then I hope Secretary Tillerson can assert himself.
An ambassador told me recently, “America has lost the one weapon it has, the power to inspire. It breaks my heart.” When I asked Blinken for his reaction to this, he called it “a profound statement and one that we really need to reckon with.” He added, “It’s the ability to inspire, not to coerce people to work in the same direction, but to inspire them to do so through our values, through the way we go about doing things. And if we lose that, we’re really tying one hand, if not more, behind our backs everywhere we go around the world.”
America’s ability to inspire, to be a beacon around the world, was powerfully summed up in Blinken’s response to my last question about his extraordinary life and family. Listen to the podcast to hear his incredible response. I defy you to not be moved.