As Bertrand writes, it’s safe to say there’s been some turmoil:
U.S. policy toward Ukraine is in shambles, lawmakers and foreign policy experts say, as House Democrats barrel along with an impeachment probe that began with an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint and has ballooned into the most serious threat so far to Donald Trump’s presidency. …Ukrainian officials have said publicly that nothing is amiss, but private accounts — including [acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr.’s] testimony, which detailed his interactions with his disturbed counterparts in Kyiv — have indicated otherwise.One continuing source of anxiety in Kyiv is the military assistance aid Trump allegedly held up in an effort to pressure Zelenksy — aid that was renewed when Taylor and lawmakers from both parties raised alarms inside the administration.
This problem is not going to get any easier for Ukraine. Over the past 24 hours, two new stories have emerged suggesting that Ukraine has good reason to worry about the state of the bilateral relationship. NBC News’s Josh Lederman and Dan De Luce report that the Trump White House’s pressure on Ukraine to accommodate Rudolph W. Giuliani’s requests started earlier than previously reported — mid-May, before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was even sworn in. According to Lederman and De Luce, after U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was recalled, folks in Zelensky’s office thought: “The message was clear: ‘You better listen to us. If we tell you to investigate Biden, you better do it. Look at what happened to [Yovanovitch].’ ” Meanwhile, the New York Times’s Danny Hakim reported that “the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a ‘sense of duty.’ ”
So sure, the Ukraine portfolio in U.S. foreign policy looks like a complete mess. But there’s a deeper pathology at work here. The current state of the administration suggests that all American foreign policy is as misbegotten as the Ukraine portfolio, and it will not get better anytime soon.
Ukraine might seem like a special case because of its prominent role in the impeachment inquiry, but consider two other stories over the past two weeks. The successful killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would seem like a counterexample of a decaying foreign policy — except that it appears the operation was far more fraught with risk than previously understood. The New York Times’s Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Julian Barnes explain:
For months, intelligence officials had kept Mr. Trump apprised of what he had set as a top priority, the hunt for Mr. al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted terrorist.But Mr. Trump’s abrupt withdrawal order three weeks ago disrupted the meticulous planning underway and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared with the pullout, the officials said.Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death in the raid on Saturday, they said, occurred largely in spite of, and not because of, Mr. Trump’s actions.
Even the U.S. military is finding it difficult to do its job with Donald Trump as president.
The second item ran a few weeks ago. Buried under an avalanche of Ukraine stories, it did not get the coverage it merited. It involves the grieving parents of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old motorcyclist British police say was killed by Anne Sacoolas because she was driving on the wrong side of the road in the United Kingdom. The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Sacoolas fled the United Kingdom. The U.S. government has claimed she has diplomatic immunity, which is a rather unorthodox move given the nature of the crime, the state of bilateral ties and the respect for the rule of law in the United Kingdom.
While the Dunns were visiting the United States to drum up sympathy for their request to have Sacoolas face justice across the Atlantic, national security adviser Robert O’Brien made an “urgent” invitation to them to visit the White House, according to the Daily Beast’s Barbie Latza Nadeau.
I still cannot completely believe what transpired next:
Trump, it seems, thought he could convince the Dunns to meet the woman who killed their son, and would do so by opening a side door through which she would walk. The whole scene would be captured by a pool of photographers who had been summoned for the meeting, a family spokesman charged.But the Dunns would have none of it and refused to meet her. Dunn family spokesman Radd Seiger said that the family felt “ambushed” when the “bombshell” was dropped that Sacoolas was next door.They had envisioned meeting her one day, but as Seiger told The Daily Beast, “only on British soil” and “only with mediators, counselors, and their legal team in tow.” …The Dunn family blames National Security Adviser O’Brien for the misstep. “It struck us that this meeting was hastily arranged by nincompoops on the run and in particular Mr. O’Brien, who appeared to be extremely uptight and aggressive and did not come across at all well in this meeting which required careful handling and sensitivity,” Seiger wrote. “The family remain open to the possibility of meeting Mrs. Sacoolas one day in the future but in a neutral and appropriately controlled environment.”In other words, not in a reality-TV setting.
So it would seem that the president of the United States, strongly supported by his national security adviser, thought that he could broker a spontaneous reconciliation between two foreign nationals and the woman who is alleged to have killed their son and then fled their jurisdiction. All to be captured by White House photographers.
There are two reasons that U.S. foreign policy for the next year or so will be awful. The first is that Trump’s foreign policy instincts are appalling. The second is that his staff’s instincts do not appear to be much better. If O’Brien thought this was a good idea, then he’s beclowning American foreign policy more now than in his previous job. It speaks to the low caliber of Trump’s current team.
It’s not just Ukrainian-American relations. No foreign partner can trust this administration. Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly noted over the weekend, “It pains me to see what’s going on because I believe if I was still there or someone like me was there, [Trump] would not be kind of, all over the place.” Kelly might be exaggerating his ability to constrain Trump a tad, but it is hard to deny that the number of galactically stupid ideas emerging from the White House has increased since his departure.
In response to Kelly’s statement, White House press secretary/hagiographer Stephanie Grisham said, “I worked with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.” Without accepting Grisham’s statement at face value, it sure seems equally that O’Brien, Pompeo and the rest of the Trump administration’s foreign policy team cannot handle Trump’s “genius.” Going forward, the quality of U.S. foreign policy will be on par with that stunt with the Dunns.
We have moved to the age of cringe foreign policy. It is likely to persist for at least another year.