Wednesday, May 24, 2017

NATO Summit Ahead: Setting Expectations at Super-Low

The leaders of NATO countries are assembling in Brussels this week, and the likely outcome of the meeting will be a loud "meh."  Meh for the new building, which this summit will celebrate, as it is very costly, took too long, and may not have a bowling alley (the last one is the only thing that is unknown).  The output of the summit itself will also be underwhelming

Why?  Because the US has, dare I say it, not been leading lately.  Yes, so much was written about whether Obama led enough, but that all pales in comparison to Trump's "leadership."  To get stuff done at a NATO summit requires a great deal of work done by a great deal of staff with much coordination.  Because neither the US Department of State nor the US Department of Defense are staffed (unstaffed is a better description than merely understaffed), there are few people who can work the phones, do the messaging, and provide the guidance to the US representatives to push an agenda.

Indeed, it was not that long ago that worstSecState (that's his title) Tillerson planned to blow off the NATO Foreign Ministerial--a key meeting of the members' foreign ministers--that helps to set the agenda for the summit.  And when he did show up, what did Tillerson push?  Insistence that each member come up with a plan to get their defense spending up to 2% of their GDP.  Easy to come up with plans, hard to implement that.  Overseeing implementation is not something that the lazy, ignorant and unstaffed Trump administration is likely to do well, so I have encouraged countries to make up plans and worry about Trump's ire later. 

Anyhow, unlike the Warsaw Summit last year with serious plans to consider (reminder that decisions are not made at summits but the meetings force countries to decide beforehand), there is no big plan at work to be released this week.  Other than Trump's effort to turn NATO into a protection racket, there will be discussion of counter-terrorism.  NATO has done plenty on this file since 9/11: protecting American cities via NATO AWACS planes, having a fleet in the Mediterranean interdict terrorist activities/networks, there's that whole Afghanistan thing, and more.  Does the current Iraq mission need to be a NATO mission? No.  Will countries be willing to make it and/or Syria NATO missions? Probably not.

So, the real focus is not on the usual NATO "deliverables" as there will be no communique that is a long list of what NATO decided.  Instead, the focus is on whether and how Trump blows his temper, gets stuff wrong and alienates allies.  He is supposed to assure the allies of the US commitment to them. But given that these folks have been hard to assure for, um, generations, that Trump spills allies' secrets to the Russians, his campaign is under investigation for colluding with Russia, and Trump has literally said "I don't stand by anything I say," count on this one deliverable not to be delivered.

Thus, expectations are set on super-low. As long as Trump does not piss in his pants or slap anyone, the American media will call him Presidential.  I just hope that the international media gets a chance to ask some tough questions. 

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