Mike Pence begins what will likely become a crucial diplomatic role between Western Europe and the Trump administra
Relations between the US and Western European allies have been strained by the rise of Trump. Trump has praised Brexit, criticized Western Europe for not contributing enough to NATO, and has received praise from Putin. However, the campaign is well over, and now President Trump has sent his far more eloquent Vice President Mike Pence to reassure European allies of US support for NATO in particular, as well as good relations with the EU.
After a smooth meeting with German Prime Minister Angela Merkel yesterday, Pence spent today in Brussels, the capital of the EU, and also the location of the NATO Headquarters.
Pence’s reassurance tempered by his commitment to President Trump
The message from Pence both yesterday and today seems to be an attempt to assure European allies of continued support from the US, while simultaneously holding Trump’s positions on NATO.
In meeting with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, both gave statements. Pence reiterated Trump’s conditional continued support for NATO:
“America — therefore, I can say with confidence —America will do our part. But Europe’s defense requires Europe’s commitment as much as ours. At the Wales Summit in 2014, all 28 members of the NATO alliance declared their intention to move towards a minimum security investment of two percent of their gross domestic product within a decade. As a candidate for office, President Trump actually called attention repeatedly to the fact that for too long, for too many, this burden has not been shared fairly among our NATO allies, and that must come to an end. At this moment, the United States and only four other NATO members meet this basic standard and while we commend the few nations that are on track, and have met the obligation, the truth is that many others, including some of our largest allies, still lack a clear and credible path to meet this minimum goal. So let me say again what I said this last weekend in Munich: The president of the United States and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense. And the president expects real progress by the end of 2017. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis said here in Belgium just a few shorts days ago, if you’re a nation that meets the two percent target, we need your help encouraging other nations to do likewise. If you have a plan to get there, as he said, our alliance needs you to accelerate it. And if you don’t yet have a plan — and these are my words, not his — get one. It is time for actions, not words.”
President Trump is clearly showing no intention of scaling back his demands for NATO allies to share more of the burden of maintaining NATO.
On General Flynn’s resignation
General Flynn was quickly appointed and quickly terminated as National Security Advisor in the Trump administration. General Flynn resigned following having given inaccurate information to VP Pence regarding Russia, in a way that was favorable to Russia. Clearly, this is a point of deep concern for nervous European allies. Pence was asked about Flynn and gave a rather tactful but impromptu response.
“Let me say, I’m very grateful for the close working relationship I have with the President of the United States and, um, am, um – I would tell you that I was disappointed to learn that – disappointed to learn that the, um, the facts that had been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate, um, but we honor General Flynn’s long service to the United States of America and fully support the President’s decision to ask for his resignation.”
On Privately owned Media
Russia, of course, has a long reputation of suppressing media and promoting state media. In the Soviet era, state media was all they allowed. Presently, there is a blend of private and state media in Russia. As Western Europe strongly values a privately owned media, the perception being that such media is free and open as opposed to state-run media. While Trump has been very critical of America’s mainstream media, many interpret that as a preliminary to media suppression, despite the US’s separation of powers and the first amendment to the US Constitution.
However, Europeans have legitimate concerns about this, and Pence addressed their concerns accordingly.
“Rest assured, both the president and I strongly support a free and independent press. But you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when playing fast and loose with the facts. The truth is that we have in President Trump someone who has a unique ability to speak directly to the American people, and when the media gets it wrong, I promise you, President Trump will take his case straight to the American people to set the record straight.”
Pence as the chief diplomat?
Usually, the US Secretary of State acts as the diplomatic arm of the White House. However, the Sec. of State is Rex Tillerson, who is known to have friendly business relations with Russia. As President Trump has big plans for both NATO and Russia, it is likely that Pence will continue to serve a more important diplomatic role when dealing with NATO, while Tillerson will work to improve relations with Russia. Russia can be a valuable ally in the ongoing war against terrorism, including by not limited to ISIS. However, Russia has its own agenda also, and their occupation of Crimea has greatly alarmed western European allies. Despite this, Hillary Clinton during the campaign expressed a willingness to work with Russia against ISIS, and it certainly comes as no surprise that Trump wants the same thing. But balancing that with the NATO alliance will prove challenging, making Mike Pence nearly indispensable in his diplomatic role.