It’s often said that perception is reality - and, no doubt, there’s something to that old adage. But we also know that from time to time, upon a closer look, our assessments can be wrong - very wrong.
I came face to face with this perception problem during a high-level international security conference in Europe recently, where I “speechified” on Team Trump’s foreign policy.
Though I did no scientific polling, it’s safe to say that a number of attendees were Trump-skeptics, expressing concerns about issues such as U.S. leadership, transatlantic relations (for example, NATO) and Russia.
Some doubts seemed to linger from last year’s campaign rhetoric.
I tried to make the point that “where you stand is where you sit,” meaning that it’s one thing to be a candidate on a campaign stump and it’s another to be the president of the United States in the Oval Office.
Indeed, citing a number of examples, I argued that Team Trump’s foreign and national security policies have been mainstream and strikingly solid so far in its first 100 or so days - a significant accomplishment.
Take NATO. Trump no longer contends that NATO is “obsolete.” Indeed, Vice President Mike Pence has been to Europe, as have the U.S. secretaries of defense and state. American force increases in Europe have continued - specifically those F-35 fighters and Baltic troop deployments.
On Ukraine, punitive U.S. sanctions on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the insurgency in eastern Ukraine have stayed in place. In fact, earlier this month, Kiev’s foreign minister visited the Oval Office.
Moving to the Middle East, few will contest that the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia this past weekend to meet with Arab leaders, focusing on terrorism, Iran, partnerships and burden-sharing, went exceedingly well.
Then there’s Syria. Which country was the only one willing to strike the Syrian armed forces after its criminal use of sarin nerve agent against innocent civilians? America. Team Trump is also turning up the heat on the ISIS capital in Raqqa.
There’s been no turn-around on tightening the screws on ISIS in Iraq, either; there have been U.S. strikes on al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in Yemen. The fight continues against the Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan.
On Iran, Trump’s threats to tear up the Obama-era nuclear deal haven’t materialized - while the pressure on Tehran’s ballistic missile program has increased through more U.S. economic sanctions.
In Asia, Team Trump has put North Korea on notice over its nuclear/missile mania, engaging China to twist some arms. America sent missile defenses (that is THAAD) to South Korea and strengthened ties with Japan early on.
To support all this, the White House is asking Congress for more bullets and bombs to fight current foes as well as deter potential enemies from thinking about picking a fight with us.
None of this is leading from behind - thankfully.
Plus, these moves aren’t some drastic departure from traditional American foreign and defense policies. On the contrary - despite concerns expressed by the critics here and over there - it’s so far, so good for the new Trump crew.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here