Alberto Nardelli BuzzFeed News Europe Editor Reporting From London On the Ignorance of Trump's Diplomacy

LONDON – Even before the latest escalation of nuclear threats between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, senior diplomats and officials from the US's European allies have been warning that the US president’s approach to world affairs is extremely dangerous – pointing to his apparent ignorance of other countries’ history, his unfiltered use of social media, and the lack of a strong, experienced team around him.

In interviews with BuzzFeed News, six top European government officials who’ve had firsthand dealings on the international stage with Trump and his administration describe a president regarded even by allies as erratic and limited, and whose perceived shortcomings are compounded by the ongoing chaos beneath him in the White House.

The officials, all speaking on condition of anonymity, voiced similar and consistent concerns, in particular over his unprecedented use of Twitter, which they said demonstrated the lack of normal government controls at the top of the administration.

“Trump could send a tweet in the middle of the night pissing off Kim Jong Un. And the next morning we wake up to a world on the brink of war,” one seasoned diplomat told BuzzFeed News.

That observation came before Trump's latest bellicose rhetoric, and the sense of alarm in European governments can only have increased in the last 24 hours. On Tuesday evening, Trump warned North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continued to threaten the US. His comments have already prompted Kim Jong Un’s regime to ratchet up its own threats, announcing that it was considering a preemptive missile strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that the US nuclear arsenal is now "far stronger and more powerful than ever before...."

The current standoff is a dramatic illustration of the grave international concerns over Trump.

On one level, the officials said, he is something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings. One revealed that a small group of diplomats play a version of word bingo whenever the president speaks because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. “Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great’, ‘amazing’,” the diplomat said.

But behind the mocking, there is growing fear among international governments that Trump is a serious threat to international peace and stability.

“He has no historical view. He is only dealing with these issues now, and seems to think the world started when he took office,” a diplomat told BuzzFeed News, pointing to Trump’s remarks and tweets about defense spending. “He thinks that NATO existed only to keep the communists out of Europe. He has a similar attitude in Asia-Pacific with Japan, ignoring that the US basically wrote their constitution.” During his presidential campaign, Trump called out Japan to pay more for the security US provides, including for hosting the US troops in the country. Japan’s constitution restricts its military options.

They also believe Trump’s foreign policy is chiefly driven by an obsession with unraveling Barack Obama’s policies. “It’s his only real position,” one European diplomat said. “He will ask: ‘Did Obama approve this?’ And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: ‘We don’t.’ He won’t even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama.”

Another diplomat said it had proved impossible to discuss serious international issues, such as Libya, with Trump. And seven months into his presidency, the European officials say they are still struggling to figure out who else they can engage with in the US administration.

Describing a meeting between their boss and the president as “basically useless,” they said: “He [Trump] just bombed us with questions: ‘How many people do you have? What’s your GDP? How much oil does [that country] produce? How many barrels a day? How much of it is yours?’”

“He’s not the kind of person you can have a discussion about how to deal with [Fayez] al-Sarraj [the prime minister of Libya]," the official added. "So you look for people around him, and that is where it’s a problem: The constant upheaval, it’s unclear who has influence, who is close to the president."

A number of European officials compared Trump with Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – but said the similarities end at their inappropriate jokes during meetings.

"Berlusconi wasn’t ignorant."

“Berlusconi wasn’t ignorant. And behind him he had officials and a whole government structure you could engage with,” one diplomat said.

The officials revealed that at international meetings, Trump has openly mocked his own aides, contradicting and arguing with them in front of other leaders. That has compounded the impression of an administration in chaos. “We can hear everything, it’s weird,” one diplomat said.

Officials also expressed concerns over the status of the State Department, and the lack of seasoned diplomats and experts within the White House. One diplomat suggested that US counterparts have privately lamented to Europeans about the number of roles in the administration that have yet to be filled resulting in a lack of clear positions on many policy areas.

“The White House lacks crucial expertise,” one said. “The State Department and others are isolated. You have the generals, the National Security Council, and then a void. There aren’t enough diplomats, experts etc. in the White House. [Secretary of state Rex] Tillerson has a small team. Does Trump listen to [James] Mattis [secretary of defense], [H.R.] McMaster [national security adviser], to the experts?”

The officials think only Trump's family members, in particular his daughter Ivanka, really have the president's trust. They described the body language between Trump and Tillerson as “terrible”.

A senior US defense official, who also spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity, described the many roles that still needed filling, some of Trump’s comments about US allies, and the apparent differing positions within the administration as “not ideal”.

However, the official added: “If you go beyond the antics and look at actions and shared interests there is no way you can say the US is turning away from Europe. There are no signs the US is retreating.”

TRUMP: Our efforts to strengthen the NATO Alliance set the stage for significant increases in member contributions, with tens of billions of dollars more pouring in because I would not allow member states to be delinquent in the payment while we guarantee their safety and are willing to fight wars for them. We have made clear that countries that are immensely wealthy should reimburse the United States for the cost of defending them. This is a major departure from the past, but a fair and necessary one - necessary for our country, necessary for our taxpayer, necessary for our own thought process.

Our campaign of maximum pressure on the North Korean regime has resulted in the toughest-ever sanctions. We have united our allies in an unprecedented effort to isolate North Korea. However, there is much more work to do. America and its allies will take all necessary steps to achieve a de-nuclearization and ensure that this regime cannot threaten the world. Thank you. This situation should have been taken care of long before I got into office, when it was much easier to handle. But it will be taken care of. We have no choice.

At home, we are keeping our promises and liberating the American economy. We have created more than two million jobs since the election. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. The stock market is at an all-time high and, just a little while ago, hit yet another all-time high - the 85th time since my election. 

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TRUMP: We have cut 22 regulations for every one new regulation, the most in the history of our country. We have unlocked America's vast energy resources.

As the world watches - and the world is indeed watching - we are days away from passing historic tax cuts for American families and businesses. It will be the biggest tax cut and tax reform in the history of our country. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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TRUMP: And we are seeing the response we fully expected. Economic growth has topped three percent for two quarters in a row. GDP growth, which is way ahead of schedule under my administration, will be one of America's truly greatest weapons.

Optimism has surged. Confidence has returned. With this new confidence, we are also bringing back clarity to our thinking. We are reasserting these fundamental truths:

A nation without borders is not a nation.

A nation that does not protect prosperity at home cannot protect its interests abroad.

A nation that is not prepared to win a war is a nation not capable of preventing a war.

TRUMP: A nation that is not proud of its history cannot be confident in its future.

U.N. Security Council Unanimously Tightens Sanctions Against North Korea


The United Nations slapped a fresh round of sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs. The resolution was adopted unanimously by all members of the security council.

TRUMP: And a nation that is not certain of its values cannot summon the will to defend them.

Joshua Green in Devil's Bargain (2017) charges that Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah hired Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to manage Donald Trump's loosing campaign in 2016.  Green writes that Bannon's term for his politics, and Trump's--"nationalism--was already in wide circulation in the political press.  But the term's meaning was (and remains) confusing and has never been fully explicated.  While Trump's embrace of "America first" nationalism was chiefly due to its resonance as a campaign slogan, Bannon's attraction ti it had a far deeper and more complicated linage.

From an early age, Bannon was influenced by his family's distinctly traditionalist Catholicism and tended to view current events against the broad sweep of history.  Though hardly a moralizing social conservative, he objected bitterly to the secular liberalism encroaching upon the culture.  "We shouldn't be running a victory lap every time some sort of traditional value gets undercut," he said in 2015.  While he was still in the navy, Bannon, a voracious autodidact, embarked upon what he described as "a systematic study of the world's religions" that he carried on for more than a decade.  Taking up the roman catholic history first instilled in him at Benedictine, his Catholic military high school, he moved on to Christian mysticism and from there to Eastern metaphysics.  (In the Navy, he briefly practiced Zen Buddhism before wending its way back to Tridentine Catholicism).

Bannon's reading eventually led him to the work of Rene Guenon, an early-twentieth-century French occultist and metaphysician who was raised a Roman Catholic, practiced Freemasonry, and later became a Sufi Muslim.  There are many forms of traditionalism in religion and philosophy.  Guenon developed a philosophy often referred to as "Traditionalism" (capital "T"), a form of anti-modernism with precise connotations.  Guenon was a "primordial" Traditionalist, a believer in the idea that certain ancient religions, including the Hindu Vedanta, Sufism, and medieval Catholicism, were repositories of common spiritual truths, revealed in the earliest age of the world, that were being wiped out by the rise of secular modernity in the West.  What Guenon hoped for, he wrote in 1924, was to "restore to the West an appropriate traditional civilization."***

Bannon is a paranoid fantasist who believes in the themes of the collapse of Western civilization and the loss of transcendent found in Rene Guenon's 1925 book, Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta "as a life-changing discovery."  Bannon brought to Guenon's Traditionalism a strong dose of Catholic social thought, in particular the concept of "subsidiarity": the principle expressed in Pope Pius XI's 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo anno, that political matters should devolve to the lowest, least centralized authority that can responsibly handle them--a concept that, in a U.S. political context, mirrors small-government conservatism.

Green posits that everywhere Bannon looked in the modern world, he saw signs of collapse and an encroaching globalist order stamping out the last vestiges of the traditional He saw it in governmental organizations such as the European Union and political leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted that countries forfeit their sovereignty, and thus their ability to maintain their national character, to distant secular bureaucrats bent on erasing national borders.  He saw it in the Roman Catholic Church, whose elevation of Pope Francis, "a liberal-theology Jesuit" and "pro-immigration globalist," to replace Pope Benedict XVI so alarmed him that, in 2013, he established Breitbart Rome and took a Vatican meeting with Cardinal Raymond Burke in an effort to prop-up Catholic traditionalists marginalized by the new Pope.

Green posits that more than anywhere else, Bannon saw evidence of Western collapse in the influx of Muslim refugees and migrants across Europe and the United States--what he pungently term "civilizational jihad personified by this migrant crisis."  Expounding on this view at a 2014 conference at the Vatican, Bannon knit together Traditionalist philosophers Guenon, Evola, and his own racial-religious panic to cast his beliefs in historical text.  Citing the tens of millions of people killed in twentieth-century wars, he called mankind "children of the barbarity" whose present condition would one day be judged "a new Dark Age."  He added, "We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism.  And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than government can handle it."

They important commonality that Bannon and Guenon share is a sweeping, apocalyptic view of history that identified two events as marking the beginning of the spiritual decline of the West: the destruction of the Order of the Knights Templar in 1314 and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.  Also like Bannon, Guenon was fascinated by the Hindu concept of cyclical time and believed that the West was passing through the fourth and final era, known as the Kali Yuga, a six-thousand-year "dark age" when tradition is wholly forgotten.

This concept of the Kali Yuga, I feel, is why William Strauss and Neil Howe's The Fourth Turing: An American Prophecy (1997) appeals so much to Bannon.  In fact in some quarters The Fourth Turning is known as Bannon's Bible.


The theme of "a new Dark Age" may help explain Bannon's fascination with Strauss and Neil Howe's The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, whose title is extended on the cover: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America's Next Rendezvous with Destiny explains in English the cycles of American history that will lead to its Dark Age and possible revival.  In a section titled "Archetypes And Myths" quote Joseph Campbell in the Power of Myth: "There are two types of deed.  One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life.  The other is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernatural range of human spiritual life and then comes back with the message."

Strauss & Howe go on to state that the secular hero-king [Trump] and spiritual hero-prophet [Bannon] often appear in the same myth.  Yet when they do they are never the same age--not even close.  Typically, they are two phases of life apart.  In legends where the young hero-king makes hos perilous journey, his perilous journey, his first encounter is often what Campbell describes as " protective figure [Kellyanne and/or Huckabee-Sanders] (often a little old crone or old man)--[bully as he is, Trump does not trust or have confidence in men] who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass."  the prophet can be a ritual elder, holy man, or what Campbell calls a shaman--a person who has undergo a spiritually transforming rite of passage and entering old age, uses the powers thereby gained to assist the young.  This elder possesses little worldly power but supernatural gifts of magic and access to the gods [i.e., the Robert and Rebekah Mercer].

The Origin Of The American Cycle

The self-sustaining cycle of archetypes originated at the very moment that the world made its enduring break with cyclical time and tradition.  This happened in Western Europe during the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

Strauss & Howe explain the "Fourth Turning" occurs as a Crisis arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire.  Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail.  This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice.

Strauss & Howe claim that people support new efforts to wield public authority, whose perceived successes soon justify more of the same.  Government governs, community obstacles are removed, and laws and customs that resisted change for decades are swiftly shunted aside.  A grim preoccupation with civic peril causes spiritual curiosity to decline.  A sense of public urgency contributes to a clampdown on bad conduct or antisocial lifestyles.  People begin feeling shameful about what they earlier did to absolve guilt.  Public order tightens, private risk taking abates, and crime and substance abuse decline.  Families strengthen, gender distinctions widen, and child rearing reaches a smothering degree of protection and structure.  The young focus their energy on worldly achievements, leaving values in the hands of the old.  Wars are fought with fury and for maximum result.

Preparing for the Fourth Turning

Strauss & Howe posit that a Fourth Turning does not require economic depression or civil war, but it does require public sacrifice and political upheaval. 

Neither of the two major political parties has been adept at seasonalist thinking.  The Republicans were worse at figuring out what the early Awakening required, the Democrats worse at the early Unraveling.  with the Fourth Turning roughly a decade away, each party now has it half right" democrats have seized the saeculum's autumnal instinct to harvest, Republicans the instinct to prune and scatter.  Each party is usefully pressing for some preseasonal policies: Democrats wish to close the gap between rich and poor, reverse the decline of the middle class, and expand children's programs--while Republicans want to de-fund time-encrusted bureaucracies, restore an ethic of personal responsibility, and promote traditional virtues.

Yet both parties are also harmfully post-seasonal.  In their quest for an ever bigger harvest, Democrats want to remove sacrifice ever further from the public lexicon.  They seek entitlements for every victim, including the entire middle class, without caring whether all this guaranteed consumption is sustainable.  If Democrats get their way, they would impose huge debts and future taxes on Millennial children.  In their quest for ever more individualism, Republicans want to make public authority ever more dysfunctional.  They seek to starve all government of revenue and are willing to shut down whole federal agencies to make their point.  If Republicans get their way, they would prevent Millennials from forging a positive bond with government and limit the public resources directed toward the care and schooling of the neediest children.

Suppose both parties continue down their linear paths through what remains of the Unraveling.  If so, Democrats will remain usefully linked with civic authority, but in a paradigm so oriented around a harvest mentality that it precludes any across-the-board sacrifice for a significant public purpose.  Picture them in charge when the Crisis catalyzes and an urgent need arises to shatter old consumption promises and ask voters to give up something.  They would seem to be exactly the wrong party to command an imperiled citizenry.  Alternatively, suppose Republicans keep to course, still usefully linked with sacrifices but in a paradigm so beset with individualism as to preclude effective civic mobilization for any purpose.  Picture Republicans in charge when a sudden crisis prompts an urgent need for rejuvenated public authority to achieve a new national purpose.  If this happens, they would seem to be exactly the wrong party to command a strengthening government.

Come the Fourth Turning, America will need both personal sacrifice and public authority.  The saeculum will favor whichever party moves more quickly and persuasively toward a paradigm that accommodates both.  Both parties should lend seasonality to their thinking: Democrats a concept of civic duty that limits the harvest, Republicans a concept of civic authority that limits the scattering.  If they do not, the opportunity will arise for a third party to fill the void--after which one or both of today's two dominant parties could go the way of the Whigs.

History wants that when a Crisis catalyzes, a previously dominant political party (or regime) can find itself directly blamed for perceived "mistakes" that led to the national emergency.  Whoever holds power when the Fourth Turning arrives could join the unlucky roster of the circa 1770 Tories, circa 1860 Democrats, and circa 1929 Republicans.   That party could find itself out of power for a generation.   Key persons associated with it could find themselves defamed, stigmatized, harassed, economically ruined, personally punished--or worse.


Green posits that Bannon's response to the rise of modernity was to set populist, right-wing nationalism against it.  Wherever he could, he aligned himself with politicians and causes committed to tearing down its globalist edifice: arch-conservative Catholics such as Burke, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Marine Le Pen's National Front, Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom, and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

(When he got to the White House, he would also leverage U.S. trade policy to strengthen opponents of the EU.)  This had a meaningful effect, even before Trump.  "Bannon's a political entrepreneur and a remarkable bloke," Farage said.  "Without the supportive voice of Breitbart London, I'm not sure we would have had a Brexit."

Green believes that for all his paranoid alarm, Bannon believes that the rise of nationalist movements across the world, from Europe to Japan to the United States, heralds a return to tradition.  "You have to control three things," he explained, "borders, currency, and military and national identity.  People are finally coming to realize that, and politicians will have to follow."  Bannon believes that the clearest example of Traditionalist political influence today is in Russia.  Vladimir Putin's chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin--whom Bannon has cited--translated Evola's work, Revolt Against the Modern World (1934) into Russian and later developed a Russian-nationalist variant of Traditionalism known as Eurasianism.

In the summer of 2016, Bannon described Trump as a "blunt instrument for us."  But by the following April, Trump was in the White House and Bannon had raised his estimation of him to path-breaking leader.  "He's taken this nationalist movement and moved it up twenty years," Bannon said.  "If France Germany, England, or any of these places had he equivalent of a Donald Trump, they would be a power.  They don't.  [They had already experienced Hitler.]

When he took over Trump's campaign in August, Bannon did indeed run a nationalist, divisive campaign in which issues of race, immigration, culture, and identity were put front and center.  This wasn't by accident or lacking in purpose, even if the candidate himself didn't care to understand its broader historical context.  By exhuming the nationalist thinkers of an earlier age, Bannon was trying to build an intellectual basis for Trumpism, or what might more accurately be described as an American nationalist-Traditionalism.  Whatever the label, Trump proved to be an able messenger--[of neo-Nazism].

Bannon's ties to Breitbart's inflammatory journalism, and the anguish he caused Republicans, became the dominant focus of the political world in the wake of his elevation to run Trump's floundering campaign with a half-billion-dollar budget.

TRUMP: Today, grounded in these truths, we are presenting to the world our new national security strategy. Based on my direction, this document has been in development for over a year. It has the endorsement of my entire Cabinet.

TRUMP: Our new strategy is based on a principled realism, guided by our vital national interests, and rooted in our timeless values.

Christmas In Bethlehem: Trump Declaration Fuels Clashes In The West Bank


December 24, 20176:34 PM ET

The festive annual Christmas celebration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem is clouded this year by concerns about the Palestinians future — and criticism of the Trump administration.

TRUMP: This strategy recognizes that, whether we like it or not, we are engaged in a new era of competition. We accept that vigorous military, economic, and political contests are now playing out all around the world.

We face rogue regimes that threaten the United States and our allies. We face terrorist organizations, transnational criminal networks, and others who spread violence and evil around the globe.

TRUMP: We also face rival powers, Russia and China that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth. We will attempt to build a great partnership with those and other countries, but in a manner that always protects our national interest.

China, Russia, and Twenty-First Century Global Geopolitics

Dec 5, 2017

Russia’s relationship with China has strengthened in recent years following Moscow’s escalating tensions with the West after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with geopolitical scholar Sharyl Cross about the changing world order. 

"Both Moscow and Beijing share the position that they oppose what they perceive as U.S. hegemony in the international system. They believe that the United States needs to have a counterweight in terms of influencing the international community," says Cross.

"So I would say the difference lies in the fact that the Chinese are more cautious. They seek perhaps a gradual transition of the Western order that would more appropriately reflect their preferences and their interests. The Russians have been much more bold in challenging that Western liberal order."

Cross is in Des Moines today for a talk with Paul Bolt put on by the Des Moines Committee on Foreign R.... Bolt and Cross are co-authors of China, Russia, and Twenty First Century Global Geopolitics, to be released in January 2018.

In the second half of the show, Kieffer talks with Iowa State University physics and astronomy professors,  Jim Cochran and Soeren Prell, who discuss their work using the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland to smash particles together in order to learn about their properties and the makeup of the universe.

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Comment by mary gravitt on December 27, 2017 at 2:30pm

Get all you strength together and study Western history.  The same people who put Hitler in office put Trump in Office.

Comment by moki ikom on December 28, 2017 at 3:05am

Hitler certainly studied Western history.  He like other objective thinkers could see that murderous conquests from Manhattan to Manila made America great, not the promotion of humantarian ideals, inclusiveness and diversity.  


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