Critics of President Trump often point to his more “flamboyant” tweets as proof of his dangerousness on the world diplomatic stage. They decry the unfilled positions in the State Department and amongst America’s diplomatic corps. The tweets create instability and provoke conflict they allege. The bureaucratic vacuum left by unstaffed positions means that there isn’t a “clean-up crew” to suppress the damage from the deranged tweets they cry out in unison. Proper diplomacy is conducted with government officials using established protocols speaking PC diplomatic language. I will show how these criticisms are wrong below by comparing Trump’s tweets with the US government’s “Continuity of Government” plans during the Cold War.
The supreme authority on the subject of “modern presidential” tweets has got to be persuasion expert Scott Adams. He expertly makes the case in his frequent Periscope streams that Trump’s tweets masterfully lie within a narrow band outside the sphere of “normal” but not into “dangerous” territory. Trump captures the attention of our minds and forces us to think about the content of the tweets. At the same time, he never crosses the line “too far” with something truly outrageous, dangerous or unacceptable. He has never said “the missiles are in the air!” or spelt out the launch codes as a crude example.
Garrett M. Graff’s “Raven Rock: The Story of The U.S. Government’s Secret Plan To Save Itself – While The Rest of Us Die” provides a long and indepth look at the history of doomsday planning by the US government. While most people have heard about bunker complexes like Cheyenne Mountain, Site R and Mount Weather before, the vastness and complexity of the planning surprised me when I got deeper into the book. The complex layers of plans, redundancies, back-ups, drills and so forth was truly a massive undertaking. The money, personnel and resources dedicated to ensuring the continuity and survival of the government during and following a nuclear strike was breath-taking.
However, as we all know plans rarely are able to accurately predict behavior during the “real deal”. Again and again in the book we see cases where designated critical personnel declined to be evacuated when it became clear that only themselves and not their spouses or dependents (children) would be saved. Space in nuclear hardened bunkers being at a premium, this makes sense for planners during peacetime. But as several exercises showed, plans rarely worked as intended. Evacuees declined to be whisked away and preferred to stay with their families, communications breakdown were disturbingly common (including critical military communications lines), plans hadn’t been communicated to the necessary people, bunkers had been “overbooked”, alert emergency aircraft failed to take-off before the simulated missiles would have impacted, and on and on.
What does this mean? I think that all the critics of Trump’s “communication style” fail to consider the real dimensions of real-world diplomacy. Having “proper” diplomatic staff and procedures is all well and good, but we must remember that reality is unpredictable and is rarely cooperative with premade plans. What I’m really getting at here is the mismatch between the perceived strength of the diplomatic protocols and their efficacy in reality. If something as important and critical as Continuity of Government, nuclear launch communications networks, nuclear bunkers and so on are susceptible to failure, then why should diplomacy be any different?
Trump’s approach can be said to rely more on instinct than premade plans vetted by bureaucrats. That isn’t necessarily a drawback, it is rather a feature. All along during the Cold War bureaucrats and functionaries thought that they knew what they were doing, only to face a tough reality check during numerous drills and exercises. Bypassing the inertia and inefficiencies of government bureaucracy isn’t the worst idea in the world. This context is lacking in the condemnations of Trump’s free-wheeling Twitter account. As we have seen especially during the recent Asia trip, diplomacy by Twitter can be rather effective in achieving one’s goals. Rather than denounce Trump’s style, perhaps one should be open to moving with the times and adapting to the new possibilities offered by new technology?