Trump's 'no filter' phone calls with foreign leaders: Four things we learned from Carl Bernstein's column
While the president has been found to be abusive of allies, he has been accused of being weak against the likes of Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan
It was just a few days ago that President Donald Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton made some stunning claims about POTUS's knowledge of and actions in foreign affairs. And before the after-effects of those revelations died down, legendary Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein has come up with more such startling revelations about the commander-in-chief in a piece published in CNN on Monday, June 29.
According to Bernstein, 76, Trump has looked consistently unprepared for talks on serious issues with foreign heads of state and has been outsmarted by leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has also been abusive to leaders of some of the US's key allies, so much so that some of his top officials were convinced that the chief executive himself posed a danger to the country’s security, as per White House and intelligence officials who know the contents of the president’s talks.
Here are four things that we learned from Bernstein’s CNN column on Trump.
Attacking leaders of key allies, especially women
It is not something new that Trump loves to insult women, but the shocking part lies in the fact that he doesn’t spare women heads of state either. According to Bernstein’s piece: "In addition to Merkel and May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied and disparaged other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations — including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — in the same hostile and aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America's governors."
Trump had particularly been mean when it came to talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British prime minister Theresa May. While he reportedly called Merkel "stupid" and accused her of going under Russia’s influence, he was accused of calling May a "fool" and spineless in handling issues like Brexit, immigration and the security alliance of Nato. "He'd get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he'd get nasty with her on the phone call. It's the same interaction in every setting — coronavirus or Brexit — with just no filter applied," the CNN piece quoted a source as saying. The two women leaders, on their part, had contrasting reactions to Trump’s attacks.
Outsmarted by Putin
While his aides looked up to Trump to speak to leaders like Putin and Erdogan, known for their dictatorial functioning, from a position of strength, the reality was just the opposite. Bernstein cited sources saying that Trump was "almost never prepared substantively" while talking to either of those two leaders over the telephone and that left people around him with the idea that he finished as the second-best. Trump has been accused of bragging about himself while speaking to Putin over the phone and slammed his own predecessors (especially Obama). It was said that Putin outplayed Trump often and their conversations sounded like "two guys in a steam bath". When it came to Erdogan who had frequent calls with Trump, a number of former Trump aides including Bolton were not happy with the fact that the Turkish leader easily overlooked the National Security Council protocols to reach Trump, Bernstein cited two sources saying.
With Trump, it's only about 'me'
During his conversations with foreign heads of state, Trump ensures that he himself is the focal point of the discussions. According to sources who are familiar to his calls, the president never puts the US — the world leader — before him. "Everything was always personalized, with everybody doing terrible things to rip us off — which meant ripping 'me' — Trump — off. He couldn't — or wouldn't — see or focus on the larger picture," the CNN piece quoted one official as saying.
"With almost every problem, all it takes (in his phone calls) is someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn't see it that way; he goes to being ripped off; he's not interested in cooperative issues or working on them together; instead he's deflecting things or pushing real issues off into a corner... There was no sense of 'Team America' in the conversations. The opposite. It was like the United States had disappeared. It was always 'Just me'," he added.
Trump never reads briefings before speaking to foreign leaders
As per CNN’s sources, the president never cared to go through the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA and NSC before he attended a call with a foreign head of state. "He won't consult them, he won't even get their wisdom," one of the sources said and cited Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman as one leader whom Trump "picks up and calls without anybody being prepared". Trump’s aides dread such moves and keep praying that the president doesn’t take up the call.
"Trump's view is that he is a better judge of character than anyone else," one of CNN's sources said. Trump rejected advice from US defense, intelligence and national security principals throughout that Putin be approached more firmly and with less trust.