It’s a shame, to put it mildly, that foreign leaders are developing strategies for having personal interactions with our president that resemble how battered wives deal with their husbands when they arrive home angry from work or the saloon.
For foreign leaders trying to figure out the best way to approach an American president unlike any they have known, it is a time of experimentation. Embassies in Washington trade tips and ambassadors send cables to presidents and ministers back home suggesting how to handle a mercurial, strong-willed leader with no real experience on the world stage, a preference for personal diplomacy and a taste for glitz.
After four months of interactions between Mr. Trump and his counterparts, foreign officials and their Washington consultants say certain rules have emerged: Keep it short — no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.
“If you were prepping people for Donald Trump, the two or three points would be: one, bear in mind this is still a guy who focuses on wins,” Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the United States, said. “He likes to have wins for America and wins for himself from bilateral meetings.”
“Secondly,” he continued, “he is a deal maker, a pragmatist. Third, this is a guy with a limited attention span. He absolutely won’t want to listen to visitors droning on for a half-hour — or longer if they need an interpreter.”
It’s all about avoiding the temper and soothing the ego. The surest way to arouse his temper is to test his knowledge or his concentration. Almost as bad is to talk about yourself and your needs. So, walk on eggshells. Tell him he is better than his adversaries. Give him something he wants that he hasn’t earned. Don’t harangue him or bore him with details that distract him from his focus on himself and his worries.
And maybe, just maybe, he won’t beat the crap out of you just to make himself feel better for two minutes.
This isn’t any kind of way to build or maintain a relationship.
Members of his staff can quit and walk away. Foreign leaders may be feel compelled to interact with Trump. But this isn’t the correct solution. The correct solution is not to emulate the battered spouse, but to offer her support. In this scenario, it’s the American people and system that need someone to intervene and advocate on our behalf. We don’t need enablers who will reward bad behavior and allow it to continue.
We need help, and reassurance that things will be okay if we walk away from this relationship.