ELLSWORTH — Marvin Ott, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution, gave his third annual public presentation at the Moore Center in Ellsworth on Aug. 16.
The lecture, titled “America Alone,” focused on the nation’s foreign policy under the Trump administration.
“Above all, he is a loner,” said Ott of the President. “He has no real friends. Every relationship is exploitative. And he has turned this attitude on to the country.”
Ott, who writes the “Offshore” foreign affairs column for The Ellsworth American, discussed the drastic changes to foreign policy that have occurred under the new administration. He said international relationships are now based largely around public fealty to the President.
“Foreign leaders find they are judged, and their countries are judged, not on whether national interests coincide, nothing of substance. It all depends on whether the leader of the country praises Trump,” Ott said. “He needs to dominate every relationship, so foreign leaders need to go through the motions of being dominated.”
Ott also highlighted the difficulties faced by the nation’s diplomatic and foreign affairs apparatus when dealing with a president who has shown a proclivity to “go off the rails.”
At the G-7 summit in Quebec this past June, Trump disavowed relationships and agreements with other member states. As a result, at the more recent NATO summit in Brussels, National Security Advisor John Bolton met with member states in advance to craft a joint resolution effectively disavowing any potential negative comments from the President in advance of the meeting.
“When the history is written, I think we’re going to read a lot of it that will talk about how people in critical positions, like a Jim Mattis, basically tried to save the country from this President,” Ott said.
On the subject of Iran and North Korea, Ott emphasized the lack of frameworks and decision-making processes for negotiations with those countries.
“In terms of interests, goals, costs and risks, the effort to achieve a peace with North Korea is not stupid,” Ott said. “The question is one of method. Donald Trump is going to short-circuit that framework.”
Ott added that in his opinion, North Korea stood at a crossroads between dependence on China and expansion toward something new.
In the past year, Ott said he felt that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had achieved the leverage to begin to negotiate with less and less Chinese influence.
On the subject of tariffs, Ott said the idea of calling out China for alleged transgressions, including misuse of trade laws and criminal theft of intellectual property, was a good one being executed poorly.
“The President wants to use tariffs as his method to achieve this, but then China retaliates,” Ott said. “And we’ve adopted tariff wars with other countries, with Europe and Canada, that share our views on China. So we’re alone; we’ve stripped ourselves of our allies.”
Ott’s brief mention of climate change belied the seriousness of the threat, as he said, “It dwarfs everything else. If this is as bad as it looks like it’s becoming, nothing else will matter.”
Ott saved his harshest criticisms for Russia, calling Russian leader Vladimir Putin, “no friend of the United States. More than that, he is an adversary, and he is hostile. He wishes this country ill.”
Ott offered his opinion on Russia’s aims, including removal of sanctions, diplomatic acceptance of the invasion of Crimea and the Ukraine, access for Russian intelligence in the United States, a weakened NATO and an emboldened Russia in Eastern and Central Europe.
Ott described the election of Trump as “like winning the lottery” for Putin, as Trump has given every indication that he has no problem acquiescing to those demands.
“Look at the press conference in Helsinki,” Ott said. “Trump is supplicant. Putin is in command of the room and even answering questions for Trump.”
At the end of his presentation, Ott was blunt in his estimation of the damage done by the current administration, and the threat it poses to the country.
“When an official uses his office to further the interest of a hostile foreign power over those of the United States to which he’s sworn to defend, there is a word to describe that, and it’s treason,” Ott said.