Former US diplomat and Balkan mediator James Pardew talks to DW about the current administration in Washington, its foreign policy and whether or not President Trump will manage to finish his mandate in the White House.
DW: US President Donald Trump decided to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election victory a couple of days ago, apparently disregarding the advice of his national security advisor, according to US media. What does this say about the current US administration and its direction?
As far as the president's call to Putin, he probably joined maybe 10 other national leaders around the world in congratulating him. As an American, I'm embarrassed that the president of the US would call Vladimir Putin and congratulate him. As a professional foreign policy advisor I'm extremely critical of the Trump administration, their lack of foreign policy expertise, and I think that the president making the unwise decision to call Putin shows how amateurish and confused they are. There are some people in the White House who have common sense and know that this was a bad thing, but he did it anyway. This president prides himself in his personal judgment, no matter how flawed that might be, and he loves to do things independently from professional advice. There is a contempt for professionalism in the White House that is shocking right now. The State Department has been devastated. Rex Tillerson was the weakest Secretary of State that I can ever recall. He was brutally fired and humiliated, but still he was not an effective secretary. I don't know if Mike Pompeo would be any better because ultimately the president makes the decisions, and now he seems more confident than ever after he fired Tillerson. So I'm appalled by the foreign policy direction of the US.
With everything that is happening in the world right now, how dangerous is it to have such an administration in Washington?
I don't think anybody ever imagined that we would have this kind of situation in Washington. The president has an unclear relationship to Putin and there is a lot of speculation whether that's true. But he has a problem criticizing Russia for anything. Turkey just shelled an American ally, the Kurds in Syria, and as far as I know, the current administration has not said one word about that. Trump seems to be more comfortable with tyrants and autocrats than he is with democratic allies in Europe, so it is a real problem. But I do think that the US public, certainly the thoughtful public, is very well aware of this. The president's popularity rating is very low, probably the lowest of any president at this point, but he seems to continue to soldier on in his own way. All in all, I think no one should discount the US. We have strong institutions. We have a very aggressive press that has not been intimidated or humiliated and they stay after him every day, as they should, holding him accountable. I think that the checks and balances in the US are working. It may take a while, but I think the process of correcting the mistake that was made here is underway and eventually the US will self-correct and we will reassume the leadership role as a democratic country.
Do you expect President Trump to finish his current mandate in office?
I don't know. A lot of it depends on two things. The elections this fall will be very important to the future. If the Democrats win the House and the Senate over the Republicans, and they control both houses of the Congress, then a lot depends on what Mr. Mueller (Robert Mueller, former FBI chief and special council investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election) concludes. If the House and Senate are democratic and Mueller comes in with very strong indictments or conclusions about collusion and other things, then Trump might face impeachment. If the Republicans win the House and the Senate and Mueller's conclusions are not strong, then Trump might last the full term. I worry not so much about the obstruction of justice, I think President Trump has clearly done that, or even collusion. What I would like to see is a judgment on whether or not the president was personally compromised in Russia. Either financially through his financial dealings with oligarchs in Russia, or personally through his behavior in Moscow. Hopefully, Mueller's investigation will look hard into that and tell us whether any of those things are true.
The Cambridge Analytica data scandal highlights a different aspect concerning the elections in the US, and probably in many other countries, too. What kind of manipulation are we talking about here?
This Cambridge Analytica thing is shocking to me beyond words. Did people try to manipulate the elections? Yes. But the kind of sophistication we are talking about here is something that I personally didn't envision happening, and that might take this to a whole new level. And particularly if they discover that some foreign power was involved. That would be unbelievable. What we are talking about here is a very sophisticated covert operation. Democracies are under attack from covert manipulation of information. Someone asked me if this could have affected Brexit. I don't know. That needs to be checked. But it appears as though this was a major factor in the US elections. We don't know the consequences yet, but this is going to be a major issue in the coming months.
You've spent 13 years working as a mediator solving conflicts in the Balkans. It has been 17 years since the end of the last Balkan conflict, but, obviously, a lot of these issues remain unresolved. Where do you see the Balkans today?
After a few years working in the Balkans, if you just walk into your office every day and you look at the situation, you would say: Oh my god, we have so many problems to solve. But you have to back away from that sometimes, and you have to look back and see how far we've come compared to where it was before. A number of Balkan countries today are members of NATO and the EU. The rest of the region is aspiring towards EU and NATO membership. Most of the countries are democracies. Economic progress has been made. When you look around the region, it's at peace; it is oriented towards democracy. Hopefully, we are on the verge of resolving the name issue [between Macedonia and Greece] which will allow Macedonia to enter NATO and probably the EU. So, a lot has been done.
James Pardew spent his career working in the US military and State Department and was instrumental as a US mediator in the international effort to bring peace to the Balkans during the 1990s. He served as the US ambassador to Bulgaria from 2002 to 2005. Pardew recently published his first book, "Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans."