The appointment of Lieutenant General Herbert "HR" McMaster as Donald Trump's national security adviser, following the ousting of Michael Flynn, has reassured those hoping for a "normalisation" of the Trump White House, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. With James Mattis at the Pentagon, Lt Gen McMaster at the National Security Council and Rex Tillerson at the State Department, the three key foreign policy positions have now all been filled by "rational professionals". That's a relief, given the immense danger of having "an unshackled Donald Trump in charge of the world's most powerful military".
But even before McMaster's appointment, there were encouraging signs. Early suggestions that the US might recognise Taiwan or impose a naval blockade in the South China Sea have been "quietly jettisoned". Meanwhile, sanctions on Russia "have not been lifted unconditionally, nor has the US dropped its objections to Russia's annexation of Crimea". There are even suggestions that "the great wall with Mexico may be turning into a fence".
That's as maybe, but the experts at the Munich Security Conference last weekend didn't seem very relaxed, says Roger Cohen in The New York Times. "Getting used to an American president who responds through Twitter to the last guy in the room has no notion or interest in European history, and has turned America's word into junk, is not easy." America's allies are "nervous", and unsure what to believe.
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This sense of unease wasn't helped at all by Trump's "long and rambling news conference" on Thursday, which was followed on Saturday by a campaign-style rally at which he suggested, incorrectly, that a terrorist attack had taken place in Sweden, says Steven Erlanger in the same paper. In particular they are concerned about Trump's apparent ambivalence towards both the European Union and Nato.
Trump has also praised Putin repeatedly and expressed his interest in warmer ties with Moscow, say Catherine Philp and Boer Deng in The Times. Yet this is in stark contrast with General McMaster, who oversaw a Pentagon study last year on how the US army should best counter the Russian threat.
It's also worth noting that while the Kremlin has refused to comment on McMaster's appointment, Franz Klintsevich, a leading member of the Russian parliament's defence committee, described McMaster as a "100% threat to Russia" and warned of a new "Russophobic policy" from Washington. In another possible area of conflict with Trump, McMaster has also "sought carefully to distinguish between Islamic extremist terrorist groups and the wider Muslim faith", says Ruth Sherlock in The Daily Telegraph.
And in spite of Trump's description of Nato as "obsolete" and a "bad deal" for the US, the vice-president, Mike Pence, assured the Munich Security Conference that Washington was strongly committed to Nato, says The Daily Telegraph. He did point out that if Europe wants a collective defence then it has to pay for it, but this seems fair enough, as many Europeans have acknowledged. Washington spends 3.61% of its GDP on a military "whose duties include defending Germany, which spends just 1.19%". Even Britain is accused of slipping below the agreed target of 2%.
In the midst of squabbles over finance, however, the world should not lose sight of the "very real threat" posed by Islamist terrorism and Russia, says the Telegraph, and the role that Nato must play in countering them. "If the West appears divided and reluctant to act, Russia will feel emboldened."
Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career.
On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.
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