NEW YORK — On a sweltering Washington summer day, President Donald Trump’s motorcade pulled up to the Pentagon for a meeting largely billed as a briefing on the Afghanistan conflict and the fight against the Islamic State group.
There, in the windowless meeting room known as “The Tank”, Trump was to be briefed on the state of America’s longest-running war as he and his top aides plotted ways ahead. But, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the meeting, it was, in reality, about much more.
Trump’s national security team had become alarmed by the president’s frequent questioning about the value of a robust American presence around the world. When briefed on the diplomatic, military and intelligence posts, the new president would often cast doubt on the need for all the resources. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson organized the July 20 session to lay out the case for maintaining far-flung outposts – and to present it, using charts and maps, in a way the businessman-turned-politician would appreciate.
The session was, in effect, American Power 101 and the student was the man working the levers. It was part of the ongoing education of a president who arrived at the White House with no experience in the military or government and brought with him advisers deeply skeptical of what they labeled the “globalist” worldview. In coordinated efforts and quiet conversations, some of Trump’s aides have worked for months to counter that view, hoping the president can be persuaded to maintain – if not expand – the American footprint and influence abroad.
The result of the meeting and other similar entreaties may start to become clear this week, as. The annual gathering of world leaders will open amid serious concerns about Trump’s priorities, his support for the body he is addressing and a series of spiraling global crises.
Trump, who seized as his mantra “America First” and at times unnerved world leaders with his unpredictability, is expected to offer warmth to the United States’ allies and warnings to its adversaries, particularly North Korea and Iran. The president’s envoy to the global body suggested a presidential message that would focus on the basics on America’s role in the world.
“I personally think he slaps the right people, he hugs the right people, and he comes out with the U.S. being very strong in the end,” Ambassador…