Turkey needles NATO by buying Russian weapons

Turkey appears to be building a military infrastructure independent of NATO – much to the annoyance of Washington. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might need that new S-400 missile defense system at home.

Russian S-400 at parade in Moscow

Turkey has risked the anger of the United States and its fellow NATO members by signing a contract with Russia to buy a missile defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish media on Tuesday that Ankara had put down a deposit on the Russian-made S-400 missile batteries, a system that can – according to the manufacturers – shoot down up to 80 targets at the same time, and has a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles).

Washington had long been warning Ankara against this purchase, and made increasingly disgruntled diplomatic noises about it. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, suggested that the purchase could violate US sanctions against Russia.

Read more: Özdemir: Erdogan wants to establish Turkey in Germany

For its part, Moscow remained sanguine in response. Vladimir Kozhin, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the Russian state news agency TASS, “I can assure you that all the decisions made for this contract strictly comply with our strategic interests. In this regard, the reaction of some Western countries that are trying to put pressure on Turkey is completely understandable to us.”

Russians at the top

For NATO, the trouble with the S-400 weapons system is that it is not technologically compatible with the systems it has in place in Turkey – in other words, Erdogan seems to have decided to build a military capacity independent of NATO. “It makes sense [for the Turkish government],” explained Guney Yildiz, Turkey specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), “because if everything is integrated with NATO, NATO commanders have full control over Turkish military systems.”

G20 Erdogan and Putin (Reuters/K.Ozer)Erdogan and Putin appear to have found much in common

On the other hand, a Russian missile system also means Russian control.

“It is a very significant development,” said Marc Pierini, former EU diplomat and analyst at Carnegie Europe. “This is a missile defense system that is going to be hosted by the Turkish air force, and the Turkish air force has no experience of anti-missile systems, therefore it is going to come with a significant number of Russian advisors, trainers, and operators and so on. So at the top of the Turkish air force defense architecture, you’re going to have Russians.”

Yildiz believes that a nationally controlled defense system has become a strategic priority for the upper echelons of the Turkish government in recent years.

Watch video00:30

Merkel: ‘We have changed our stance on Turkey’

“They feel they might need a non-NATO air defense system in case they come under attack by some factions in their own military,” he said. “Turkey was the scene of an attempted coup last year, when Turkish fighter jets were bombing Turkish institutions.”

Yildiz pointed out that there have been signs of US jealousy about Turkey’s arms deals before. He remembered that a similar narrative played out over Ankara’s attempts to buy a Chinese missile system a few years ago, when US diplomats managed to successfully dissuade the Turks. “But since then several things have changed,” said Yildiz.

“The US left a vacuum in the Middle East and Turkey tried to fill it in Syria and elsewhere by trying to directly confront Russia and Iran, and it failed really badly.”

Tit-for-tat weapons deals

The low-point of this attempt at regional self-assertion came when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that had encroached on its territory in late 2015 – which makes the new rapprochement more surprising.

Read more: Russia, Turkey agree to reinvigorate relations after diplomatic row

“If you’d asked me six months ago I would’ve said that it was unthinkable that Turkey chooses to purchase S-400 batteries – so this does mark a significant change in Turkey’s approach,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund’s office in Ankara.

Since then, Ankara has changed tack, “pivoted away” from the West, as the jargon goes, and is now seeking regional allies anywhere it can – i.e. Russia. Not only that, Turkey is not exactly pleased by the way the US has been arming and training Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

Sigmar Gabriel (imago/foto2press/M. Täger)Sigmar Gabriel’s new tough line has not gone down well in Ankara

Meanwhile, as if to give Turkey even more reason to shop elsewhere, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed this week that Germany would put all arms exports to Turkey “on hold,” because of the tensions between the two countries.

Read more: Sigmar Gabriel: ‘Turkey will never join EU under Erdogan’

The response from Ankara was prickly: “Germany should keep its security concerns out of political discussions,” said Europe Minister Omer Celik, arguing that the decision would weaken Turkey’s fight against terrorism – or against Erdogan’s enemies at home, some might say. In any case, the move has added spice to Germany’s strange, paradoxical new relationship with Turkey – a major trading partner and biggest political adversary.

This all helps Russia’s cause, according to Unluhisarcikli. “Russia has discovered that it can influence Turkish foreign policy through supporting Turkey’s military industry,” he said. “And if the United States and European Union are unwilling to do the same thing, then actually Turkey might feel compelled to move away from the western orbit and closer to Russia. Russia has a very clear strategy of driving a wedge between Turkey and the United States, and particularly between Turkey and Germany.”

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Things to know about international military exercises

Military drills by the US and South Korea heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and Russia is playing war games in Belarus. Are there any international rules for such exercises – and are they followed?

Zapad-2013 (picture alliance / dpa)

Late August and early September appears to be the season for major military maneuvers. The recent 11-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill on the Korean Peninsula was enormous. Some 50,000 South Korean troops and 17,500 US soldiers, largely using computer simulations, practiced what to do if North Korea launched an invasion.

It was also not unusual – the two countries carry out the operation at the end of August ever year, though of course that did not stop North Korea condemning it as a preparation of invasion.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, Moscow is about to launch its seven-day Zapad exercises in northwestern Russian and allied Belarus, involving nearly 13,000 soldiers, and drawing demands from the German Defense Ministry for more transparency.

With these two scheduled events, coupled with heightened tensions around the world, countries regularly conduct military exercises to test their procedures and tactics.

Vladimir Putin (picture-alliance/dpa/A.Druginyn)It’s a good idea to let your neighbors know when you’re planning a military drill

Why be transparent?

But whether the exercises are carried out by single countries or by military alliances, there are few international rules governing such operations.

There are regional exceptions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did draw up some rules governing military operations in its 2011 Vienna Document. Designed to promote transparency, this documents stipulates, among other things, that OSCE states, which include Russia, give 42 days’ prior notification of “Certain Military Activities” for operations of over 9,000 troops, and it must invite all OSCE states to observe such activities if they exceed the 13,000-troop threshold.

These rules are mainly designed to build trust between the signatories and to prevent such training exercises from spiraling into open conflict in Europe. But, as Sebastian Schulte of Jane’s Defence Weekly pointed out, “the OSCE rules are not in the form of a formal treaty, but rather that of a non-binding status.”

“In reality, not adhering to these self-imposed restrictions concerning military exercises leads the buildup of trust to unravel and ‘bad press,’ but no direct penalties as organizations such as the OSCE or the UN are in no position to enforce any legal or political sanctions,” he said.

A gentleman’s agreement

In fact, Schulte calls the OSCE regulations “soft indicators,” whose purpose is to help identify “when and where one of the signatories is leaving the agreed upon group consensus, rather than hard law that prohibits and penalizes certain behavior.”

South Korea protests (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)Some protesters have called for an end to Ulchi Freedom Guardian in South Korea

In other hot spots, such as the Korean peninsula, the rules are even softer – in effect, they are little more than “gentleman’s agreements” designed with a similar intention to the OSCE’s rules in Europe.

“The difficulty lies of course with the fact, that by definition a nation’s military and its military affairs are at the core of any nation’s sovereignty,” said Schulte. “In other words, a country that lets a foreign entity, state or organization dictate its military policies, isn’t really sovereign.”

On the other hand, obvious secrecy concerns notwithstanding, countries have many good reasons to keep their military exercises transparent. For one thing, it’s a good idea to announce a major exercise in advance to avoid surprising your neighbors and to make sure they don’t think they are veiled build-ups for an invasion. For another, most countries publish the schedule of their exercises in advance to show off their military potency.

For its part, NATO has recently stepped up its military exercise program in light of what it called the “changed security environment” around the world.

According to the current schedule, as many as 100 NATO exercises are planned for this year, plus 149 national exercises led by individual member countries, which represents a slight increase from 2016.

Also, NATO claims that its military exercises are harmless – and about seeking “transparency and predictability, not confrontation.” In 2016, 17 of its exercises were made open to observers from partner countries, as well as from international organizations like the European Union.

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N. Korea’s behavior is ‘global threat’ & requires global response, including from NATO – Stoltenberg

N. Korea’s behavior is ‘global threat’ & requires global response, including from NATO – Stoltenberg
North Korea’s “reckless behavior” is a “global threat” which requires a global response, including from NATO, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg said a week after Pyongyang claimed to have successfully tested an H-bomb.

“The reckless behavior of North Korea is a global threat and requires a global response and that of course also includes NATO,” Stoltenberg said in a BBC interview, as cited by Reuters.

Stoltenberg stated that NATO is “totally focused on how we [the alliance] can contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict.”

READ MORE: Japanese jet fighters & US bombers conduct war games over East China Sea

Stoltenberg, however, declined to comment on whether the US territory of Guam in the Pacific, located 3,200km from North Korea, was covered by NATO’s Article 5.

Article 5 of the NATO Treaty states that if an ally “is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.” 

Earlier in August, amid spiraling tensions, Pyongyang said that it was working on a plan to launch a medium-range ballistic missile at the US base in Guam. US President Donald Trump responded that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The situation on the Korean Peninsula was further aggravated after Pyongyang claimed that it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb which can be mounted on an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

In response, South Korea and the US reportedly began discussions on the deployment of an aircraft carrier and strategic bombers in the region.

Seoul also immediately held live-fire naval drills involving guided-missile vessels and aimed at preparing to “hit back and bury” the enemy in case of provocation. The drills saw a 2,500-ton Gangwon frigate, a 1,000-ton patrol ship, 400-ton guided-missile vessels, and 130-ton high-speed boats maneuvering in the Sea of Japan (called the East Sea by South Korea).

In its harshest response to North Korea’s nuclear test, the US warned that it is ready to use the “full range” of capabilities at its disposal and might resort to using its nuclear arsenal against North Korea if it continues to threaten the US or its allies.

On Saturday, Japanese jet fighters and US bombers conducted war games over the East China Sea.

Russia has repeatedly stated that that it is important to prevent chaos on the Korean Peninsula and called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the examples of Iraq and Libya have convinced the North Korean leadership that only nuclear deterrence can protect them, so no sanctions can dissuade them.

“Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he added. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue,” he said.

Together with Beijing, Moscow has long proposed a double-freeze plan, in which Pyongyang suspends its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a halt in joint US-South Korea military drills. Washington has rejected the proposal, saying that it has every right to conduct exercises with its ally, South Korea.

Courtesy, RT

Mike Pence in Montenegro urges Balkans to turn away from Russia

US Vice President Mike Pence advised the Western Balkans to look westward for peace and stability, during a regional summit in Montenegro on Wednesday.

Mike Penice in Podgorica, Montenegro (Getty Images/AFP/S. Prelevic)

Pence told leaders of the Western Balkans that Russia was working to destabilize the region and that they needed to be “resolute and uncompromising in the face of aggression from an unpredictable country that casts a shadow from the east”.

“As you well know, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force. And here, in the Western Balkans, Russia has worked to destabilize the region, undermine your democracies, and divide you from each other and from the rest of Europe,” he said.

Read more: US VP Mike Pence in Estonia raises prospect of deploying Patriot missiles

Russia’s worrying behavior

Pence was speaking at the Adriatic Charter Summit in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) newest member. It was the last stop in a tour through eastern Europe that aimed to reassure allies worried by Russia’s behavior.

Pence accused “Moscow-backed agents” of trying to attack Montenegro’s parliament and assassinate its prime minister at the time, Milo Djukanovic, during an election in October last year. He said the suspected power grab aimed “to dissuade the Montenegrin people from entering our NATO alliance.”

Read more: Kremlin denies Montenegro assassination plot

Read more: ‘Europe is the powder keg – the Balkans are the fuse’

Assasination plot

Pence’s comments stepped up US accusations over the incident, after the White House said in April that it had seen “credible reports of Russian support for an attempted election-day attack” in the ex-Yugoslav republic.

A group of Serbians were arrested over the alleged coup plot and 14 suspects were scheduled to face trial in the Montenegrin capital, including two Russians in absentia.

Leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia and Slovenia attended Wednesday’s summit to discuss advancing their Euro-Atlantic aspirations and reforms.

Read more: US VP Mike Pence embarks on European reassurance mission

Read more: The Balkans: From Yugoslav wars to an ever-tense peace

NATO’s doors are open

Watch video04:07

The disputed border between Kosovo and Montenegro

Pence told the leaders that NATO’s door would always be open “for those European countries that share our values, contribute to the common defense, and strive to achieve security, prosperity, and freedom for their people.”

Montenegro joined NATO in early June, angering Russia, which considers it to be part of its historic sphere of influence and a traditional Slavic ally.

Read more: Montenegro ‘entered the West’ through NATO

Serbia is now Russia’s sole ally in the Balkans, although Belgrade officially says it wants to join the European Union. Serbia has been strengthening military ties with Moscow, while maintaining a partnership relationship with NATO.

Earlier in his tour, Pence pledged support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia and met with the presidents of three NATO countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and proclaimed “an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”

aw/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Watch video01:44

Ongoing tensions between US, Russia

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European allies see the two sides of Trump

By Noah Barkin
ReutersMay 28, 2017
NATO Allies Still Nervous After Trump’s Visit
NATO Allies Still Nervous After Trump’s Visit
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By Noah Barkin

TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) – In Sicily, Donald Trump listened attentively during complex G7 debates over trade and climate change, smiled for the cameras, and for the most part refrained from provocative tweets.

In Brussels, he bashed NATO partners for not spending more on defense, shoved the prime minister of Montenegro and renewed his attacks on Germany’s trade surplus with the United States.

America’s allies witnessed the two sides of Trump on his first foreign trip as U.S. president, a nine-day tour that began with sword dancing in Saudi Arabia and vague pledges in Israel to deliver Middle East peace.

As Trump headed home, European officials were left with mixed feelings: relief that he had been patient enough to listen to their arguments and unsettled by a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who is still finding his way on the big policy issues.

“It all fits with his strategic ambiguity approach to life,” said Julianne Smith of the Centre for a New American Security. “It may do wonders when dealing with adversaries. But it doesn’t work when dealing with allies,” she said.

Other leaders of the Group of Seven nations had viewed with trepidation their summit, held at a cliff-top hotel overlooking the Mediterranean, after four preparatory meetings failed to clear up differences with the Trump administration on trade, how to deal with Russia and climate change.

But in the end, officials said, the result was better than they had feared.

The final communique acknowledged a split between the United States and its six partners over honoring the 2015 Paris accord on climate change. That followed a debate with Trump that German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “very dissatisfying”.

However on trade, Trump bowed to pressure from allies to retain a pledge to fight protectionism. And on Russia, he did not insist on removing – as some allies had feared – the threat of additional sanctions for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

“I found him very willing to engage, very curious, with an ability and desire to ask questions and to learn from all his interlocutors,” said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the G7 summit’s host.

NATO “DISASTER”

Still, there was irritation at Trump’s refusal to show his hand on the Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions. Near the end of the summit, he tweeted teasingly that he would make a decision on Paris next week, leaving delegations to scratch their heads about why he could not commit in Taormina.

The most critical words were reserved for Trump’s appearance at NATO headquarters in Brussels, which was described as a “disaster” by more than one European official.

With the leaders of America’s NATO partners standing like school children behind him, Trump upbraided them for not spending more on defense and repeated the charge that some members owed “massive amounts of money” from past years – even though allied contributions are voluntary.

Most disturbingly for allies, Trump did not personally affirm his commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense doctrine, after pre-trip signals from the White House that he would do just that. Trump also failed to mention Russia, which remains NATO’s raison d’etre in the eyes of most Europeans.

It was a speech that reminded some of Trump’s doom-laden inauguration address in January, one that seemed written for the hardest of his hard-core domestic audience. “Proud of @realDonaldTrump for telling NATO deadbeats to pay up or shut up,” former Republican governor Mike Huckabee tweeted in response.

Trump’s appearance in Brussels was particularly galling to the Germans, who after months of painstaking relationship building with Trump – including Merkel’s invitation to his daughter Ivanka for a G20 women’s summit in Berlin – found themselves under attack from him on two fronts.

Before heading to NATO, Trump criticized Germany’s trade surplus in a private meeting with senior European Union officials.

“If Trump really wants to go down a path of isolation, it will only speed up China’s rise to the top,” one senior German official grumbled.

ZERO-SUM

Beyond the rhetoric, Trump’s body language also confounded his hosts. He muscled aside Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic as NATO leaders walked into the alliance’s new headquarters for a photo session.

And he engaged in two alpha-male handshakes with France’s new 39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron, who seemed to get the better of Trump on both occasions.

The macho posturing in Europe contrasted to the images, a few days earlier, of Trump and his team swaying, swords in hand, with the absolute rulers of Saudi Arabia at a lavish welcome ceremony given by King Salman.

Summing up the tour on Saturday, Trump’s advisers seemed most enthused about the Saudi leg, where he clinched a $110 billion arms deal and forged what one aide described as a “personal bond” with the king.

“The president was able to make some of the most amazing deals that have really been made by any administration ever,” enthused his economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Daniela Schwarzer, research director at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin, said the trip had confirmed Trump’s “zero-sum game” view of the world in which you are either a winner or a loser and relationships are transactional.

“His rhetoric and actions suggest he does not consider it a priority to build good and engaging relations with allies the U.S. so far considered its most important ones,” she said.

(Writing by Noah Barkin; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by David Stamp)

The Afghan security problem

The Taliban is now stronger than at any point since the international mission to Afghanistan began 16 years ago. The US and NATO are considering sending more troops to stabilize the security situation.

Afghanistan Königspalast Darul Aman (DW/S. Petersmann)

A quiet side street in Kabul is ringed with trees. The Afghan capital is teeming with heavily armed personnel of all kinds, from military to private security forces, but on this street nothing appears amiss. Three young girls in summery clothing play outside. A white-bearded man sits cross-legged on a red carpet in his bakery. He passes fresh bread out of the window to a customer. The two men joke with each other, laughing.

Springtime in Kabul can be magical, and the little street here suggests nothing of the terrorism and fear that has become a part of daily life. There have been seven major attacks around the city this year, and the abduction industry is booming. Recently, an Afghan guard and a German relief worker were killed in what appears to have been a failed kidnapping. A bombing at the start of May killed eight civilians. The relentless violence defies the city’s wisespread security apparatus.

Afghanistan Abdul Satar (DW/S. Petersmann)Kabul carpenter, Abdul Satar

Deceptive silence

The seemingly peaceful side street is part of a Kabul neighborhood that used to be home to many international aid workers. Many of them left at the same time as the international strike force. Abdul Satar, a 54-year-old carpenter from the neighborhood, earns 200 euros a month. That income needs to support his wife and seven children.

“I am afraid for my wife and children,” he said. “In Kabul, there is always the risk of being in a bombing.” He does not believe that more foreign troops will solve the problem. “Afghanistan must solve its own problems.”

His boss, Nazir Ahmad, nodded in agreement. With most international forces gone, the economy that built up around their presence evaporated, and his business is suffering. “What did NATO bring us?” he asked. “At one stage, there were more than 130,000 foreign troops in the country and the war kept on going, anyway.”

Today, that number is down to about 15,000, mostly from the US, who are responsible for counterterrorism operations. Remaining NATO troops are charged with training the country’s 350,000 own security personnel. The divided training and combat missions have become  intertwined as the security situation has worsened.

Afghanistan Schreinermeister Nazir Ahmad (DW/S. Petersmann)Master carpenter, Nazir Ahmad

Unemployment and discord

Afghanistan is in turmoil, and civilians keep getting killed – nearly 11,500 dead or wounded last year, according to the United Nations. Of the country’s 34 provinces, 31 are under attack. In the first four months of 2017, 90,000 Afghans became internally displaced, adding to the 600,000 in 2016. The situation has further deteriorated this year since Iran and Pakistan have deported up to 200,000 refugees. Many find themselves in Kabul, which the city is unable to cope with.

The Afghan government is to blame, Ahmad said. “They fight over money and power, rather than looking after people.” His neighbor, Nurullah Tarkan, said poverty and unemployment are the greatest threats. “When people can work, they don’t fight.”

Afghanistan Parlament (DW/S. Petersmann)Afghanistan’s parliament building, behind a defensive wall

Country of warlords

Since the American-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has become a country of warring factions. Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum left for Turkey to avoid kidnapping, torture and rape charges of his political rivals. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known as the “Butcher of Kabul”, had been on a UN terrorism list until a peace agreement was reached that will allow him to hold a political office in the future.

Fraud tainted the 2014 presidential election and the 2015 parliamentary elections never took place. The political vacuum has been exploited by the Taliban and as many as 20 international terror groups, including the so-called “Islamic State”, as well as foreign powers such as China and Saudi Arabia.

Security problems

“Foreign troops are not a solution to the situation anymore,” said Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi, a former Taliban official. “Foreign troops have 99 percent of the people against them. Afghan soldiers have far fewer.”

US forces put Halimi in the Bagram prison for a year after the Taliban fell. Today he is a part of the government, serving as spokesman for the Afghanistan Islamic religious council. “Training and advising are ok,” he added. “But foreign combat troops don’t help us. We have had a terrible experience with them. They are always killing civilians.”

Afghanistan Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi (DW/S. Petersmann)Maulawi Mohammad Qasim Halimi, spokesman for the Afghanistan Islamic religious council

Political vision missing

He declined to comment on internal government disagreement regarding dealing with former Taliban members, but he said most would rather negotiate than fight, given what he knows from his own history with the Taliban. However, today the Taliban is itself split, suffering from internal power struggles and external pressure.

Both the Taliban and the Afghan state are dependent on international assistance. A military solution has failed, but a political one has yet to firmly develop. National and international agreement on how the country can reach a peaceful future remains elusive, but for the girls playing outside and residents like Abdul Satar, it is necessary to ensure that terror and violence are not lurking around the corner to destroy the quiet of their small street.

Watch video03:15

People in Kabul live with danger

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Will Trump’s base stick with him?

Trump shifts: Flexibility, evolution or flip-flop?
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Trump shifts: Flexibility, evolution or flip-flop? 08:01

Story highlights

  • Alice Stewart: Idea that the base will abandon Trump for changing his stances is simplistic
  • Parts of the base are very happy with him and others are taking a wait-and-see attitude

Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN)A series of policy reversals by President Donald Trump has supporters and critics alike asking the question: Is the candidate who vowed to drain the swamp getting swamped in Washington? Those on the left say he’s abandoning his base and that in turn, they will abandon him. In other words: it’s about to get real for the reality star turned president.

Alice Stewart

But not so fast. Before you write off the base, you have to understand who the base is. Trump got the most primary votes of any Republican in history. He did that by expanding the GOP establishment vote to solidify support from three key groups: social conservatives, the “alt-right,” and the Rust Belt coalition. All of which are responding to the recent course corrections by the president.
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In a little over a week, Trump reversed on several key policy positions: he ordered missile strikes in Syria after opposing military action there for many years, he dropped his view that NATO is obsolete, he walked back the claim that China is a currency manipulator and indicated he is no longer certain he will replace Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen when her term expires next year.
Keep in mind, if voters thought that Trump’s tendency to change his positions was an unforgivable sin, he never would have won the GOP nomination and never would have been elected president.

Social conservatives

First, social conservatives have felt burned by the GOP over the past decade. They did not get their candidate of choice in 2008 or 2012, but the party relied on them to man phone banks, knock on doors and get out the vote in the general election.
While Trump was not the first choice for many of them, they quickly came to see him as a willing advocate. The Trump transition team brought them into the conversation and truly listened to them. In 2016, social conservatives no longer felt like a GOP afterthought.
Social conservatives wanted a Scalia-like Supreme Court justice and they got it with the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch. For many, this was the single biggest factor in their support of the president.
These pro-life conservatives also wanted Trump to honor the anti-abortion message he campaigned on, which he did last week with the signing of an order allowing states to withhold federal money from abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. Victory on these issues was like eating dessert before dinner for them; they got the sweet stuff they wanted and they didn’t have to wait. They are not troubled by recent head fakes by the President — they are playing long ball.

Alt-right

Secondly, the “alt-right” movement, viewed as anti-intervention and anti-multiculturalism, embraced candidate Trump’s populist isolationism message. The movement had lived largely online, but came out to campaign events and voting booths for Trump.
Many ardent supporters are now vocal opponents of Trump’s decision to order the missile strike against Syria. Some question whether he should have the nuclear codes if he’s making military decisions based on emotions. These people want a lot more, a lot faster from the administration.
Alt-right leaders are also up in arms over Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon losing his seat at the National Security table and rumors of Bannon’s departure due to infighting with the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. It’s not the end of the world if Bannon is shown the door, but it would be problematic with this portion of the Trump base.

Rust Belt

The third facet of Trump’s support is the Rust Belt coalition that voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 because they saw him as the working man’s champion. The Rust Belt’s revenge turned blue states to red for Trump. Working-class voters in the nation’s heartland supported the President’s trade and economic message. These are not hard-core issue conservatives, but they like knowing their president is going to stick it to China and roll back burdensome federal regulations that stifle the economy.
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Trump must not forget his power base is the American worker. If he delivers on the economy, the Rust Belt coalition is not going anywhere.
The West Wing reversals are clearly ruffling some feathers in the base. Asked about the President’s shifting positions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer says it’s the various circumstances, not Trump, that have changed. He even made the dubious claim that “some cases or issues, are evolving towards the President’s position.”
Draining the swamp is an easy campaign slogan, but Trump is learning that successful governing is much more difficult than winning campaigns.