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William Cohen: Trump’s Communications ‘Outside The Norm’

A.J. Higgins
Maine Public file
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen (left) speaks with reporters about the Trump presidency at UMaine’s Collins Center as former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Mark Grossman looks on.";

The Donald Trump presidency was scrutinized Friday by a trio of Washington insiders, including former Secretary of Defense William Cohen of Maine, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Marc Grossman and Andrew Card, who served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush. Cohen said Trump’s sharp remarks about foreign and domestic leaders continue to violate the norm for American presidents.

Cohen had just begun his public presentation when the president called a national press conference announcing his decision to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement approved two years ago by President Barack Obama and five allied nations. Trump said the agreement was a bad deal for the U.S. and that its continued viability will now rest with Congress.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said.

When Cohen was asked why he had decided to title his afternoon presentation at the University of Maine’s Collins Center “Assessing the First Year of an Unconventional Presidency,” he replied, “Everything that he has done.”

Cohen, who also served in the U.S. House and Senate before taking a cabinet post with the Clinton administration, now heads the influential D.C-based Cohen Group, a business advisory firm providing corporate leadership and strategic advice to companies all over the world.

He says some of Trump’s more unconventional actions are directed at international leaders.

“Certainly criticizing the prime minister of Great Britain, the chancellor of Germany, the prime minister of Australia, the South Korean president — that has been outside the norm,” Cohen says. “I think use of language would be outside the norm in terms of the type of way in which he communicates and certainly the last thing would be the tweet storms that are released every morning or every evening.”

Card agrees that Trump tweets at his peril while also setting a standard as the first president to regularly use social media.

“My message is taste your words before you spit them out, while lick your finger before you hit the send button on a tweet,” Card said. “Having said that he (Trump) does have the capacity to reach people in a way that no other president has and that makes him unconventional.”

Cohen referred questions about Trump and the decertification of the Iran agreement to the third member of the panel, Grossman, who also serves as vice-chair of the Cohen Group.

He says the Iranian nuclear deal, which he supports, is clearly not the entire Iran policy. And he says Trump’s decertification action now places the issue in the hands of Congress, which will ultimately have to sign off on some form of an agreement or impose new sanctions.

“I don’t think the administration wants that, I don’t think the majority of people in Congress want it,” Grossman says. “So I hope that they’ll find some way to help the president with his deterrents package, keep the agreement going, not snap back these sanctions for precisely the reasons that you mention: keep the faith with European allies; keep the pressure on Iran and keep them from getting a nuclear weapon for many years.”

Grossman says it is unlikely that the U.S. could get a better nuclear deal with Iran than the one it currently has.

On a positive front, Cohen praised trump’s choices for his national security team and his selection of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

This story was originally published Oct. 13, 2017 at 5:42 p.m. ET.