Call it digital diplomacy.
Last week, after the Obama administration broke with 36 years of tradition, by abstaining from a U.N. Security Council vote that declared every Jewish home in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in “flagrant violation of international law,” President-elect Donald Trump stepped up to support our Middle East ally.
“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Dec. 28.
In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted: “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel.”
Traditionally, these types of communications between a future world leader and a prime minister would be made privately, out of the public sphere. But Mr. Trump is a different sort of president, and has been using his Twitter account to push out his agenda, concisely and transparently, every day.
Critics have derided this method, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declaring this week that: “These issues are too important for mere words. Our challenge is too entrenched for mere tweeting. Making America great again requires more than 140 characters per issue. With all due respect, America cannot afford a Twitter presidency.”
But what Mr. Schumer fails to mention is the tweets are working — and in the process, Mr. Trump is changing how business gets done in Washington.
In addition to communicating to our allies, Mr. Trump has used his tweets to signal where he wants to focus his agenda. It’s hard to be detailed or specific enough to make actual policies on Twitter, but 140 characters does give you enough room to stake out your initial ground.
In some cases, like with Ford Motor Co. and Boeing, that was enough. Both caved after being called out by Mr. Trump’s social media feed, with Ford ditching its plans to invest in a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, and Boeing vowing to keep taxpayer considerations in mind when it revamps Air Force One.
House Republicans also took a cue from Mr. Trump’s Twitter account on Tuesday, when they pushed to amend House rules to gut the Independent Office of Congressional Ethics. Less than two hours after Mr. Trump criticized the timing of the rule change, the lawmakers backed down.
Was the concession completely due to Mr. Trump’s social media feed? Probably not, but no one can argue it had no impact.
In Mr. Trump’s book “Art of the Deal,” he describes his negotiating style, which is to aim high, and then doggedly pursue what he wants. Sometimes he settles for less, “but in most cases I still end up with what I want,” Mr. Trump writes.
Think of Twitter as Mr. Trump’s first bargaining chip. Some of his targets fall more easily than others.
Perhaps this is what he’s doing with Russia.
The mainstream media likes to portray Mr. Trump’s friendly tweets about Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, as evidence of Mr. Trump being a puppet of the ruthless dictator.
But what if it’s just him using the time tested carrot and stick method?
Mr. Trump and his advisers obviously think Russia can help the U.S. in eliminating the Islamic State — a priority of Mr. Trump‘s. And it’s not outlandish to think Mr. Trump views China, Iran and Islamic State, as a much greater national security threat than Russia.
So why not butter up Mr. Putin on Twitter? This is the carrot. Mr. Trump has also steered clear of a Russian hard-liner in his pick for secretary of State in Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson, who has good relations with Mr. Putin.
Then there’s the stick. Mr. Trump has also promised to rebuild our military, threatened to enter an arms race, and said he wants to unleash U.S. oil and gas exploration — all of which could have devastating effects on Russia’s fragile economy.
Although Mr. Tillerson is a friend to Russia, Mr. Trump’s defense pick, James Mattis, is no pacifist, and Mr. Putin won’t mistake him as one.
Lastly, Mr. Trump uses his Twitter feed to set the daily agenda, and to control the press.
Sometimes he intentionally pokes the bear, which is great fun to watch. His New Year’s Eve tweet was such: “Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!”
The liberal media couldn’t handle it, and lamented on it for days, while his supporters just laughed.
Others are more serious — on Thursday, Mr. Trump used his Twitter feed to defend himself against media accusations he was in agreement with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He also used it to take on Obamacare, the Democrats spin to keep it, and why it needs to be repealed and replaced.
All of this angers the mainstream media, who know Mr. Trump’s Twitter usage goes over their heads and talks directly to the American people. It’s lessening their value and control of their precious, preconceived narratives.
“Trump sets agenda every morning with exaggerated/false/destabilizing Tweets, and then we all write about them, letting him own the day. Why?” questioned New York Times writer Eric Lipton.
Here’s the simple answer: Because he’s the president-elect, and he’ll be running the show.
Perhaps there’s a method in what the media views as his Twitter madness.
• Kelly Riddell is a columnist for The Washington Times.