Everybody knew President Donald Trump has been creating foreign policy on the fly, relying on intuition, wild guesses and personal interactions with other heads of state rather than careful, systematic strategizing. But the startling performance Wednesday by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demonstrates that the President is developing US policy by himself, leaving top military and diplomatic officials in the dark about what might be coming next.
"You come before a group of senators today who are filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy," said Sen. Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, who went on to note: "It appears that in a 'ready, fire, aim' fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go."
Corker had every reason to be skeptical. Hammered by senators, Pompeo acknowledged that, a week after a two-hour, one-on-one meeting between Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, many senior members of the Trump administration remain in the dark about what the two leaders discussed and what agreements they reached in Helsinki, Finland.
That's extraordinary -- and extremely dangerous.
An incredulous Sen. Tim Kaine emphasized how little information the White House is sharing with key military leaders. "Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- as of Monday -- Dunford still hadn't been briefed on Helsinki, even though it directly affects more than 1 million troops Dunford oversees. Do you know why there would have been no briefing of Gen. Dunford about the discussions that took place at Helsinki?"
An excellent question, for which Pompeo had no good answer.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, practically begged Pompeo to give a private briefing on the Helsinki trip to members of Congress. And toward the end of the hearing he voiced the frustration of many senators -- and their strong suspicion that Pompeo, like so many other senior members of the administration -- is out of the loop when it comes to Russia.
"I really don't believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the President's two-plus hours of conversation with President Putin, and I really don't know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before," Menendez said.
Until now, the Trump administration has dismissed criticism and concern about its foreign policy as the byproduct of a leadership determined to shake things up in Washington.
"President Trump has a different way of doing things," a Trump official told BuzzFeed. "He is a dynamic President who is not afraid to take bold, decisive action quickly. The rest of us just have to get used to it and keep up."
If "different" and "dynamic" mean cutting secret deals that never get disclosed to the nation's top diplomats, warriors and lawmakers, the problem won't be keeping up. The challenge will be to figure out whether the White House is serious about rallying the nation to challenge and compete with adversaries such as Russia.
The Putin regime invaded and has occupied part of Ukraine, undermined democratic nations around the world, created a string of bloody human rights abuses against dissidents and interfered in US elections.
Trump's go-it-alone, seat-of-the-pants style is no way to roll back a dictatorship. What's needed is less secrecy and more unity of purpose as America gears up for what could be a new Cold War.