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Mr. President, Lend Me Your Ear!

Bulgaria considers how to attract Trump's attention, given that Melania might not be the best conduit.

by Boyko Vassilev 23 January 2019

Information travels through myriad and sometimes unexpected connections. Consider U.S. presidents: how do they make their decisions about the Balkans? Through official reports? By consulting the State Department and embassies, or, indeed, the CIA? Despite the many possible advisors teeming around a president, the answer could be closer to home.

 

Who could be closer to a president than his wife? There was a widespread theory in the early 1990s, about the reason for the prolonged U.S. hesitation to act in the Yugoslav wars. According to this hypothesis, Hillary Clinton took Robert Kaplan’s Balkan journalism – collected as a travel book called Balkan Ghosts – as a reason to persuade her husband Bill not to engage in this messy, unrepairable region. It took three more years of bloodshed, and the persuasive power of officials like then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and special envoy Richard Holbrooke, to reverse this strategy.

 

In the 2010s, enter Donald Trump and his Slovenian wife, Melania, who is undoubtedly a valuable source of impressions, jokes, and stereotypes about the Balkan countries – well, at least those that were part of former Yugoslavia.

 

This might explain some of the U.S. president’s otherwise baffling Balkan pronouncements. How else can we explain an outburst about the violent nature of Montenegrins? NATO’s newest and second-smallest member surely deserves better than public derision about being likely to need rescue by the United States.

 

How, too, can we explain Donald Trump’s unexpected tolerance toward the idea of a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia? Europe certainly has never accepted such a plan. Yet Washington has not only failed to denounce the idea, but has urged Kosovar President Hashim Thaci to reach a “historic” deal with Serbia.

 

Is this a matter of Trump’s fondness for deal making? Is he rejecting the legacy of his (mainly Democratic) predecessors? Or, perhaps, is this just Melania whispering in his ear? We will never know for certain.

 

However, if it is true that the First Lady is a source of President Trump’s information, Bulgaria is in a difficult position. The country was never part of Yugoslavia – and even if it had been, out of all former Yugoslavs, Slovenians know the least about Bulgaria. Melania Trump might not even know any Bulgarian jokes!

 

How, then, can this Balkan country attract Trump’s attention? Bulgaria has made at least two attempts.

 

When Trump entered the White House two years ago, a Trump Society was founded in Sofia. Tellingly, the group consisted mainly of opposition figures and outspoken critics of the U.S. presence in Bulgaria. This group hoped that Trump would denounce billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and the liberal and globalist inclinations of U.S. Democrats and the State Department – thereby improving U.S. relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

 

However, now Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s coalition government has embarked on another plan to catch American interest. This NATO member’s air force is still using Soviet MiGs, but after a decade’s hesitation, much political wrangling, and a recent, hasty debate, the Bulgarian cabinet has decided to open negotiations with the U.S. about the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets. On 16 January, parliament approved the policy, albeit with a slim majority.

 

Sweden’s Gripen fighter, produced by SAAB, had been declared the winner of an earlier process. That was under the previous caretaker government, which President Rumen Radev, a former air force commander, had appointed. Borissov’s GERB party has taken a different approach.

 

Sweden has declared it remains open to a deal, but Borissov argues that F-16s are the most widespread NATO military aircraft, and that the new Block 70 version of the Lockheed-Martin fighter can be used for more combat tasks than simple air policing.

 

In addition to the military motivations, there is another, unspoken, calculation being made here. President Trump enjoys making deals, and his main battle cry is to create American jobs. In other words, with such a deal, Bulgaria is negotiating for more than just F-16s – the country is trying to secure the U.S. president’s positive attention.

 

Given what we know of Trump, this is an even better way of attracting his interest than through a joke by the First Lady.

 

May the Force be with Borissov, to strike a deal that Washington can feel is valuable! Because, just like President Trump’s attention, his gratitude can also be won in unexpected ways.

Information travels through myriad and sometimes unexpected connections. Consider U.S. presidents: how do they make their decisions about the Balkans? Through official reports? By consulting the State Department and embassies, or, indeed, the CIA? Despite the many possible advisors teeming around a president, the answer could be closer to home.

 

Who could be closer to a president than his wife? There was a widespread theory in the early 1990s, about the reason for the prolonged U.S. hesitation to act in the Yugoslav wars. According to this hypothesis, Hillary Clinton took Robert Kaplan’s Balkan journalism – collected as a travel book called Balkan Ghosts – as a reason to persuade her husband Bill not to engage in this messy, unrepairable region. It took three more years of bloodshed, and the persuasive power of officials like then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and special envoy Richard Holbrooke, to reverse this strategy.

 

In the 2010s, enter Donald Trump and his Slovenian wife, Melania, who is undoubtedly a valuable source of impressions, jokes, and stereotypes about the Balkan countries – well, at least those that were part of former Yugoslavia.

 

This might explain some of the U.S. president’s otherwise baffling Balkan pronouncements. How else can we explain an outburst about the violent nature of Montenegrins? NATO’s newest and second-smallest member surely deserves better than public derision about being likely to need rescue by the United States.

 

How, too, can we explain Donald Trump’s unexpected tolerance toward the idea of a land swap between Kosovo and Serbia? Europe certainly has never accepted such a plan. Yet Washington has not only failed to denounce the idea, but has urged Kosovar President Hashim Thaci to reach a “historic” deal with Serbia.

 

Is this a matter of Trump’s fondness for deal making? Is he rejecting the legacy of his (mainly Democratic) predecessors? Or, perhaps, is this just Melania whispering in his ear? We will never know for certain.

 

However, if it is true that the First Lady is a source of President Trump’s information, Bulgaria is in a difficult position. The country was never part of Yugoslavia – and even if it had been, out of all former Yugoslavs, Slovenians know the least about Bulgaria. Melania Trump might not even know any Bulgarian jokes!

 

How, then, can this Balkan country attract Trump’s attention? Bulgaria has made at least two attempts.

 

When Trump entered the White House two years ago, a Trump Society was founded in Sofia. Tellingly, the group consisted mainly of opposition figures and outspoken critics of the U.S. presence in Bulgaria. This group hoped that Trump would denounce billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and the liberal and globalist inclinations of U.S. Democrats and the State Department – thereby improving U.S. relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

 

However, now Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s coalition government has embarked on another plan to catch American interest. This NATO member’s air force is still using Soviet MiGs, but after a decade’s hesitation, much political wrangling, and a recent, hasty debate, the Bulgarian cabinet has decided to open negotiations with the U.S. about the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets. On 16 January, parliament approved the policy, albeit with a slim majority.

 

Sweden’s Gripen fighter, produced by SAAB, had been declared the winner of an earlier process. That was under the previous caretaker government, which President Rumen Radev, a former air force commander, had appointed. Borissov’s GERB party has taken a different approach.

 

Sweden has declared it remains open to a deal, but Borissov argues that F-16s are the most widespread NATO military aircraft, and that the new Block 70 version of the Lockheed-Martin fighter can be used for more combat tasks than simple air policing[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26] .

 

In addition to the military motivations, there is another, unspoken, calculation being made here. President Trump enjoys making deals, and his main battle cry is to create American jobs. In other words, with such a deal, Bulgaria is negotiating for more than just F-16s – the country is trying to secure the U.S. president’s positive attention.

 

Given what we know of Trump, this is an even better way of attracting his interest than through a joke by the First Lady.

 

May the Force be with Borissov, to strike a deal that Washington can feel is valuable! Because, just like President Trump’s attention, his gratitude can also be won in unexpected ways.


more for combat than for policing, OR can the F-16 perform a wider spectrum of operations than the Gripen?

Here, we are in a risky ground. Bulgarian government, even Borisov himself, made both claims. But Gripen might disagree. So is better to stick to an attribution here.

I've flipped the paragraph around, to present the Swedish offer in more neutral terms, and to present the comparison between the two fighters as Borissov's argument.  Does that work for you?

Yes. You have read my mail on the jets, right?

I've just read your e-mail about the jets and the tender process, and have rewritten again.

Here, every detail is very delicate. Gripen claim that they are still open. But no-one else does. At the same time, government claims they are just in a negotiation phase with Lockheed M. and parliament will have the final say, when the negotiation is over.

rewrite with more context:

 

However, now Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s coalition government has embarked on another  plan to catch American interest. This NATO member’s air force is still using Soviet MiGs, but after a decade’s hesitation, much political wrangling, and a recent, hasty debate, the Bulgarian cabinet has decided to open negotiations with the US about the acquisition of F-16 fighter jets. On 16 January, the parliament approved the policy, albeit with a slim majority.

 

Although SAAB of Sweden’s Gripen fighter won a previous tender, that process was halted when Borissov’s GERB party won the last election. SAAB has declared it remains open to a deal, but Borissov has argued that F-16s are the most widespread NATO military aircraft, and it is claimed that the new Block 70 version of the fighter can be used for more combat tasks than simple air policing.

1. paragraph is great. With the 2. paragraph we have a problem: SAAB did not actually win the tender, it was declared a winner. And by a caretaker government, appointed by a former air force commander. Can we omit this altogether? To stick with a slightltly re-written 2.sentence?

Plus, the decision was announced few days before the election.

Everything is muddled here

Although SAAB of Sweden’s Gripen fighter was declared the winner of an earlier process, by the previous caretaker government -- appointed by former air force commander President Rumen Radev -- Borissov’s GERB party has taken a different approach.

 

SAAB has declared it remains open to a deal, but Borissov argues that F-16s are the most widespread NATO military aircraft, and it is claimed that the new Block 70 version of the fighter can be used for more combat tasks than simple air policing.

That's fine. Just few suggestions:

 

SAAB has declared it remains open to a deal, but Bulgarian government argues that F-16s are the most widespread NATO military aircraft, and it is claimed that the new Block 70 version of the fighter can be used for more combat tasks than simple air policing.

Thanks for your patience, Victoria

"patience" - pshaw!  As they say, "a stitch in time saves nine"! Much better to spend the time and get it right, especially with national pride and multi-million euro/dollar contracts at stake!

That's true

thanks to both of you spending so much time on this. The only thing I'm slightly uncomfortable with is "it is claimed"

let me check the links I found; I think there may be some direct attribution to Borissov.

Here: Balkan Insight is a reputable source: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/usa-sweden-raise-the-stakes-in-the-battle-to-deliver-bulgaria-s-new-jet-fighters-12-20-2018

 

They collectively signal that Bulgaria's political establishment is leaning towards the US-made Lockheed Martin jets – an option clearly preferred by Prime Minister Borissov.

 

“From what I’ve discussed with pilots, they say F-16 Block 70 are significantly better aircrafts than the others they offer us – the old Eurofighters and the Gripens,” Borissov said on 14 December, adding that he was “not interfering in the [expert] commission’s work”.

we could move the Balkan Insight link to the paragraph where the comparison was made

that puts the blame on Borissov! ;-)

Checked the source but there's nothing about the more combat tasks than policing. Who has said?

From the source: https://bulgarianmilitary.com/2019/01/02/the-equipment-and-capacity-of-the-u-s-f-16-block-70-offered-to-bulgaria/

 

attributable to Lockheed-Martin:

 

"The International Business Development Director for the F-16 Program at Lockheed Martin James Robinson said: “The name F-16 remains the same, but the latest generation Block 70 is a totally different fighter. It is part of a complete package of solutions that will provide Bulgaria with one of the most modern and reliable aircraft in NATO in Europe, equipped with advanced weapons that are included in our proposed price, it will ensure much more than just airspace security.

 

"F-16 Block 70 features the advanced AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar based on technology used in F-22 and F-35. The radar can track 20 targets simultaneously and has a range greater than 160 nautical miles against ground targets, which is significantly much more than the range of the other fourth-generation fighters."

that bulgarianmilitary link is currently attached to the text "acquisition of F-16 fighter jets", two paragraphs above.

Borissov, literally, to mayor of Sofia: "Imagine, you need a bus, but you buy a taxi" (comparing F-16 to Gripen respectively). And also: "We need a jet to fight and win, not just to circle for air policing". :-)

I swear, literal quotes

Just the sort of insulting language to appeal to Mr "MAGA"!

A powerful trend, it looks

Boyko Vassilev
 is a moderator and producer of the weekly Panorama news talk show on Bulgarian National Television.
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