Czech connection and Zeman support could smooth early interaction with Trump presidency: Hynek Kmoníček

Donald Trump, photo: CTK

If you’re looking for a Czech who probably has a good take on what the Donald Trump presidency has in store it’s the director of president Miloš Zeman’s foreign affairs office, Hynek Kmoníček. He took up that post after stints as Czech ambassador to India, Australia, and the United Nations. And Kmoníček is the hot tip to become the next Czech ambassador in Washington, likely taking up the post within a few weeks. I asked him first of all what the Trump presidency priorities would be.

Donald Trump,  photo: CTK
“Obviously, it’s very hard to predict in detail because it’s ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’ and it’s the typical political slogan which covers everything and nothing in detail. But what we can assume is that President Trump probably will be a sort of remake of Nixonian policy of the early 1970s, meaning that he will try to solve some inherited problems and that he will be very much dealing within a triangle of the United States, Russian Federation, China. And if Nixon had his problems with [Leonid] Brezhnev-style leadership in Moscow not getting the message, and that’s why he went to Beijing, we sort of expect that this will basically be the policy of Donald Trump. Basically, that his first priority now to deal with on the foreign political scene will be the Russian Federation and on reaching some results on the Russian-American link, he will try to capitalize on them on the, up till now, quite disruptive American-Chinese link. But his is obviously just professing from the, the, crystal ball.

So where does that leave Europe…is Europe is a sideshow then? Or is the main message for Europe to get its act together, spend more on defense, and fall into line with what his ideas are?

Hynek Kmoníček,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“That’s my expectation, with all the talk now about Brexit, which is quite unclear about what Britain will want and can get from the EU, it will be a quite complicated process. From the American perspective, most probably the first focus will be on the security and defense area, especially on NATO structures, where in our analysis there will be pressure on bigger spending and expenditures which are expected at the level of 2 percent of GDP from the nations so that they are not as they are called ‘free riders’. And we as the Czech Republic should not have a problem with that push because we also believe that security is not automatic and that it is not for free. What we see, let’s say, as the area of discussion is that NATO should be able to focus its attention in the imminent threats to our Western civilization, including the threat of Islamic State. That message is coming from Washington as well. And the thing that we think could be the potential danger is the thing we expect and need the least, that is for NATO to end up in the basket of organisations which will be branded as establishment. As we know, the Trump movement has been technically defined as the movement which fights with the establishment. So we hope that NATO will not be seen as the establishment but as the basic, vital, and crucial alliance on the trans-Atlantic link. And that should be one of the priorities on both sides.”

And as regards the team, the people Mr. Trump has nominated for his top position, does that give you any lead or better insight into what his intentions are or is it still confusing because many of the appointees have different positions?

“Well, I think there is an ongoing discussion about how much the president-elect will in his presidency be influenced by advisors, other offices, congresses, and that’s why it is important which people will be selected for the positions. But the previous history of the president-elect shows that he is usually not much influenced by the outside forces and the choice of his nominees show that he is relatively conservative, that he tries to satisfy more streams and parts within the Republican Party. And because he tries to satisfy, let’s say, many branches, then, obviously, many of their ideas are not necessarily part of the same flock. But the basic question for me is how much the presidency of Donald Trump will be influenced by other people than Donald Trump himself. And up till now the analysis of his story leads me to the answer: ‘not much.’”

He’s a self-made man in many ways…Final question, does the Czech Republic have some credit in store with the future presidency given two factors: one the [Czech] background of his former wife and, two, the fact that President Zeman was an outspoken backer of his candidacy?

Miloš Zeman,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“Well, for a country of the size of the Czech Republic, of course it’s a matter of pride that after 45 presidents of the United States we have one that made it even up to Zlín and has children who can understand the Czech language. It gives us a certain PR edge, but you cannot overestimate it. Our Czech-American relation is not based on the personalities but the shared values and the same style of civilization, if I may say it so obviously. Czech president Miloš Zeman was the only head of state in the old continent who openly supported Mr. Trump even before the election. As he likes to say, many supported him after the election. And we believe it will definitely at least partially help us at the beginning of the conversation. But we know that conversations are only repeated if they have practical results. And as we have quite a number of points on the Czech-American agenda where we think we can be quite useful to each other, we believe not just in the past of Mr. Trump to be the card but also the results of the first conversation between the presidents which hopefully happen as they both agreed in their last telephone conversation to be at the end of April in Washington. So, I think it will be a challenging time, a time full of unpredictability. But you know what, we are used to unpredictability in Central Europe.”