Chaos in the White House is causing concern in Europe

Tapper calls out Trump on conspiracy theories
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Story highlights

  • That there are such obvious divisions in the lower echelons of White House power will be disconcerting, but not surprising to Trump's senior European counterparts
  • That Pence was apparently out of the loop for two weeks on an important issue will worry them more

Nic Robertson is CNN's International Diplomatic Editor. The opinions expressed in this article are his.

(CNN)Watching from Europe, it's hard to tell if we are playing audience to a farce, a tragedy, or both unfolding simultaneously in the White House.

Given how critical any details emanating from the White House are to assuage European worries about President Donald Trump's intended relationship with Russia, this should not be a laughing mater. But it's pretty hard not to grimace and grin.
It seems a farce because of the inexperience among Trump's inner circle. His ludicrously quick attempts to deliver on campaign promises from the moment he stepped inside the White House seems at odds with the four-year term he has been handed.
    The Constitution gives him plenty of time to ease into things, get to know the ropes: walk, then run. Instead, President Trump is speed administering.
    Of course, some would argue that this is a smart move: a newly-elected president holds political capital that, if he doesn't spend, will quickly disappear. An experienced, seasoned politician might calculate that moving quickly on campaign promises might get the public on his side and put pressure on Congress to approve his plans. The problem is, the President isn't an experienced politician: he is a property developer who loves the camera.
    If this were a tin-pot, third-world potentate, we'd probably write the leader off as an autocrat, fast-forwarding his rule to do all the fun bits first -- like burying the last guy's proudest achievements.
    The tragedy is that there is time for everything Trump is trying to do. But inexperience and rushing in where wiser men hesitate is handing the world's most powerful man little but disaster and embarrassment so far.
    Undoubtedly there are Americans who voted for Trump and are happy with what he is doing. Over here in the UK too, you'll find people who agree with his actions so far -- mostly Brexiteers.
    On both sides of the "pond," enough people feel left behind by the elite, don't trust them to fix the system they created and want change -- any change -- that they are happy they finally have a leader of the free world who is doing what he said he would.
    Whether it's executive orders stuck in the courts, U-turns on China, Israel, NATO -- and now maybe on Russia -- or the firing of his national security adviser Mike Flynn, wherever Trump has so far hit the fast-forward button, he invariably ends up in reverse.
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    Amidst the whiplash of his missteps, his media flacks appear to be enacting some kind of amateur hour.
    On Monday, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said Flynn had the full confidence of the President. Within an hour, White House press secretary Sean Spicer contradicted her, saying that Flynn's situation was under review.
    Far from learning from this flagrant disparity and closing the gaps on their own information circle, they repeated the same sorry play Tuesday.
    In the morning, Conway insisted that Flynn had resigned and was not forced to quit. By the evening, Spicer was contradicting her once again. The President, according to Spicer, demanded Flynn's resignation.
    As both have struggled to understand and value the truth, they both look pretty foolish.
    Who to believe? They can't both be right. Unless, of course, one or both of them is being lied to, which then raises a more serious question: who in Trump's inner circle is lying?
    If you were scripting a comedy you'd be hard pressed to make this stuff up. "Saturday Night Live" writers have never had it so good: a veritable buffet of farce to feast upon and regurgitate for viewers every week.
    For the arguably more mature members of Trump's administration emerging from Washington's poorly-lit corridors of power to come under the harsh scrutiny of European allies this week, the apparent buffoonery is excess baggage they could do without.
    Those unfortunate men are Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.
    That there are such obvious divisions in the lower echelons of White House power -- witness Conway and Spicer -- will be disconcerting, but not surprising to Trump's senior European counterparts.
    That Pence was apparently out of the White House loop for two weeks on an important issue of national security will worry European diplomats far more.
    That the vice president was not told that Trump's then-nominee for national security adviser, Mike Flynn, had misled him into denying conversations about sanctions with the Kremlin's top diplomat in DC weeks after Pence had gone on national TV defending Flynn against precisely those accusations will cause serious minds in Europe to question what else is being kept from America's top diplomats.
    And what will Russia's foreign minister make of the week's biggest tangle when he meets his opposite number in Trump's cabinet, Tillerson?
    The confidence in the Kremlin a few days ago -- with Flynn in place at the White House -- that they had a finger on the President's pulse is gone. And while they know Tillerson from his days in Moscow cutting oil deals for Exxon, it's not the same as having a close confidant, whose calls over Christmas appeared to calm Kremlin nerves as Obama expelled Russian diplomats.
    All round, certainty is going to be in short supply; the divisions manifesting at the White House are only part of it.
    Russia seems to realize that with Flynn gone, steadier hands might be starting to take control: their bellicose reaction to demands they get out of Crimea (first made over a week ago by Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the UN) only emerged after Flynn's departure.
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    So while Pence, Tillerson and Mattis will meet Europe's top diplomats in the coming days, it's unlikely those diplomats will head back to their capitals feeling warm and fuzzy.
    Undoubtedly, they will hope for clarity, particularly with regard to the US position on Russia. They might say a silent prayer that Trump's three top diplomats' stories align.
    But they won't believe anything until they hear it from Trump's lips. Following his 75-minute confusing press conference on Thursday, they must be wondering even more how much of a disconnect he has with his top executives.
    At this diplomatic level, farce is a precursor to tragedy.