Monday, April 24, 2017

Trump and the Imminent Dangers of an "Oh, Never Mind" President

  by Nomad

Last week, The Washington Post featured an op-ed piece by Pulitzer Prize–winning conservative political commentator, George Will. Even though it always helps to be slightly inebriated before reading anything from the right, this piece which caught my ever-roaming eye.
It was entitled "The ‘Oh, Never Mind’ President." 

History’s Most Unprepared Candidate

From the outset, there's something you need to know. Mr. Will has made it perfectly clear that he's no great fan of Donald Trump. Back in June of last year, Will actually walked away from the Republican party due to his issues with the billionaire. 

And in November, Will called Trump's victory "a ruinous triumph for the GOP." Reading the following passage, the word "scathing" is one that immediately comes to mind.
The simultaneous sickness of both parties surely reveals a crisis of the U.S. regime. The GOP was easily captured, and then quickly normalized, by history’s most unpleasant and unprepared candidate, whose campaign was a Niagara of mendacities.
But there's another word to describe Will's thoughts. "Disingenuous."

Will seems to think Republican party was, until the marmalade Menace marched onstage, the party of common sense, and fiscal prudence. 

Naturally, Mr. Will is welcome to his historical re-writing, and Lord knows, the last 40 years of US politics has given scrubbers like him plenty of work. Still, Trump didn't start the mess but he is going to make it a lot worse very soon. 

Will has predicted that, by mid-summer, conservatives will turn on President Trump when the time comes for the president to cobble together some kind of workable budget. Conservatives, he believes, are going to bolt when they see the final draft.
[I] think when they realize all that you embrace when you embrace protectionism, enormous executive discretion, government planning essentially what we can consume and how the economy will work and who shall be winners and who shall be losers, when they realize the slippery slope they’re on, away from bedrock conservative principles, I think things will change by mid-summer.
They would be merely joining the ranks of the rest of the country by that time.

The Improvised Presidency

Recently when Trump was asked to explain why he called NATO obsolete during the campaign, and has, since he became president, has changed that view. His answer was a bit jarring. He said that because he didn't really know much about NATO but "now I know a lot about NATO."

He said similar things about health care repeal/replace. "Who knew it could be so complicated."
Of course, the answer is that everybody knew but Trump.

Americans are, for the most part, ready to cut any president some slack. Nobody comes to the Oval Office fully prepared.
However, the US presidency is no place to "wing it" and pray for the best outcome. Or as the Republican candidate, John McCain said about the fresh-faced Senator Obama in 2008.
We don't have time for on-the-job training, my friends.
Trump's profound ignorance of even the basic things most Americans know is one of the chief reasons why his foreign policy is in disarray.  

In his more recent piece, George Will turned his attention to Trump's lack of policy coherence. Here's a list of things that Trump has said but never meant, as per Will.
The notion that NATO is obsolete? That China is a currency manipulator? That he would eschew humanitarian interventions featuring high explosives? That the Export-Import Bank is mischievous? That Obamacare would be gone “on Day One”? That 11.5 million illegal immigrants would be gone in two years (almost 480,000 a month)? That the national debt would be gone in eight years (reducing about $2.4 trillion a year)? About these and other vows from the man whose supporters said “he tells it like it is,” he now tells them: Never mind.
All of this might well be dismissed as the usual jarring when bold and definitive campaign promises meet hard presidential realities. However, Mr. Will seems to understand an improvising presidency, like the one Trump is running, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Despite Stephen Miller, a senior adviser, a petulant warning to the press that presidential powers to protect the nation “will not be questioned,” still the questions and questioners persist.  
And why? Will rhetorically asks.
[B]ecause when candidate Trump’s open-mic-night-at-the-improv rhetoric of quarter-baked promises and vows is carried over into the presidency and foreign policy, there are consequences, especially when his imprecision infects his subordinates.

Tillerson's Tough Talk

One of those subordinates is Trump's Secretary of State Rex (Don't look me in the eye") Tillerson. Following the Syrian missile volley, Tillerson issued a statement that an attempt to impose meaning on the action. He said that the message that the Syrian attacks were supposed to send was
“...if you violate international norms, if you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”
A fairly ironic statement, even for Trumpville. After all, a missile strike is a violation of both international norms and laws
When it comes to the use of force, the UN Charter sets a very high bar. Its Article 2(4) mandates member states from refraining “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

One look at that sour face and it's clear that doesn't enjoy a good paradox like that.Finger-waggers like Tillerson pay no never mind to silly things like UN Charters and rules for everybody. 

Still, the secretary's terse comment was every bit as bold a statement as we heard on the Trump campaign trail. According to Mr.Will, Tillerson's statement was every bit as phony.
Start drawing red lines and, the first thing you know, some smarty-pants backed with nuclear weapons or Putin will see it as some kind of challenge. Then what? 

If, as Tillerson says, the United States is committed to “holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” the US military will require much more that the president’s proposed $54 billion increase in defense spending
Being the world's policeman nearly broke the bank the last time the Republicans tried.

So what was the real message that Trump intended to send with the missile attack on the Syrian airbases? Will implies that it was an attempt to appear to do something without really doing anything at all. 

The End of the Bluff

The article quotes  Eliot A. Cohen, former State Department counselor (2007-2009) and, at present, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Cohen agrees that the air strike might have seemed like the right thing to do. It might have given the appearance of "a firm response to a loathsome act."

However, it was, like so much of Trump's boldness, merely a hollow show. Cohen points out:
“Having tipped off the Russians, and targeting things rather than people, it did not do much damage to anything the Assad regime cares about. . . . An effective, destructive attack — that is, one that would worry the Assad regime — would have killed skilled personnel, military and political leaders, and elite fighters.  
There was also a moral false equivalency.
Blowing up some installations is not, in fact, ‘proportionate’ to the massacre of children.”
Okay, we all know that's way beyond Trump's ethical grasp. 

The message sent to the world, especially to the Syrian president (and, by extension, the Russian president) was that Trump doesn't really mean anything he says. When forced to do anything more than talk, Trump becomes a political P.T. Barnum.   
Sooner or later, somebody will call Trump's bluff and it will be too late for him to retreat to Mar-a-Lago and grumble "Never mind." 

That's the precise moment when Americans- remaining holdouts, I mean- will realize the catastrophic mistake they made last November.