I think it is enlightening to look back at President Trumptin’s foreign policy and national security decisions his first year in office. Even taking into account my vastly different world view, and obvious biases, I can’t help but conclude that he has succeeded in damaging our international reputation, undermined long-standing alliances and allies, and decreased our overall national security. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that one man could do so much harm in so little time.
I was led to believe that the much more experienced Defense Secretary and National Security Advisor would tutor the least qualified man in American history into making sane and workable policies. I didn’t expect to agree with all the administration came up with, but sane and workable do not appear to me be too much to ask.
I have seen what appeared to be instances when the President’s wishes were being ignored or drastically reworked, such as the what happened on the issue of transgender eligibility for military service. Fine. I agree that Trumptin’s inclination in this instance was distasteful and un-American, but I’m disturbed that it was necessary to ignore him, and worry what sort of precedent doing so might set. In any other administration, the same actions would lead to the immediate dismissal of the offending cabinet official. It is just another indicator how far from normal this administration is, and why his own people think steps are necessary to protect Trumptin from Trumptin. I can only conclude that these same folks either agree with the direction the president is taking, unable, or they are unwilling to confront him on diplomatic and security issues. Whatever the answer we are left with a cowboy in the oval office who neither knows how to ride a horse, handle a gun, and insists on wearing gaudy chaps that show his butt to the whole world.
Let me recount some of the unenforced errors I believe Trumptin has made. You may agree or disagree. I am not trying to persuade you to think like I do. I’ve been wrong many times, and learned early that it was wise to stay in earshot of the smartest people around, shamelessly borrowing their ideas to blend with my own. I always tried to give credit for the things that were not mine, but I probably didn’t protest enough when undeserved praise was coming my way. Again, my objective is not for you to agree, but to get you to think more about the serious challenges we face entering 2018.
1) A conscious decision to abdicate our world leadership role tops my list. As Richard Haass rightly notes this is unprecedented. Leadership has been lost in war, economic disruptions, and the rise of new powers, but never thrown away like an old shoe. We may have to pay dearly before Trumptin, and those who agree with him, realize what they have done, and the dangers to our military, political, and economic interests they have created.
2) Trumptin’s second error stems from this same mindset. If we don’t have a world leadership responsibility, do we really need the Department of State? The rookie president appoints a rookie secretary of state that accepts a budget so low that many important programs will be gutted. Not satisfied, he runs off several generations of our best and brightest. Such actions endanger the civilian/diplomatic influence in national security decision making, something that every president in modern times as insisted upon. It is unclear whether Trumptin did this purposefully to upset the balance in decision-making, or is just another instance of his lack of qualifications to be commander-in-chief.
3) This has also led to the third error, an over reliance on the military and the use of force. I spent 10 years in the Army and another 4 at the Pentagon. Anyone who thinks that I don’t have the highest respect for the military services and the people that are responsible for protecting our ass 24/7, simply doesn’t know me. But, a president who has shown clear authoritarian tendencies appointing a retired General to head the Pentagon, one that required a waiver from the Congress to qualify, followed by putting a retired General at Home Land Security, and ending up with a retired General as the National Security Advisor, who had to be replaced almost immediately by an active duty General, is unprecedented. Considered along with what has happened at the Department of State, I think even the most avid supporters of the military must admit that Trumptin’s reliance on “his generals” may not be healthy.
4) Then there is North Korea. Under Trumptin it has changed from a complex and perilous problem to one that will inevitability require a major war: A conflict that will put millions of people at risk. I say inevitable because that's where Trumptin’s demands lead us. I learned early on from Senator Glenn that great nations don't bluff. They say what they mean, and they do what they say. If the president truly believes that he must denuclearize the Korean Peninsula he will have no other recourse than doing it by force. I don't know of a single reputable North Korean specialist who believes that Pyongyang will willingly give up its nuclear deterrent. The only exception might be us being prepared to give up our nukes as part of the bargain. Good luck with that.
5) His threatening to use force in North Korea and elsewhere is another error in judgment. Given his rudimentary knowledge of the Constitution, and how the American government works, I hope his advisors are reminding him that he can't start a war just because he wants to. He should also understand that a nuclear test or even the test launch of an ICBM do not constitute acts of war, or for that matter even solid grounds for a Tonkin Gulf-like resolution. Let's hope that he also appreciates before initiating a conflict far more demanding than the Iraq war, that he must gain the unambiguous support of the American people, and formal congressional approval. If he is smart, he will also seek the support of the UN Security Council. I have a hard time believing that he is thought much about any of these things.
6) The president had barely moved into the Oval Office when he decided to give China a strategic advantage in East Asia. It doesn't matter whether you like or dislike TPP withdrawing from it only helps Beijing, disadvantage American businessman, and require the next president to start all over again. It was the first tipoff to our allies in the region that maybe trusting in America was not the smartest choice.
7) The president proving that he had more foolish things up his sleeve broadcast to all world leaders allies and adversaries alike that the key to manipulate him was to kiss his ass. The list of leaders who had his number is long, starting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Chinese President Xi, Putin, the Saudis, and virtually everyone else. It took a few months, but the Republicans in the Congress decided to engage in their own bit of bowing and scraping. Every time I see Trumptin and the vice president together I keep expecting Pence to kneel down and kiss the president’s ring. If you ask me, the whole mafia boss treatment Trumptin gets is kind of creepy.
8) I can't forget to put the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on my list. I suspect Trumptin thinks that he has done something good for Israel. I don't see it that way. Indeed, I think his actions make it more likely that the only option left is a one state solution. Hopefully, this would lead to a more democratic Israel, but it might also increase the possibility of something like a South African apartheid taking hold. Any president who didn't care about the consequences of his actions could have moved the embassy long ago, but it took Trumptin to say, “Hell with the complications”. It will make me look good.
9) What does Trumptin have against our European allies. If he continues to spit in the eye of our friends long enough, the world can become a lonely place. I guess as long as people say good things to him he won’t realize the difference, just the rest of us.
10) I could go on and on, but 2018 would be over before I could complete my list. Let me end with the wall and the Muslim ban. Border security is a legitimate concern, but the wall is simply a $18 billion trophy for Trumptin’s ego, and the Muslim ban is proof positive that he doesn’t have a clue about terrorism. We got lucky that he likes to play golf more than being President of the United States. Since he didn’t have time to do both, he turned terrorism over to those who do.