Wednesday, April 26, 2017


"One of the joys of parenthood is that you see the world again through fresh eyes. Almost the same could be said of observing Donald Trump’s learning curve. Did anyone know how complicated US healthcare could be? Were people aware that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican? Who knew that North Korea was not at China’s beck and call? The good news is Mr Trump’s curve is often vertical. Some of his crazier positions have been discarded. The bad news is that Mr Trump’s shifts require constant vigilance. For the next four or eight years, global peace of mind will depend on Mr Trump having the right advisers at hand when it matters. Things go wrong when moderating influences are absent. On Monday, Mr Trump called Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic president, to congratulate him on a narrow referendum victory that is in dispute. It is no coincidence this ill-advised call took place while HR McMaster, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, was out of the country. The president’s most incendiary daytime tweets often come out on a Saturday, when his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is observing the Sabbath. The others are issued at night when Mr Trump is alone. He is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940s to go to bed and wake up alone. Until now, his wife Melania has shown no sign of wanting to join him in Washington. Beware Mr Trump when he is alone with the world. But his daytime company is greatly improved from when he started. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state, has been criticised for failing to fill up the administration’s key diplomatic roles. His hesitation stems from an excess of caution. Until he knows what Mr Trump’s foreign policy will be, it is tough to know which people would be best to execute it. The same applies to Mr Tillerson’s shyness with the media. Why talk to journalists when Mr Trump may contradict you within minutes of stating a policy? Whatever Mr Tillerson’s shortcomings, impulsiveness is not one of them. The world should be reassured by that.... But there is little basis for assuming Mr Trump’s evolution will persist in the right direction. First, he has no personal loyalties. When his greatest friend and mentor, Roy Cohn (no relation to Gary), was dying of HIV-Aids in the late 1980s, Mr Trump refused to visit him. The notorious New York lawyer had ceased to be useful. “Donald pisses ice water,” Cohn said. Most presidents suffer from an excess of loyalty. Mr Trump is the opposite. The world’s diplomats are investing much time in cultivating Mr Kushner on the assumption he cannot be fired. That is almost certainly wrong. He can be marginalised, which is the same thing. Mr Kushner has been so overloaded with responsibilities he is almost destined to fail. Mr Trump never blames himself. Second, the president has set up a pipeline of foreseeable defeats. His team is no closer than it was six weeks ago to finding a replacement to Obamacare. A second failure on healthcare reform is almost certain. That, in turn, will endanger his centrepiece tax reform, which is no nearer a drawing board than when he took office. In some respects it is even further away. Many Republicans assumed that Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, would push through his own tax plan once Mr Trump had given up. They overestimated Mr Ryan’s competence. There is even less likelihood Mr Trump will get his own way on North Korea. At some point his failure to disarm Kim Jong Un will become dangerously obvious. Ditto for reducing the US-China trade deficit and opening the spigots on infrastructure spending. Mr Trump will find it hard to stand the reality of one defeat after another. Heads will roll. Some will be moderates. Stephen Bannon, the champion of Mr Trump’s “America First” instincts, may have been sidelined. But he is still there. That, ultimately, is the weakness of Mr Trump’s Oval Office tutorials. They depend on who is doing the educating. For the time being, Mr Trump is surrounded by cooler heads. When things go wrong, their loyalty will count for nothing".
Edward Luce, "Painting by numbers with Donald Trump". The Financial Times. 19 April 2017, in
"Lord Cooper explained Nazism, Fascism, and Communism; later in his ghastly library, he outlined the situation in the Far East. 'The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere', he said. 'Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad'. Mr. Salter's side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent. When Lord Cooper was right he said, 'Definitely Lord Cooper'; when he was wrong. 'Up to a point'. 'Let me see, what's the name of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn't it?' 'Up to a point Lord Cooper'. 'And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn't it? Definitely Lord Cooper'."
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh. Scoop. (1949). p. 16.
Notwithstanding some of the more optimistic comments by various commentators, both in the United States and abroad, Trumpism as a foreign policy concept is disaster waiting to occur 1. The American President is a very dangerous combination of supreme ignorance and activism. Au fond 'un-masterly activity' could perhaps be said to be his motto. The bombing in Syria being the ne plus ultra of the very same. The fact that said bombing up-ended his previously declared policy of non-involvement in Syria, Trump perhaps (or perhaps not?) moved by the horrid usage of chemical weapons by the regime of Assad Fils, decided to almost completely reverse course and bomb one Syrian air field. Albeit after warning the Russians what was intended. Similarly, it has now been proved that the movement of a battle group into the waters off Korea from the Western Pacific, was more akin to a stunt than a thought-out policy decision. As the Financial Times' Edward Luce cogently notes, the real issue with Mr. Trump is that having no allegiances (except to himself), and no beliefs or deeply held views, added to which is a mountain-load of ignorance that would put Lord Cooper to shame. In short the American President is the human equivalent of a spinning top. Whoever spins the top last, has the possibility of ensuring where said top will go to. And while it is a very good thing indeed that Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillson, Vice-President Pence and General McMaster, are all level-headed people. Some being highly experienced individuals with long years of government service, there is little reason to believe that per se, if the President were to convince himself that one or all of them should be displaced and or sidelined, then displaced and sidelined they will be. If it could potentially happen to the President's son-in-law, Mr. Kushner (whose sole qualification for holding the power that he does is that he is indeed President Trump's son-in-law), then it may occur to anyone in the current Trump cabinet. Time will only tell where exactly the top labeled POTUS, will end up spinning to.
1. For a more 'optimistic' view of Trumpian foreign policy, see: James Forsyth, "Trump's plan for Pyongyang". The Spectator (London). 8 April 2017. Page 14.