You may remember how George W. Bush was challenged frequently as not being knowledgeable enough about foreign affairs to be president. Malapropisms were Dubya’s forte and he had us holding our sides when he called the Greeks “Grecians” or referred to the East Timorese as Timorians. That level of ignorance was glossed over at the time with the observation that, “the relevant question isn’t how many names of foreign leaders a candidate knows, but whether he has the strategic vision for America’s role in the world,” according to Charlie Pierce’s column in Esquire today. In other words, who needs facts or knowledge, as long as you have a “vision?” It was a ridiculous notion then and under Donald Trump it has gone beyond ridiculous to horrifying. This is an excerpt from “A Very Stable Genius” the latest Trump book to drop. Esquire:
By that point, six months into his administration, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump’s knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.
Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner of “America First,” but Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn feared his proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America’s superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump’s impulsive ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, even, where countries were located. To have a useful discussion with him, the trio agreed, they had to create a basic knowledge, a shared language.
Trump’s first complaint was to repeat what he had vented about to his national security adviser months earlier: South Korea should pay for a $10 billion missile defense system that the United States built for it. The system was designed to shoot down any short- and medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea to protect South Korea and American troops stationed there. But Trump argued that the South Koreans should pay for it, proposing that the administration pull U.S. troops out of the region or bill the South Koreans for their protection. “We should charge them rent,” Trump said of South Korea. “We should make them pay for our soldiers. We should make money off of everything.”
“We should make money off of everything.” This is what you get when you have a rank amateur, with no background in public service or government, who has spent his entire life grifting. This is what the man knows. This is his level of development. He also went on to say that NATO was “in arrears” thereby demonstrating that he knows nothing about how that body works, and that collection efforts should be made. This is vintage Trump on foreign policy. You recall after the Suleimani assassination how he crowed that the Obama administration “gave billions of dollars to Iran.” He made it sound as if Obama wrote Iran a check. No. What happened is that sanctions were lifted, so Iran got billions of dollars of it’s own money. And we hardly need mention the tariff delusion, that China is pumping cash into the U.S. Treasury. My only question has ever been does Trump believe this idiocy himself, or does he merely assume that the people will, because they’re that stupid?
If you wonder why the likes of H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, James Mattis and so many others are no longer in the White House, it’s because rampant idiocy of this level is beyond the ability of anybody intelligent or sane to cope.
Foreign affairs are our Achilles heel right now, and America may not survive Donald Trump. It’s an absolute cinch that America won’t retain it’s place in the world if we have four more years of Trump, but we’re already in a very weak and debilitated place now after the past three. Our allies do not trust us anymore and who can blame them? UK defense secretary Ben Wallace was interviewed recently in the Sunday Times of London and he flat out said he couldn’t sleep nights with what’s going on in American foreign policy. The Times:
Britain must prepare to fight wars without America, the defence secretary has warned, amid concerns that President Donald Trump will pursue an ever more isolationist foreign policy.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Ben Wallace admitted that the prospect of America withdrawing from the world “keeps me awake at night”. […]
In the most pointed comments by a minister about the Trump administration, Wallace said: “Over the last year we’ve had the US pullout from Syria, the statement by Donald Trump on Iraq where he said Nato should take over and do more in the Middle East. The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be.
“We are very dependent on American air cover and American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. We need to diversify our assets.”
They need to figure out a way to cover their own asses because the United States can no longer be depended upon to do so. We are being warily eyed by the entire world, friend and foe alike, under this madcap administration and there’s only one safe prediction to make: if Trump gets reelected, we are done as a world leader. Period. Full stop. It’s third world country, banana republic from here on out, stunning as that may seem. It’s an adjustment that the rest of the world is already in the process of making.
Here are Charlie Pierce’s final thoughts on the election of an utter incompetent, like we have now.
There is no use in pretending to reach people who still buy what he’s selling. There is no use in “understanding” his voters if that understanding involves how someone can dismiss the now sky-high Tower of Babel of evidence that threatens to topple over and bury the republic before it can get out of the way. But it is possible, as amazing as this may seem, to find the shreds of historical antecedents to the current nightmare. God knows, there was no office in any democracy anywhere that needs demystifying more than the American presidency, and that this is a project that should be ongoing forever. For example, believe it or not, unless you’re in the military, the president is not your “commander-in-chief.” In fact, if you are not in the military—or, if you are, and you’re acting in your capacity as a citizen—the president is merely your temporary employee. We need more of this attitude in our politics, and not less.
One of the drawbacks of a demystified presidency, however, is the notion that the job can be done by almost anyone. This can work out well or, as we are seeing today, it can work out very poorly. And, because to job of demystification is never really done, the presidency is still very well-armed for the task of making sure the foibles and shortcomings, dangerous and otherwise, are shielded from the president’s employers. So if, as it seems we have done, the country elects a dangerous incompetent to be president*, there always will be a desire in certain quarters to believe that this person can “grow into the job.” Call this the Harry Truman Fantasy. And, as Old Lodge Skins says in Little Big Man, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Truman did all right because he had common sense, a good moral compass and the willingness to listen to people who knew vastly more than he did and follow their lead. That’s how he cobbled it together. Trump doesn’t believe that there’s anything to learn or anybody worth listening to. Pierce is right. We’re still in one piece and that’ the good news. The bad news is, how long can our luck last? Bottom line we need to depend upon leadership and not luck and so we have to vote this bum out.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.