Why ya gotta love (and hate) Trump
Trump is a horrible guy. Arrogant. Narcissistic. Crass. Really, just not much to like about the guy….except, he is what America needed at a particular moment in time and space.
Let’s be honest, America had been on a decline for a decade-and-a-half. The misguided policies of George Bush (the younger), where he let Dick Cheney and his pack of Neo-conservatives try to remake the world in our image. The notion is ludicrous on its face. Is it feasible that tribal societies in the Middle East and Central Asia could become even remotely like a modern Western democracy, much less, do it at the point of a gun. In the end, we got exactly what we wanted, “revolution” in the Arab world. And, exactly what we didn’t want, an environment of chaos and instability in which extremist movements antithetical to our way of life could develop and prosper. We hemorrhaged our national resources on ill-defined and unattainable goals.
The backlash against this was the election of a President that changed the tone of our policy. Incompetence followed malfeasance.
In the arena of international relations, the Obama administration was a debacle. He was an apologist. To him. the rest of the world was in chaos because America had been a heavy-handed bully for decades. Therefore, we should be understanding why countries dislike (dare I say, hate) us. If we would be nicer and more empathetic, things would get better. This is utterly naïve. The outcome in Tripoli is exemplar. There is real evil in the world, and while imperfect, we are not the main problem. Under his watch, the world devolved further into the chaos the previous administration had begun.
So, in comes “the Donald,” as much a reaction to Obama’s policies as Obama’s election was a repudiation of the Bush administration. In addition to the aforementioned personality flaws, Trump is above all else an “outsider”. The Clintons, Bush and Obama were basically professional politicians. While perhaps a pampered rich boy, Trump at least had to live on his own wits.
This is where the “bad” characteristics come to his aid. A smooth political operative, a member of the Washington elite, would never step out and undertake the type of risks that have to date marked his administration. His approach was apparent even in the Republican debates. When he brought up immigration, you could see his opponents gasp. Immigration was the proverbial “third-rail” (the electrified one) of politics. Suddenly, what was once swept under the rug had to be discussed. It was high time.
This renegade approach has marked his entire term. One taboo issue after another has been attacked: from illegal immigration to trade inequities. The establishment has absolutely lost its collective mind. He doesn’t care about propriety. He seems to thrive on controversy. But, for all of his uncouth shenanigans, he has garnered real results.
There is little talk about security on our southern border these days. NATO allies have increased their contribution to joint defense. America renegotiated the NAFTA agreement and is about to sign the first phase of a trade deal with China.
Now, a well-known and acknowledged terrorist leader, Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Qasem Soleimanis, is dead. Was this a potentially risky move? Yes! But it also sent a very clear message. While the Iranians retaliated with a missile strike in Iraq, no one was injured. I would surmise that the inaccuracy was deliberate. The Iranians had to respond, but they did not want to provoke additional action (and they knew Trump would do just that). This has also fomented internal dissent against the regime in Iran
So, Trump is a crude, self-absorbed individual and sometimes seems a bit…well, crazy. This is actually helpful in the international arena. I taught National Security Policy at West Point back during the Cold War. Deterrence is based on a belief that the other side will undertake a harsh response, even when it might not be in their best interest. Does anyone think that massive nuclear retaliation is rational? No, but the belief that the other guy just might do the unthinkable is key to preventing action.
This is just what is happening with Trump. The Chinese must imagine, “This guy might really crash the bus,” and be willing to suffer significant economic pain if we don’t cut a trade deal. And they seem on that path. I wonder what Kim Jong Un sees in the hit on the Iranian general. “I wonder what the Americans might do if I step too far over the line?” Would this potentially discourage his future actions? Perhaps. It is at least food for thought.
In a world in which the technocrats have taken over policy, about the only way change occurs is when an apostate gains influence. Bureaucratic momentum is overwhelming. They simply will not move off the given course without a “swift kick in the pants.” Trump is that blunt force.
Do not mistake this assessment as a wholesale endorsement of the current President. His actions have real costs. (It is expensive to deploy thousands of additional troops to the Middle East, and they present another potential target.) We have also ruffled feathers in allies we may need to call on in some other crisis. We may need to do some back-channel repair work.
Never-the-less, the meter has been reset. The morass of the past two decades has been partially reversed. Our positions (good or bad) seem much clearer today. At least the rest of the world knows where we stand, even if the Democrats haven’t yet figured it out.