It’s not like no one warned us. It’s not like a majority of us did not believe those who warned us. But we are all passengers on the Trump ship of state now. We are airborne and en route to spots around the globe. The Fasten Seatbelt sign is still on, and the turbulence just keeps getting worse. You have to wonder if there’s anyone in the cockpit who actually knows how to fly this thing!
The warnings came from both halves of the political spectrum, sometimes with great drama and fanfare. (Think Mitt Romney.) One that is resonating with me this week came on August 8, after the Republican convention. It was the public Statement by Former National Security Officials. All fifty former officials, many who served at the highest level, served in Republican administrations from Nixon to George W. Bush. After stating none of them would vote for Trump, it includes these paragraphs:
From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief. Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous President and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.
In addition, Mr. Trump has demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding of America’s vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances, and the democratic values on which U.S. foreign policy must be based. At the same time, he persistently compliments our adversaries and threatens our allies and friends. Unlike previous Presidents who had limited experience in foreign affairs, Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign affairs and “knows more about ISIS than the generals do.”
He is unable or unwilling to separate truth from falsehood. He does not encourage conflicting views. He lacks self-control and acts impetuously. He cannot tolerate personal criticism. He has alarmed our closest allies with his erratic behavior. All of these are dangerous qualities in an individual who aspires to be President and Commander- in-Chief, with command of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
We are convinced that in the Oval Office, he would be the most reckless President in American history.
We older Boomers grew up with the real threat, nearly an expectation, of nuclear holocaust. The world watched as the testing of atomic and then hydrogen bombs put their awesome destructive power on display. We crawled under our school desks during drills and held our collective breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis, coming even closer to cataclysm than we realized at the time.
The Cold War provided the context and the impetus for a US foreign policy that has weathered and navigated the decades since. No one would claim it has done so perfectly. Far from it. Nonetheless, conflicts have been regional, not global, and we are the country that free nations and those aspiring to democracy have looked to for leadership and support.
In the past 50 years, only Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush have entered the presidency with any significant national security/foreign policy experience. Stability and continuity have been maintained by appointing experienced, capable leaders for departments staffed by career professionals, intelligence officers, and diplomats.
The President possesses an unfounded but boundless confidence in himself and trusts others only to the extent that they satisfy his prerequisite of proven loyalty. And, it seems, with that sole dubious qualification satisfied, they are admitted to the inner circle where the real influence and responsibility reside in this administration. The State Department is perhaps the most obvious casualty.
When he was appointed, then confirmed relatively easily, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was widely considered evidence of Trump gathering a well-qualified team. It is still early, sort of, but it would seem Secretary Tillerson would have been a better fit at the CIA. It is possible he is doing good things at State, but he has managed to keep it a closely guarded secret as he avoids not only the press, but his department staff and diplomatic corps as well.
Meanwhile, the State Department has suffered resignations and firings of a large number of senior officers and is facing a potential 30% budget cut. Tillerson was refused his choice for Deputy, the experienced Elliot Abrams, allegedly because Abrams had come out against Trump during the election.
This shrinking of the State Department is inversely proportional to the rapid expansion of the portfolio of wunderkind Jared Kushner, who serves as the prime example of the premium Trump puts on personal loyalty and trust. And the lack of value he attaches to experience.
The ridiculous list of jobs for the 36-year-old Kushner has been delicious fodder for the late night comedians and social media. It may be less amusing for the Cabinet Secretaries who expected they would be responsible for those things.
There has been so much more in the news just this week about our foreign policy. It is all troubling, but if you have made it to the end of this piece, you have no doubt read much of it yourself already. So I’ll just sum up by saying it’s not just us that are in for a bumpy ride. Leaders and citizens of countries around the world are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to read the mixed signals emanating from the Trump administration.
Would someone go ask the pilot where he’s taking us first: Russia, Mexico, Syria, Iraq, China, or North Korea? Oh, and don’t be surprised if you find he looks like he’s just a kid!