by Charles M. Blow
I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.
What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.
His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.
We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.
Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.
Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.
Just days after the Trump administration shockingly signaled a softer stance on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Assad — possibly emboldened by America’s reversed course — unleashed an atrocious chemical attack on his own people, killing dozens.
Rather than using the bulk of his response to condemn the butcher Assad or the inaction of Assad’s patron, Vladimir Putin — let alone take responsibility for the role his own administration’s shifting position might have played — Trump harped on what he inherited from President Obama.
When asked Wednesday during a news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan whether the chemical attack this week crossed a “red line,” Trump said: “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many many lines, beyond a red line. Many many lines.”
He continued: “It’s very, very possible, and I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
But changed from what? From the soft pedal of a few days ago that may have provided cover for this attack, or from previous statements in which he warned that America should “stay out of Syria”?
To change a position, one must start from an established position. Trump is all over the place like a spider playing Twister. During the news conference, he said that he was a “flexible person,” but I believe him to be an obtuse one.
During the news conference, a reporter asked:
“If I may, Mr. President: You know very well that the Iranian militias and Hezbollah have been propping the Syrian regime for a while, over a few years now. Will you go after them? What message will you give them today? And will you work with the Russians to stop, to ground, the Syrian Air Force and to establish safe zones?”
Actually, it was clear that the president didn’t “know very well.” In fact, he seemed lost by the question. So instead of answering, he opened an attack on the Iran nuclear deal and ISIS.
The reporter had to point out the ridiculousness of the answer: “But sir, I’m talking about the Iranian militias in Syria supporting the Syrian regime, separate of the nuclear deal. What message do you have for them today?” Caught in his ignorance, Trump clumsily responded: “You will see. They will have a message. You will see what the message will be, O.K.”
It was beyond embarrassing: It was mortifying. And it was terrifying.
Then there is North Korea, which keeps testing missiles, including one this week in advance of Trump’s meeting with President Xi Jinping of China, a clear message that North Korea continues its weapons program unbowed by pressure from America or China.
Trump is depending on China to exert influence on North Korea that it may be reluctant, or not have the capacity, to do. In any case, this week Trump told The Financial Times, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
This seemed to signal the possibility of unilateral action of some kind, but the form is not clear. The Syrian and North Korean problems are complex and can’t be solved by a simpleton. Every action produces a reaction. Every lever you pull risks a life — or many.
This is not about Trump’s ego, even though I’m sure he believes that it is. It is about whether this draft dodger’s ignorance and insecurities could haphazardly plunge our country — and indeed the world — into an armed conflict. The King of Chaos isn’t suited for the steady navigation of crisis.
(This column originally appeared in the New York Times APRIl 6, 2017 under the title “Creeping Toward Crises”)
Charles M. Blow is a New York Times Columnist and nationally-known commentator: “I invite you to visit my blog By The Numbers, join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”