American foreign policy decisions about America’s role in the world, especially in the Middle East, always remain deeply controversial and hotly debated. My first interest in foreign policy began at the tail end of the Vietnam War, when I was probably around 11 or 12 and started trying to understand politics. It’s funny that one of my most vivid memories is watching TV with my paternal great-grandmother, who despised Richard Nixon (and Republicans) and spewed anti-Semitic aspersions whenever Henry Kissinger was mentioned on the news.
As things go in families, my mother was a staunch Republican. My great-grandmother also loathed my mother even more than she hated Nixon and Jewish people and we lived in the same house. My mother insisted we care for our ailing great-grandmother each and every day, talk to her respectfully, and my mother did her best to make sure my great-grandmother was properly cared for as her health declined. My mother never argued with my great-grandmother, no matter how many mean or spiteful things my great-grandmother said and did.
Besides being a Republican, my mother grew up in a neighboring county in northeast PA and my mother told us, the people where my father grew up didn’t like the people where she grew up. She said they called them Pine Swampers, if you can believe it. My mother was hated by my great-grandmother for being a Pine Swamper… seriously.
That’s the thing we all have to keep in mind when arguing about politics and foreign policy. First and foremost, while it’s easy to look at the world with a tribal mind-set, dividing every issue into an Us vs. Them equation, the truth is the world is filled with people – we are all people. If Americans lose sight of that in our politics and allow ourselves to become rabid partisan animals, then all the virtuous “American values” we claim to be fighting to uphold, will be lost.
Last night when Iran launched some missiles into Iraq and for several hours tensions ran very high, it sure looked to me that America’s already unhinged scorched earth spin war got hit with a massive waft of hostile foreign propaganda messaging. Twitter turned into an even crazier disinformation and misinformation zone than usual.
President Trump responded today with a careful speech that sounded Reaganesque in tones of deterrence and urging Iran to engage in diplomacy. It was a pitch perfect speech, I think.
While I firmly support a policy of deterrence and believe President Trump handled this situation appropriately, it always comes back to Donald J. Trump is no Ronald Reagan. People knew where Reagan stood on politics, especially foreign policy, because he’d consistently articulated where he stood and people, both friends and foes, knew it. With Donald J. Trump, he’s a complete mishmash of conflicting opinions that often compete in the same word salad sentence. He’s a man who thrives on being the star of the show, not on setting his ego aside for the good of the team – whether that team is his own national security team, the Republican Party, or the American people.
It was a welcome sign to hear President Trump deliver a speech moving American foreign policy back toward deterrence being a anchor.
However, I felt anything but reassured, after the first moments of genuine relief. I don’t know if he’ll stick with this, go rogue embracing some other bizarre crap he hears on cable TV, or if he will start lashing out at the sure to follow diplomatic and likely military challenges that will assuredly follow.
Instead of buckling down and working closely with his foreign policy team to develop comprehensive plans, develop an organized, professional White House press operation, beyond his personal Twitter account, or start working to rebuild relations with America’s allies, which are in tatters due to his own reckless disregard for America’s need for friends in the world, I saw on Twitter, that President Trump will be doing an interview with Laura Ingraham, likely a victory lap for Trump to brag and and pat himself on the back.
My gut reaction was Trump’s speech was just an act and his Twitter Trump petty attacks and reality TV show presidency is the real Trump. All you’ve got in life as a leader is your credibility and Trump’s own one-man show spin circus presidency has greatly damaged Trump’s credibility. His misguided attacks on America’s allies, while sucking up to America’s enemies in hopes of striking some big deal, has fed Dems and mainstream media endless spin ammo, but even worse than that, he’s burned bridges with America’s friends, while getting nothing in return for sucking up to Putin and Kim Jong Un.
The initial Israeli reaction after Trump’s careless tweet threat about 52 targets and Iran culture sites, seemed hesitant. I wondered if the Israelis were worrying they might get Twitter Trump handling this Iranian crisis rather than a serious American president. Once Trump walked back his attacking Iranian cultural sites threat and delivered a serious, calm, professional speech articulating a clear policy, Israel got publicly on board.
America deserves the calm, professional President Trump every day, not just in a crisis.
Trump’s failure to understand the self-inflicted damage he does to himself by feeding his political enemies endless spin ammo, which they beat him with 24/7 boggles my mind.
Even among many Americans who support his policies and his handling of this crisis, there are still doubts about whether Trump can be trusted.
All is not lost, Trump can still begin the process of building trust and rebuilding relations with our allies, but first he needs to realize his own mistakes.
For America’s sake, I hope he does.